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The Black Hole

So you want to be “What my parents wanted” when you grow up…

BY DAVID KENT | SEP 20 2010

This is the penultimate entry in our So you want to be a “____” when you grow up series and we have received some really good feedback on it – one final one to come from Beth later this week.  We’ll definitely consider a similar series for the slow web months of Summer 2011, but between now and then we’ll be publishing more commentaries on what is wrong with the science enterprise and steps to be considered in Canada to improve it.

So you want to be “What my parents wanted” when you grow up…

Just as young Canadians today don’t save enough money for their futures, the generation before us also has an entirely different set of values than Generation X/Yers to whom the words “lifetime job” are clearly anathema.  In general, 21st century university graduates are blessed with an enormous amount of flexibility and good fortune, and consequently, have turned from the “provision of food, shelter, and clothing for the family” toward this ethereal quest for “career and life satisfaction”.
This mantra is further emblazoned on the young soul by two statements that often get tossed out carelessly to rooms full of high school graduates or university freshers:

1.  On average, you will have just over 10 jobs in your lifetime
2.  The material in your undergraduate training will often have little to no direct relevance to your future career
With this type of fodder, it’s no wonder that many 20 and 30 somethings find themselves confused, overwhelmed with choice,  and sometimes in need of a few months (or years) of refuge at their parent’s houses.  They are troubled with the question:  If I can do anything I want – am I doing the right thing? The physical stress of manual labour has morphed into the psychological stress of the 21st century lab/office.  Either way, you’re exhausted when you get home each night.

However, some careers that involve a science background (unlike a Postdoc) will virtually guarantee a stable and predictable career path and almost certainly make your parents proud – just be sure you enter it for yourself and not for someone else.   I’ve briefly outlined three of these below:

Medical Doctor – I’ve written about the obsession with additional degrees and the struggle that awaits those who pursue an advanced degree without appropriate motivation for the actual process itself (i.e.: it’s a recipe for disaster to begin a PhD or an MD for the purpose of being satisfied/accomplished in 4-7 years).  Yet, medical doctors are still in very short supply (especially in rural parts of Canada) and if you are willing and able to get into and out of medical school, you will almost certainly be greeted with the option of a steady paycheque and bee-line career path.  The country needs gifted and hard working physicians and those with strong scientific backgrounds will almost certainly improve the quality and quantity of clinical research programs.  I will re-iterate something from an earlier post though – it’s often not necessary to have both an MD and a PhD to do clinical research, most will actually happen when MDs and PhDs work together to solve problems.

Lawyer – Not a career path that jumps to mind after completing an MSc or PhD, but certainly something that a strong backgrond in science can be an enormous asset for.  Case in point, look at the huge hullaballoo that the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation caused with its patents on human embryonic stem cell lines –  for a great commentary (and a little Canadian context) check out Ubaka Ogbogu’s article for the Stem Cell Network blog.  The details of the science in such cases are of critical importance, especially when the “novelty” of a particular invention comes into question.

Business/Industry – Probably the least stable of the three as many people will hop from company to company in search of “upward mobility”, something that is absent in many Canadian cities that lack middle management industry positions. I won’t list off the types of jobs available as this was covered here, but if your quest is for a career, you can almost certainly find one in industry…  research, sales, and/or marketing departments are in need of many science brains and the compensation and hours of work are often a lot easier on the soul compared to seemingly endless academic postdoctoral assignments.

For many, this sadly (or happily depending on who you are) means more school…  MBA, law school, med school = more tests, more evaluation, and more putting off the decision of what exactly you’re going to do with that advanced degree – so be sure you want it before signing up for another multi-year contract.

ABOUT DAVID KENT
David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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