Being Indian-American: Straying Away from the ‘Big Four’

by Rani Shah 

This post was originally published on

The Big 4: Doctor. Engineer. Dentist. Pharmacist.

If you’re Indian-American and reading this right now, then there is a good chance that you have either pursued, are pursuing, or have been encouraged by your parents/family to pursue the aforementioned career fields. Our culture has a deep value for these professions, not just because of their noble nature but largely due to their financial and social stability. I mean this makes sense, what parent doesn’t want a stable future for their children?

**And before I get into the heart of this  article, let me preface by saying that I believe pursuing medicine, engineering, dentistry, or pharmacy are all noble pursuits; props to those of you who are actively pursuing these fields.

While these are great careers to pursue, oftentimes our families have trouble comprehending that they aren’t the only careers worth pursuing.

Most of us have observed the following scenario:

A family immigrates from India to America in pursuit of better opportunities. Better opportunities for not only the adults but for their children. Children grow older and are encouraged to pursue careers in the same field as their parents or other family members because “it’s stable and proven to work.”

This is what confuses me: Families move to the “land of opportunity” and instead of encouraging their children to explore and take advantage of these opportunities, they let tunnel vision take over and oftentimes push their children to pursue one of the four paths mentioned above.

Even if you weren’t necessarily pushed into one of those aforementioed fields, anything straying from those paths is a oftentimes a major struggle for us to convince our parents to let us pursue.

Film Degree? “So what job are you going to get?”

International Relations? “Good…so then you’re applying to Medical school?”

English? “But Pharmacy is such a stable career for a woman!

Now I’m not exactly the poster child of this cause; I studied engineering by choice, wasn’t pushed into it. But along the way I realized that this wasn’t the field for me. After graduating I’ve decided not to pursue a career in my studied field and would rather explore elsewhere, this hasn’t exactly been seamless…many family members and friends ask “But what about stability?”, “You’ll have time to pursue what you want later. Why stray from what you studied?”, or “You could be making more money.”

It takes a while, but I’ve come to terms with choosing to pursue what drives me sooner rather than later. No matter what spurs excitement within you, take the plunge and put your heart into it.

This sounds very naive and optimistic, I know; but our parents did it. Many of them moved to a different country with little or no money, some of them learned English along the way, all had to apply for citizenship and go through hoops just to enter/work/stay in this country, and they learned an entirely new system of government, commerce, and social etiquette in a foreign country. All of this while working and creating a better life for themselves, their children, and family members back in India.

If our parents could risk it all and pursue the unconventional route then we can too. We can stray from the fields that are considered “safe”, we can pursue our crazy goals and dreams, and we can dare to be whatever we want. While tradition and society don’t always align with our hybrid Indian-American upbringing, who says we aren’t allowed to try?

So go out there and make that “crazy” decision to forge a path in what you think is worthwhile. Remember, crazy doesn’t mean irrational, so still create a general plan for your “crazy” career trajectory and pick up some mentors along the way!

It comes down to having a plan and having an open channel of communication with your family. Because if you won’t fight for your dreams, who will?

Have a story that aligns with this or a personal experience you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it! Please share in the comments below!


Rani Shah is a recent Chemical Engineering graduate from the Illinois Institute of Technology. When she’s not confused about being a 20-something, she works at a Chicago-based start-up, surrounding social entrepreneurship, and enjoys every second of it. Donuts, the Chicago skyline and the color yellow are her muses. Follow her blog posts and Twitter for more updates! 

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