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Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
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1
What Are Your Career Goals?

People seek careers in science or engineering for many reasons. Some have specific goals: they wish to cure diseases or combat hunger or reduce pollution; or they dream of developing the next laser, transistor, or vehicle for space travel; or they imagine building companies that capitalize on new engineering capabilities. Some choose careers in science or engineering because they are curious about the natural world. Others are motivated by the excitement and beauty of the intellectual world and hope to formulate theories that will lead to new ways of thinking about the world. Still others imagine educating people about science or engineering in schools or through the media; they want to provide counsel or shape public policies on issues of direct relevance to science or engineering. Each of these motivations is legitimate, each is valuable, and each flows naturally from an education in science and engineering.

Careers in science and engineering are essentially hope-filled endeavors that can improve people's lives and result in knowledge that all people can share. As the techniques

Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
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Approaching a Career

Ellie is majoring in mathematics in her junior year in college. She thinks she wants to teach it—either at the high-school or community-college level. However, she hasn't had any extended teaching experience, is unsure of the credentials required for high-school teaching, and isn't sure how the long hours in the classroom will feel to her.

  • Given her goal, should Ellie aim for graduate study?
  • If she doesn't choose graduate school, what kind of career can she expect?

See Appendix A for a discussion of this scenario.

and products of science and technology have become more central to modern society, a background in science and engineering has become essential to more and more careers. In fact, degrees in science and engineering are becoming as fundamental to modern life as the traditional liberal-arts degree. The contributions of scientists and engineers already extend beyond research and development and throughout the realms of teaching, business, industry, and government. People with bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in science or engineering are forming companies, managing businesses, practicing law, formulating policy, consulting, and running for political office. They are forming global communities of common interests that transcend the differences among individuals, corporate endeavors, or nations.

But if you are contemplating a career in science or engineering, how can you begin your planning most effectively? If you are an undergraduate or beginning graduate student—the groups for whom this guide is primarily de-

Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×

How does a GENETICIST/MOLECULAR BIOLOGIST . . . Get to be a Patent Lawyer?

Rochelle Karen Seide, who was trained as a biologist, now enjoys a rewarding career as a patent attorney specializing in biotechnology. After beginning her studies in bacteriology and earning a PhD in human genetics, she completed her schooling with a law degree. This seemingly radical career change, she says, came naturally enough—as an extension of her inborn "people" skills.

"Even when I was a scientist [at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine], I spent a lot of time with other people—teaching, doing genetic counseling. I liked the interpersonal aspects of my work as well as the science. Patent practice lets me use them both."

Dr. Seide is now an attorney in the New York firm of Brumbaugh, Graves, Donohue & Raymond. In her specialty of intellectual-property law, she spends much of her time in litigation and counseling: Does a new biotechnology process or product merit a patent? Can a client expect good protection for the life of the patent? To answer such questions, she must understand the cutting-edge research that her clients are doing. She could not do this without her expertise in—and love for—science.

Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×

Dr. Seide feels that it was important to focus on science for its own sake while working toward her PhD. However, she encourages students to understand that ''if you want to do science from another perspective, more avenues are open to you. I have found how exciting it is to learn from people in other disciplines and to look at science from other perspectives."

Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×

signed—how well do your own skills and personality match the career you imagine?

It is important to remember that science-oriented students are not all alike, any more than all artists or all politicians are alike. Your success will depend on going where your particular interests lead you. Are you exhilarated by the challenge of a new problem or puzzle or need? Does the complexity of the natural world prompt a desire to understand it? If so, science and engineering study—rigorous though it is—will provide you with the tools and concepts that you need to achieve your goals.

Your own goals will determine which academic degree is most appropriate for you. Many people find satisfying careers in a variety of positions after the bachelor's degree. Others, notably engineers, find that a master's degree equips them well for professional careers. For those who hope for careers conducting research and/or teaching at the university level, a PhD will probably be required.

No degree guarantees lifetime employment. Like professionals in other fields, you might still have to change jobs and even careers during your life—perhaps more than once. It is the purpose of this guide to help you lay the foundation for your journey, no matter how many turns your path takes.

Just how rigorous is the path to a scientific or engineering career? Graduate study, in particular, is demanding mentally, physically, and emotionally. Not everyone has the perseverance to complete years of concentrated study. But the experience of doing scientific or technical work is supremely exhilarating for those with sufficient interest and determination. And many people will be willing to help you along the way and assist you over difficult hurdles as you gain the confidence to think and work independently.

Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×

Are you bright enough to become a scientist or engineer? Again, there is no standard against which to measure yourself; no kind of intelligence applies across all the many fields of science and engineering. But you can do no better than to trust in your deepest feeling. If your enjoyment of mathematics and science is real, you will probably want to understand, use, and explore them on a deeper level.

One of the most helpful guides to doctoral study in both science and engineering is a slim book by scientist and writer Peter Medawar titled Advice to a Young Scientist. Medawar writes: "A novice must stick it out until he [or she] discovers whether the rewards and compensations of a scientific [or engineering] life are for him [or her] commensurate with the disappointments and the toil; but if once a scientist [or engineer] experiences the exhilaration of discovery and the satisfaction of carrying through a really tricky experiment . . . then he [or she] is hooked and no other kind of life will do." And again Medawar is helpful: "One does not need to be terrifically brainy to be a good scientist. . . . Common sense one cannot do without, and one would be the better for owning some of those old-fashioned virtues . . . application, diligence, a sense of purpose, the power to concentrate, to persevere and not be cast down by adversity." (Medawar 1979).

Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×

Action Points

  • Make a list of reasons why you like to study science and engineering and a list of reasons why you don't. Compare the two lists.
  • Make a list of the positive and negative aspects of various careers in which you are interested.
  • Seek out people with science and engineering backgrounds who work in careers in which you are interested and ask them to have lunch with you so that you can ask them about their work and how they got where they are today. How do they spend their time? What do they find most satisfying and most disagreeable? Does the life that they describe appeal to you?
  • If you're an undergraduate, talk with several graduate students; if you're a beginning graduate student, talk with several advanced students or postdoctoral students. Ask them what they have learned that they wish they had known early in their careers.
Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
Page 3
Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
Page 4
Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"1 WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5129.
×
Page 8
Next: 2 HOW CAN YOU MEET YOUR CAREER GOALS? »
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As science and technology advance, the needs of employers change, and these changes continually reshape the job market for scientists and engineers. Such shifts present challenges for students as they struggle to make well-informed education and career choices. Careers in Science and Engineering offers guidance to students on planning careers--particularly careers in nonacademic settings--and acquiring the education necessary to attain career goals. This booklet is designed for graduate science and engineering students currently in or soon to graduate from a university, as well as undergraduates in their third or fourth year of study who are deciding whether or not to pursue graduate education. The content has been reviewed by a number of student focus groups and an advisory committee that included students and representatives of several disciplinary societies. Careers in Science and Engineering offers advice on not only surviving but also enjoying a science- or engineering-related education and career-- how to find out about possible careers to pursue, choose a graduate school, select a research project, work with advisers, balance breadth against specialization, obtain funding, evaluate postdoctoral appointments, build skills, and more. Throughout, Careers in Science and Engineering lists resources and suggests people to interview in order to gather the information and insights needed to make good education and career choices. The booklet also offers profiles of science and engineering professionals in a variety of careers. Careers in Science and Engineering will be important to undergraduate and graduate students who have decided to pursue a career in science and engineering or related areas. It will also be of interest to faculty, counselors, and education administrators.

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