Uncertainty about degree options

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Uncertainty about degree options

Postby alexwr » Wed Jul 11, 2012 2:06 pm

Hello I am a Marine Science major at the University of Delaware. I am having a lot of difficulty deciding whether or not this will be a profitable career pathway. I am interested in genetics, plant biology, marine biology, and microbiology but am unsure as to which of those would yield the greatest job potential. I have looked up many jobs online but I still do not see a clear winner. I am planning on going to graduate school for one of these, I just don't know which to focus on. My idea was either major in genetics, major in Marine and minor in micro (or vice versa), or to double major in both and minor in plant science or genetics, whichever would give me decent living. I was wondering if you had any opinions on what to do, or if you have any idea as to which of my interests possesses the most profitable career that is also in high demand. Also, what types of careers could I earn with that type of degree with a masters or a doctorate?
And I know by now you're probably sick of me, but if I were to earn a PhD, who would fund my research and how would I find an someone to fund me?
As you can see I have a lot of questions but unlike most college students, I have a pretty good general idea what I want to do for the rest of my life. My parents are pestering me and I'm feeling axioms about my future so I thought it would be wise to ask an expert like yourself. You don't have to answer all of these questions, I'm mainly looking for your opinion.
-Alex Wright
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Re: Uncertainty about degree options

Postby donnahardy2 » Sun Jul 15, 2012 10:58 am

Hi Alex,

You have challenging questions. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? And, in addition, your parents are asking for immediate answers. This is not easy. However, here are some comments from experience that I hope will be helpful to you.

You should probably pick the major that is most interesting to you. Ideally, there will be one professor that will inspire you to choose the best major for you. If not, then think about what you would be doing in a potential job. Do you prefer working with people or doing research independently? Hopefully you will be interested enough in one of your classes to confirm your major within the next year.

What are you doing this summer? If you have time, then contact individuals who have careers in Marine Science, Microbiology, Genetics, and Plant Sciences. Visit them at work and see what they do. You will be absolutely amazed at what is involved in the day-to-day routine. This will help you confirm you are on the right track or that you need to change immediately. Whatever your career will be, you will be doing it every day for many years, so you need to make sure you are going to like it.

Your choice of careers will be in the academic world government lab, or in industry. You can have a very rewarding career in any of these areas. In academics, you would be doing research and teaching. In government, you would do research, surveillance monitoring, administration, or perhaps become involved in developing government policy. You seem to be thinking about an academic path, which is good, but I would also encourage you to consider industry, as these careers are sometimes more profitable. With a degree in any of the fields you are considering, in a private company, you could do research, marketing, sales, manufacturing, quality control, business development, or perhaps start your own company. At the company that I work for, the combination of a PhD degree with a career in sales seems to be most profitable. Since you are in Delaware, try looking for the job postings at DuPont (search for DuPont career paths). That will give you an idea about the local career potential in an industrial setting. Please note that there are always a lot of positions open in engineering, so if you have any aptitude or interest in engineering, you should consider this possibility for a career. Engineers are always in demand.

I would encourage you to get the highest degree possible, so a PhD is an excellent goal. However, it is much too early to worry about who will fund your PhD research. By the time you are ready for that step, you will already have an answer, or you will have switched to an MBA program, a teaching credential program, or applied for medical or law school. For now, just concentrate on confirming your current combination of majors and minors based on your personal preference.

To respond to your parents, I think they would be less worried if you had a definite goal. They may be worried because you haven’t been able to make up your mind on what to do. So tell them what you are planning to do to help make a final decision. Based on your research about local jobs, tell them about all of the career possibilities available to you. Hopefully, this will reassure them. They have invested a lot of effort in your success and they are asking questions because they are concerned about your future.

Donna Hardy
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Re: Uncertainty about degree options

Postby wendellwiggins » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:22 pm

Hello alexwr,

All the comments from Donna Hardy are very applicable to your questions. I'll add just two more comments.

While you are working toward your degree(s), it is valuable to make your education as broad as possible. Studying as much as you can fit in from the basic sciences (math, physics, chemistry) will help you do whatever you try, and the broad, fundamental background will qualify you for more, different career positions.

Use every opportunity you can find to apply what you learn as soon as possible. Ask your professors if you can work in their labs (paid or unpaid). Look for summer jobs that relate somehow to your goals. The details of what you work on are not as important as being able to say that you worked in some scientific environment and accomplished at least a small contribution.

Good luck, WW
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Re: Uncertainty about degree options

Postby John Dreher » Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:06 pm

I'd like to add two more points to reinforce the previous excellent advice. First, while widening your studies as WW suggested, pay special attention to basic mathematics such as calculus, probability, and statistics. It may not be apparent now, but these tools will give you a real advantage later on no matter what career path you eventually follow. Second, make every possible effort in your Junior/Senior years (or even earlier) to find some sort of undergraduate research opportunity with a professor at your school. Many schools have formal programs for this type of activity that allow you to earn credits for the time you spend, which will be considerable if you are lucky. This type of work is what will make you really stand out from the pack when you apply for admittance to graduate schools and for scholarships or other financial support for your graduate studies. One letter of recommendation from a professor who really knows you is worth any number of generic letters from professors with whom you have just taken courses even if you did well in those courses. In addition, the "hands on" experience will give you a leg up in your graduate thesis research.
John Dreher
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