HomeTop StoriesHow AI is reshaping students' career paths in NC

How AI is reshaping students’ career paths in NC

David Kim, a senior computer science major at UNC-Chapel Hill, had submitted 326 applications by mid-spring. He had only reached the interview round for three of them.

Kim said this is normal for computer science majors like himself, who are still applying for jobs while graduation is right around the corner. He said some of his classmates have applied for about a thousand jobs and are still waiting for a response.

Kim said career competitiveness is often attributed to the economy and the job market, but it also points to a newer wave of technology: artificial intelligence.

AI works to have the same or even higher intelligence than humans when solving problems. That kind of advanced technology is financially attractive to companies, Kim said.

‘We’ll see how [companies] try to automate the jobs,” he said. “I think from an economic point of view [AI] will definitely take away some jobs. And that is scary.”

Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi, a UNC professor in the School of Information and Library Science, studies the relationship between humans and AI in the workplace. For him, the threat of AI boils down to one concept: self-learning.

“[AI systems] are adaptive in their learning process, and that is the source of opportunities and threats,” Jarrahi said. “Because if they learn very well, what will happen to me? If they somehow learn independently of me as a knowledge worker, what is my contribution?”

Jarrahi said blue-collar jobs are usually at risk from new technology and automation, but this new wave of AI is also affecting knowledge workers seeking degrees — a group that was once thought to be immune, Jarrahi said.

“If you’re not worried, you’re probably not paying attention,” Jarrahi said.

Kim said it’s difficult to predict the future, but he knows he will have to find ways to compete in the evolving job market now influenced by AI.

“I think it’s for the sector [AI] is actually good. But for a graduating senior — or even a junior, a sophomore computer science student now, or even graduating high school students who might want to study computer science — that’s a pretty big concern,” Kim said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone does that. But we will have to adapt somehow, as always.”

Uncertainty in university education

The fear that AI will replace jobs doesn’t just affect computer science students.

As a UNC sophomore, Sarayu Thondapu has already had several conversations about the impact of AI on her future.

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Thondapu is currently studying economics and political science in the pre-lawyer track. During her winter break at home in Charlotte, her uncle told her to be wary of AI’s potential impact on the legal profession. For example, the AI ​​program LegalGPT can perform similar tasks as legal assistants or paralegals.

Scott Geier, a professor at the Hussman School of Media and Journalism at UNC, said junior lawyers, for example, are at risk of losing their jobs because AI can perform the same tasks, such as reviewing documents and writing briefs.

“AI can already improve everything that has to do with analyzing information and doing so quickly and efficiently. So it will be better, faster and cheaper,” says Geier. “And if something is better, faster and cheaper, then they do the robot.”

Now AI has Thondapu doubting her career.

“I wanted to go to law school to be someone who can help people, someone who can really connect with the issues I work with and help them, and I wouldn’t want to leave them behind,” Thondapu said. “I guess what I worry about is that if I rely too much on ChatGPT or artificial intelligence, I’ll forget the reason why I’m there in the first place.”

Midway through Thondapu’s undergraduate experience, she thinks about her future graduation and often wonders if it will all be worth it.

“We spent four years of our lives in college. We’ve worked our asses off. We have done a lot to get to the places we are now and we have gained a lot of experience,” said Thondapu. “But to realize that something we are responsible for could ultimately undo all our efforts is absolutely scary to me.”

Because of her “survival mentality,” she says she is now incorporating technology classes and a data science degree into her studies to be competitive in the job market and secure her future.

“I think this is something we’ve all come to terms with: we need to know something about computers to exist in a world like this,” Thondapu said.

However, she said she fears that with too much focus on computers, this generation will forget how to communicate with passion and humanity. As a result, Thondapu added a creative writing minor to her degree to compete with AI.

Kim also considered changing his graduation plans. He said he originally focused on applications related to software engineering and web development, but after this AI wave he became interested in applying for more positions in the machine learning field.

