Prof. John Kenneth Mensah

Senior Lecturer

Dept: Chemistry
Chemistry Department
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Kumasi, Ghana

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Research Areas/Interests

Bio-organic Chemistry where research interest is at the intersection of chemistry with biology....~more

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What Will You Do When You Grow Up

It’s become my annual ritual to use this question as the first statement to my first year Chemistry students in my very first class with them: “what do you want to do with your life when you grow up?”

For some inauspicious reasons that still escape me, the students will burst out laughing loudly in unison. Yes, they always laugh. Some students reach over and give their colleagues a friendly poke in the rib, a welcoming eye contact, or a slap on the back or shoulder. Generally, they revel in this class with a light-hearted atmosphere that one typically gets when he/she is in a comedy club listening to lacerating jokes about others. “This man has come to lighten our fear of organic chemistry with junior high school English essay questions,” they seemed to say. Sadly and as always, student focus on this exercise is concentrated on the simplicity and the phrasing of the question rather than on the import of the question.

Pressed into providing individual answers, the responses have always varied and have swung wildly from one of bewilderment to one of shock, all delivered with looks of high irritation. Taken together, students’ answers are a potpourri of the religious, the political, the philosophical, the theological, the educational, the innovative and surprisingly the therapeutic. After listening to identical responses over few years, I have lost interest in its categorizations and have instead turned my focus onto the general pattern.

Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, roughly 70% of respondent answers are uniformly appended with theologically-laced statements inextricably linked to the providence of God. “In God’s own time it will happen,” they would say while they nod their heads with acknowledgement of its certainty, “so there is no need for me to concern myself with it now.”  “The Bible says even birds of the air eat,” they will shake their index finger in the air for emphasis, “so I have to quit worrying for God will make a way where there is none. Whether we eat or drink, we owe it all to God’s care. God always does us good!” “God sees ahead of us,” they would smile approvingly, “so it is better in all things to seek the mind of God first and not last.” “God has not spoken to me yet,” they will present a solemnly pious facial expression, “and I am still waiting on God who makes all things beautiful in His own time.”

With these sanctimonious platitudes, the matter of career choice worked into a functional science and generally expected by the “dictators of reason” to be rooted in practicalities has morphed in our hands into an issue of divine revelation given by divine inspiration to the willing-hearted. And since God sees ahead only of God, we should seek only the mind of God in determining our future career objectives. Mortals have no business questioning God’s will. And if it’s God’s will for me to be a pilot, a doctor, a chemist, then so be it. God is omniscience, omnipotent and his power immutable, so why challenge his choice of career for you. In varying ways and to varying degrees, the matter of career choice is then left to chance – or rather in the hands of God who will always perform a miracle. So that finding the mind of God on our future then becomes an all-consuming passion that is fraught with innumerable subjective experiences.

Usually I protest students’ theological over-reach. When I counter with a negative scenario that if God tells them to be janitors after graduation with their BSc degree, will they gladly oblige? Students always respond to this negativity with fury: “don’t say those things, Sir. I’ll expect them to happen. They’ll infect my future. Some things should never be said out loud for fear they may come true.” And that is the contradiction in terms - our perception of God’s will for our future careers is final, unchallenged, immutable but always rosy.

My little theological knowledge of God tells me that God will not do for us what we have to do for ourselves. He gave us a functioning brain for a reason and planning for our future is one of those reasons. Any revelational knowledge about future career goals that places sole responsibility for its fulfillment on God’s providence is not only irresponsible but lazy. But adults, not just students, are so rigid in such theological beliefs about God’s sole providence that they become strongly fanatical in its defense. When I interject that in matters of career, they should ask a career counselor and in a matter of Christianity or Islam, they should ask God and the Bible or the Koran, the surprise that envelope their questioning faces has only one interpretation: “you damned atheist get out of my way and burn in hell.”

I don’t want to be bogged down and be mixed-up with the pros and cons of the many theological questions on pre-destination. That God knew us when we were just some few cells of the developing embryo in our mother’s womb and specifically chose and ordained us for a specific purpose that only we can fulfill.  Such issues have been cleverly examined by many gifted theologians with no concrete and tangible resolution. Because whether we like it or not a miracle from God will not happen always (Oh ye of little faith, I heard you say that) and our beautiful minds were given to us by God for rational thoughts on all that pertain to life. I am afraid that, in the growing struggle between the rational and the supernatural in this university, the rational has lost substantial grounds. Can we please embrace reason with passion in the same way that we embrace religion with zeal. The dictatorship of our broad socio-religious acceptance of the “huhudous (Twi word)” prophecies given by the end-time money-grabbing Christian prophets and their muslim ayatollahs/mallams counterparts must be strongly countered with solid rational foundational information on students’ career choice. Upon every lecturer falls this public duty to register his influence on students not only in academic matters but also in preparing students with the sense of mission that career choice can be rational and should be intellectually embraced.

