What to be, or what not to be?

A common assumption among science students is that they will continue on in post-graduate academia by pursuing either medical school or graduate studies in research. As a third-year biology student, I am not alone in being unsure about my own plans after completing my degree at Mount Allison. For students in the sciences who find neither of these paths appealing, last Friday’s seminar on alternate career paths in the sciences provided a welcome breath of fresh air. The seminar, offered by Mt. A, featured four female scientists who increased awareness of less conventional science-oriented career options.

The seminar not only presented less traditional careers based in science, but also demonstrated that women can find meaningful careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), an important step to encourage more women to pursue the sciences. The speakers, all Mt. A graduates, talked to students about their careers as, respectively, a health and wellness coordinator, wildlife technician, associate portfolio manager, and IT consultant at a large accounting firm.

Failure to launch is a common but not unconquerable fear. Louis Sobol/Argosy

Though from different career paths, the women offered similar words of advice to students, with central themes that addressed the importance of volunteer work and taking risks when exploring future academia and career possibilities.

Sarah van der Laan, IT consultant for Ernst and Young in Halifax, advised students about broadening horizons for the future. “Volunteering gives you the opportunity to get involved in different areas of your field that you wouldn’t normally be [involved in],” van der Laan said.

A word of encouragement came from Monica Firminger, associate portfolio manager at the OPTrust Pension Fund, which stressed the importance of not feeling pressure to stay in the same job forever. Firminger advocated for the value of career fluidity and encouraged students: “You’re not stuck. Moving around is good.”

Examples of less traditional career paths after undergraduate studies in science can be seen in the Mt. A student community. Recently accepted to the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie, fourth-year biology student Cydney Kane said, “I am not abandoning science, it is becoming a base for everything else…Studying biology fostered a curiosity about the world that I will not lose.”

Kane said that during her time at Mt. A, she grew to realize that research was not for her. “I am interested in the concept of environmental law,” Kane said, referencing her interest in and passion for environmental conservation. “I know that something has to change.”

Suzie Currie, head of Mt. A’s biology department, gives advice and encouragement to young scientists every day. “It is important to recognize the creativity and beauty present in science…I encourage young students to keep an open mind and to allow themselves to enjoy things that they maybe thought they wouldn’t like,” she said. Because if you never try, you’ll never know.

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