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Help! What's My Passion?

Does it seem daunting to decide on your career path? Professor Emily Salisbury knows your pain. Here's her advice for Rebels trying to find their way.

Campus News  |  Aug 7, 2015  |  By UNLV News Center
Emily Salisbury

UNLV Creates will be held at 9 a.m. Aug. 21 as part of new student Welcome Day. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Editor's Note: 

Criminal justice professor Emily Salisbury is one of the featured speakers for UNLV Creates, which will be held at 9 a.m. Aug. 21 as part of new student Welcome Day. The series of talks emphasize the importance of creativity, inspiration and discovery for new college students. The entire campus community is invited to attend. Here Salisbury talks about the effort that goes into finding your path.

Find your passion. You'll probably hear that advice from a lot of people during your college career. Find your passion, it seems, and all else will fall into place.

But how, exactly, do you "find" such an important thing in life? Do you take every quirky course on campus to see if you like it? Maybe. Do you join different student groups to see if you're interested? Probably. Do you meet people who are different from yourself to consider new ideas? I hope so.

These are some obvious beginning steps to finding your passion. I found mine over 10 years ago -- working toward effective correctional policies with offenders, particularly female offenders -- but you may find some relief in knowing that I was a bit of a late bloomer. I didn't feel real excitement for my career until I was a doctoral student. Looking back, I've realized that it wasn't chance; there were many seeds planted along the way.There were a number of things (and people) that helped me figure out how to navigate my life and career to fulfillment.

I'll talk more about that experience and the passion I found in my own research during my UNLV Creates presentation on Welcome Day. In the meantime, remember this CREATES acrostic to start finding your passion today.



First, learning what drives you to be successful takes courage. For instance, it takes courage to go against what your friends might be doing. College is understandably a time for fun, independence, freedom from parents, and making lifelong friends, but at some point everyone at UNLV hopes you consider what you really want out of your time here.

Yes, it's a given that you are here to pursue a degree. But it's not a given that you will graduate and that you will love it along the way. If you have the courage to ask yourself, "What do I really want out of my time here?" you will be on your way to graduating with a degree that truly excites you for your future.


Personal reflection is fundamental to finding a fulfilling life. This task takes practice and, of course, courage. Each one of us has incredible qualities and abilities that make us unique. But it's hard work learning what those qualities are, why we do what we do, and why we think the way we think. It takes a lot of energy to truly "know ourselves" and discover the ideas that are likely to excite us throughout our careers.

In other words, if you don't reflect on all the positive qualities in yourself, they remain hidden to you and to the rest of the world. Additionally, since no one is perfect, reflecting on your negative qualities is just as important. How else will you improve your interactions with others and maintain healthy self-care in college and beyond?


You will soon learn that there are enthusiastic professors and professors who are, well, not as enthusiastic about teaching (trust me, I am not enthusiastic during every week of the semester--we all go through moments of exhaustion at times!). The teachers who truly love what they do and who are authentic to themselves are more effective at translating knowledge to students. Pay attention to those teachers and those courses. If you find yourself enthusiastic right along with the professor, the course ideas may be what you want to pursue long term. If you find yourself bored in a classroom even with an excited professor, it may be time to consider another major.


Some of you entering college have already overcome great adversity to be here. Many of you will face challenges during college. Those adversities, and more importantly, how you manage and overcome them, turn into important parts of your personality and core strengths. To manage and overcome obstacles, you must have the courage to reflect on how you will work through them.


Finding passions in life take time. Don't expect to find yours through a single "light bulb" moment. Rather, passions are cultivated during deeply personal and conscious processes over time. Be patient with yourself, and remember that you have to first care about an idea before it develops into a passion.


The students who consistently interact and engage in activities on campus are those who are more likely to be sought after for projects, research, and mentorship from professors and staff. Although social media is a critical part of staying in touch with what's happening around campus, the long-term rewards are minimal in comparison to having an actual physical presence on campus and building relationships.


Don't rely on professors to define solutions for you. We can, of course, be a guide for solutions, but it is your responsibility to ask appropriate questions, to challenge ideas (including your own), and to apply the concepts you are learning in the classroom into your everyday life. Believe it or not, you may actually be the one to offer solutions to problems rather than your professors. This is precisely how I came to collaborate with an undergraduate student on research project identifying child victims of sex trafficking.