Many things about my time as an LSE undergraduate and so far as a post graduate student have been wonderful. However, a defining aspect of my experience at LSE that has been decidedly less than positive has been the unspoken pressure I feel to pursue a career in finance. So I feel the need to address this.
For every year that I have been at LSE, I have also felt this overwhelming pressure to apply for an internship or pursue a career related to finance. When I was first adjusting to university, this pressure made me feel like I didn’t belong at the LSE because finance wasn’t my passion, and my first few months felt very isolating. My passions lie in using my Mathematics degree not for investment banking, but for cryptography and information security. I found it difficult to find other people who weren’t finance-focused so that I could talk about this loneliness. It was as if I was swimming against the current alone.
So I spent my first year at LSE in an internal battle: go with the flow or risk forging my own path? Second year came along, and with it, more confidence. I figured out how to deal with the dominating banking culture, the key being understanding my own values and realising I wasn’t the only one who was interested in something different.
Through attending different society events, I discovered that there were many students forging their own paths, interested in applying their knowledge to the energy industry or to fashion. Even within the finance realm, I realised there were so many different paths. All companies have finances which means working in finance is not necessarily equivalent to working in a bank or an investment bank, if that doesn’t interest you. I also found there was more support at LSE than I thought there was. For example, LSE Careers has events for careers in sustainability and a vast alumni network that work in every kind of company imaginable. And, as obvious as it seems, they can help you find a career path where you can apply your skills to what you like.
However, the biggest difference for me was opening up to my peers and friends. When I finally admitted that finance was not my future, some of my friends felt more comfortable to admit it wasn’t for them either. Talking helped. As we supported each other and grew through the rest of our degree, I was able to become much more comfortable with myself and deflect any peer pressure. I would also recommend not closing yourself off to any possibilities. Even if finance isn’t your first choice, university is a time to explore different avenues. I know many of my classmates used internships and job shadows to test their career likes and dislikes. It is worth getting to know yourself during this time and to acknowledge the fact that you can and will change. Your career goals do not have to be set in stone.
If you’re feeling like LSE’s banking culture is overwhelming, just know you’re not alone and you won’t always feel that way. Lean on the people around you and, though it’s easier said than done, be confident in who you are and what you want. Maybe it is that finance truly is your passion, in which case there are plenty of resources for you at LSE to support you in your pursuits. Maybe not. Either way, LSE will provide you with the tools and the network to succeed at anything you choose, so don’t get sucked into a “toxic banking culture”. Like I found out, your experience is what you make it.