Science Degree Options: Med or Grad School?

Are science degrees only destined for a limited number of career paths?

“I’m graduating this year!”

“I have no idea what I want to do after I graduate!”

Image via Memegenerator.net

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

When I ask fellow science students what they’d like to pursue, is it wrong of me to mentally visualize a multiple choice question with the following options?

  1. Grad school (“I’m thinking of pursuing a career in research!”)
  2. Med school (“I’m thinking of writing my MCAT this summer!”)
  3. Uh…I really don’t know. (“Uh…I really don’t know.”)

Despite the fact that I’ve talked to many science students considering careers in medicine and research, there are equally as many students who are unsure of what they’d like to do after they receive their degrees.

I’d like to say that finding your ‘ideal career’ is similar to soul searching. Soul searching involves dibbling and dabbling to certain places, meeting new faces, and possibly trekking in the vast expanse of nature to discover you who are. Career hunting is the same thing; you’re sampling careers, taking on different experiences, developing your network, and consulting higher powers (i.e. academic advisors) to identify what you’d like to do as living.

I support my fellow colleagues who’d like to pursue medicine and academic research as a career, because those are great endeavors. I also sympathize with my fellow colleagues who have no clue what they’d like to do in the future, because I’m in the same position. But like a lot of university students, science majors may not be fully aware of how dim the job market is today for young graduates.

Is this the reason why some students believe the only path a science graduate can pursue is one laden with lab benches, seminars, or hospital beds?

The nitty-gritty stats

Image via flazingo.com

Image via flazingo.com

Accenture, a company dedicated to management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing, conducted an online survey in the USA in 2014. The survey included participants (n= >2000) who were either students that just graduated in 2014 or students who graduated in 2012/2013 from college programs.

The report summarizes the stats:

  • 69% of ’14 grads expect to find a job within 6 months after graduating, while 42% ‘12/13 grads found their first jobs within that time period.
  • 80% of ’14 grads expect their first employer to provide formal training of some sorts, while only 48% ‘12/13 report receiving formal training for their first jobs
  • 84% of ’14 grads expect to find a job in their chosen field, while 67% of ‘12/13 grads are actually working in their chosen field.
  • 18% of ’14 grads expect to earn annual salaries of over $25,000, while 41% of ‘12/13 has salaries within such a range.
  • Within the next 5 years, 72% ‘12/13 grads expect to go back to school, whether it is for graduate studies, college, junior/community college, or a vocational-technical college.

Although these statistics are based on US populations, unemployment rate in Canada ranges around 14%, and so may reflect a similar situation.

Regardless, these numbers paint a simple picture that post-secondary students have idealistic expectations of the job market.

Crushing the idealism

Genesis10 recruiting expert Tara Wyborny believes that students rely on their parents for career-related advice. She argues “Those parents are sometimes out of touch with today’s job market, and have a skewed view of the value of a bachelor’s degree’s income potential…”

Wyborny also argues that students don’t take full advantage of their school’s career centres, and don’t consult salary/job-related data from legitimate organizations. As a result, post-secondary students may have unrealistic expectations about job availability in their fields of interest, and the affiliated salaries. The National Association of Colleges and Employers report that the average salary for 2014 college grads was $45,473. This value may be higher (i.e. Computer/health sciences) or lower (i.e. humanities/social sciences, education) depending on the discipline. If young grads take this value to heart, they may be disappointed when they land their first full-time gig.

What we see is a sense of disbelief that they could have college loans worth more than they can ever hope to make in their first year of work, sometimes even after four years, –Tara Wyborny

So are science degree holders limited in their career choices, and are only capable of pursuing a career related to medicine and/or scientific research?

Eh, probably not.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts’ Clark University encourages young graduates to “…stop expecting [following] the path that people followed 50 years ago.” Although it’s becoming ridiculously expensive, post-secondary degrees are the new high-school diplomas. A university degree no longer guarantees immediate employability.

So what’s a science major to do?

Image via flazingo.com

Image via flazingo.com

To my fellow science majors, the job market is rough right now, and it’s important we know the cold, hard facts, despite its cringe-worthiness. TalentEgg’s founder Lauren Friese encourages ‘Generation Y’ to realize the realities of the workplace, and to not always take career advice from their ‘Baby Boomer’ parents.

Students need to step up and realize that a career is not just going to happen to them…they need to plan. –Lauren Friese

We can’t kid ourselves anymore.

Landing a secure job is going to be tough, and it probably may require additional schooling, even if it involves changing our field/s of interest (to a more financially rewarding one), which is a common trend popping up today.

We need to take advantage of our campus career services, be somewhat open to novel opportunities, expand our professional network, consider perspectives of those who are immersed in our careers of interest, and plan our path.

This search for a secure, ‘ideal’ career is not going to be easy, and we need to accept that we may need to go back to the diploma mill to increase our employability.

Fellow science degree holders, we are all in this boat together.

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