The more difficult question to field was when asked what I wanted to do with a degree in Natural Science. I used to envy my friends who chose more conventional paths – you become an engineer after an engineering degree and a doctor after a medical one. Although it might seem blindingly obvious that the conclusion of a science degree would be to become a ‘scientist,’ I had no idea what scientists actually do minus the crazy-haired, wild-eyed ones I saw on television bent on world-domination. And like every good college student, you ignore the problems you cannot answer and promise to ‘look into it’ some other time. And so I did, and looking back, I am quite thankful as it gave me the time and the freedom to actually enjoy the degree.
Although I did eventually end up becoming a ‘scientist’ of some sort, many of my friends did not. We went to the same dissection classes, the same microscopy workshops but many chose career paths that do not involve safety goggles and lab coats. Some became management consultants, putting the analytical skills they learnt in class to good use in the corporate world. Others joined the civil service, taking positions that involved structuring science policy in schools and universities. And there were others who decided to go to graduate school, eventually deciding that they wanted a career in medicine or law.
Others, like myself, chose to pursue a doctoral degree in the sciences, spending much of our time dedicated to full-time research with the final aim of providing a body of research which is novel and of intellectual value to the academic community. In real world terms, this actually accumulates to a lot of thinking, reading and talking to people about science. I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed the process of identifying a relevant problem, thinking of the right questions to ask, designing the experiments to answer these questions and finally, to look at the answers and decide whether they are relevant to support your conclusion. Looking back, I guess it was not too big a surprise as I have always enjoyed observing nature in motion, be it the neighbors pets or the metabolism of a cancer cell.
So I was fortunate that I did eventually, find out what to do with my science degree. But what might you be able to do with yours?
There probably isn’t a single right answer for this, but I think the most accurate one is probably, anything you want! Choosing a major is declaring your interest at that point in time, with a strong conviction that you will be motivated to make the most out of it. Certainly do not take it to mean that you are bound to it. While there are very many science-related careers that might benefit from a science degree, there are as many or not more that are less conventional yet as relevant to using the skills you learnt in science. Having a trained scientific mind is an asset to be reckoned with. Science is driven by a curiosity to ask the simple questions about everyday occurrences and the tenacity to find a hypothesis to describe these observations consistently. These qualities are extremely valuable in any field and I strongly believe that if nothing else, my degree definitely taught me to never stop asking questions.
Go to college focused but with an open mind. Pursue what interests you most in the present and never stop talking to people about what they want for the future while thinking about your own. Take the time to ask yourself what you are good at and what to improve on. It’s what I did and hopefully, you too will arrive at the same conclusion as I did on what to do with your science degree.