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But it’s still a change he says he needs to think about, because these roles often require extra training, time and money.

AI vs university degrees

The value of college degrees has always been debated, Jarrahi said. However, the value of higher education in the age of AI adds new twists to the argument.

Google offers career certificates to anyone interested in the technology space, without any prior experience. On their website, the programs are advertised as a real path to in-demand jobs in less than six months.

It costs less than college, takes less time and Google said the program is worth the same as a four-year degree, Geier said.

Some may think, “College costs too much. It’s not worth the sticker price,” Geier said. “And people are starting to realize that if AI is now part of the equation, that mentality will only accelerate.”

Duke University now offers a degree program for AI learning: Duke’s AI Master of Engineering program.

Jared Bailey is the current president of Duke’s AI Competition Club and a student in the master’s program, which costs $75,877 in tuition for an average duration of twelve months: two semesters and a summer session.

The program includes other flexible education options, such as an extended 16-month program, which costs up to $95,000, and the 24-month online program, which costs $98,970.

But Bailey believes the program is worth it.

“A smart student researches to understand whether his or her education provides a fair return on investment,” he said. “I don’t see a world in which students cannot find fields that offer a fair return.”

The website for Duke’s AI program said the degree will produce “great results for graduates” in engineering and data science jobs.

Bailey said AI has the potential to help other industries, not just in science, engineering or technology. He said a classmate in the program is a doctor who uses computer vision to identify diseases in high-resolution photos.

Bailey linked the advancement of AI to the creation of the camera, the Internet, and personal computers. He said that although they all met with resistance at first, they eventually improved the work of humanity.

“Duke has largely embraced student use of AI,” Bailey said. “When I was younger, teachers reduced students’ use of calculators and the Internet. It is refreshing to see Duke taking a different stance and embracing this new technology.”

AI is here to improve our work, not compete with it, he said.

Embracing AI

Professional editor Erin Servais believes people can collaborate with AI, and she has even integrated it into her career.

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Servais has been professionally editing since 2008, from line editing to development editing. Last year, Servais’ career changed when she used ChatGPT to perform copy operations for the first time.

“I was so shocked at how accurate and fast it was,” Servais said. “And I knew it would have major consequences for our profession. I knew that right away, the very first time I tried it.”

She then created the “AI for Editors” course to prepare and educate editors on how AI programs like ChatGPT are reshaping the profession.

Because AI will ultimately replace editorial, she said.

“People are losing their jobs because of artificial intelligence, and in a really unintelligent way,” said Servais. “It’s not a good thing, and it won’t help readers; it’s not going to help the writers; it’s not going to help anyone.”

But if editors learn how to use AI, editing can be more accurate and efficient for organizations, she said. An editor with knowledge of AI may have better job security and value in the workplace, she said.

The next evolution of jobs will revolve around guiding AI programs and monitoring their work, rather than manually making changes to a document, Servais said. But humanity is still essential, she said.

“We don’t want AI to do our job because we still have to double check it and make sure what it produces is quality and factual. And people are still needed for that,” says Servais.

Geier said AI could do the heavy lifting in most professional spaces, but also under human supervision. But he said this will happen gradually.

He doesn’t think students graduating now will lose jobs because of AI, as long as they prepare. However, those who don’t learn about AI will be left behind, he said.

Geier said students need to give themselves “an edge” by working with AI in ways others can’t. And that’s what universities should teach, he said.

“You have to make yourself relevant by using AI in what you are currently doing,” says Geier. “The way it’s going to be is that when you get out of here, the employers are going to ask, ‘Can some rando, a stranger from the street, come in and do the same job as [a student] do you just by writing a prompt in AI?” If the answer is yes, you no longer have a job.”

UNC Media Hub is a collection of students from across the Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s concentrations who work together to create integrated multimedia packages featuring stories from across North Carolina and beyond.

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