All I want to say is that let’s start career counseling early in students’ academic life. Let us rescue career counseling from the hands of the religious charlatans who profess to know the mind of God, concerning eager students’ future, through the use of prophecies, dreams, visions, impressions on the heart, audible and still small voices and old-fashioned trickery all doused with copious amounts of holy water and sprinkled with lavender flavored anointing oil.  Let’s take career choice away from the supernatural and the subjective and bring it into the rational and the objective through the formalization of an institutional-wide comprehensive program.

The counselling center should include in its official activities career counselling for both undergraduate and graduate students with the obvious objectives of actively fostering their continued professional development and progressively enhancing their preparedness with tailored career mentoring for life outside campus. Details of a university-wide program can be worked out. It can be done easily with the talent, the intellect and the skills that we have in the counselling department.

The future careers of the current generations of students will be refined by fire in a crucible of low job availability. Lack of jobs openings have exposed our generational gulf that continues to reverberate in every aspect of our socio-cultural and religious existence. As children born in the late nineties and early twenties when Ghana has just emerged from economic deprivation, they have grown up with computer games and have come to expect a prosperous, “gadgetry-filled” future. Cocooned in the protective blanket of permissive child-centered parents of the more prosperous Ghana, current generations of students are pampered. They have come to expect good life as their rightful portion. But they constitute a strong pool of talented and ready students desperately looking for unavailable jobs.

Now for some background. Current generation run through the Ghanaian High School educational mill where career guidance counseling is either unavailable or unprofessional. So students sought out prophets and unwittingly religious charlatans to provide direction for future career choice. But “there are things only scientists and, not prophets, can tell you about scientific jobs.” Soon students hope turns into rage and the graduate has to settle for anything that will give him/her a semblance of a livelihood. Jobs that now people consider out of date; out of fashion and honestly beneath the dignity of a BSc holder from KNUST are the only available ones. With monthly salary so meager that one can’t live on the monthly pay, the graduates live from paycheck to paycheck. It’s a pathetic existence! Since previous generations did not have to deal with a ballooning population, competition for jobs was mild. In fact, it was rare to be a university graduate from KNUST and be unemployed. Not anymore! We now have UNEMPLOYED GRADUATES ASSOCIATION!

Feeding our sense of collective anxiety, our politicians have woefully failed us. Politicians have made political affiliation glamorous to students where the price of admission to the “gravy train” leading to a rich life is simply blind loyalty. But can politics absorb all our graduates? Of course, no. Politicians then respond to this intractable unanswered question about the abysmal job market as politicians do - promise more of the same (to create jobs) to get elected and then go back to business as usual. We can’t afford such willful benign neglect in today’s world.

In this day and this age, students have to think about what to do with their God-given gifts and talents on a daily continuous basis. Their wish to go straight to the top is a two-way street because the top will only meet them with interest and consideration if they approach it with enthusiasm and single-mindedness. The least KNUST can do for its graduates is to prepare them adequately for the unpredictability of the future with tough course contents and with thorough career guidance. It is no time for arguments and counter-arguments and blame-games and endless disputations because, frankly, it’s a lot easier to point the finger than it is to point the way. Naivety is something students can’t afford in todays’ competitive world. Let’s get the students to set time-bound specific, manageable, attainable, realistic and tangible goals and while we are at it, get them to dial down the supernatural a bit. Just a little bit dial down will do please.

I wish I know why I feel such loyalty to the freshers now. In a sudden fit of objectivity, I see things their way now - the only time I see things from students’ point of view as I patiently listened to the broader constellation of their views. Listening to their disorientation, I asked myself what would have happened to me if I were part of this batch of students today with such bleak job prospect for the future. Could I have really planned for this career I now have? Frankly, I don’t know because, well, it will all be in the hands of God. Maybe that is what this generation is all about: one big contradiction!


Recent Blogs

The Freshers Are Here 03 August 2020
Just One Mark Sir 03 August 2020
In Memorium-SOA; A Dirge 04 August 2020
Abuse of Broken English 04 August 2020
Dear RAD 14 August 2020
Big Science 1/2 03 September 2020
Big Science 2/2 03 September 2020
Transactional 10 September 2020
Musings on Academic Influence 17 September 2020
The Long Walk Home 24 September 2020
Herbal Medicine 1/4 01 October 2020
Herbal Medicine 2/4 01 October 2020
Herbal Medicine 3/4 01 October 2020
Herbal Medicine 4/4 01 October 2020
Fellowship 08 October 2020
The Final Goodbye 1/3 27 December 2020
The Final Goodbye 2/3 27 December 2020
The Final Goodbye 3/3 27 December 2020

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