How to Pursue a Career in Science- Advice from a Harvard Student

I remember the first time I did a dissection in science class. I was in 6th grade, so 12 years-old, and we were dissecting pigs’ lungs. As part of the exercise, we placed straws in the specimen’s windpipe and pushed air through to watch the lungs expand and inflate. It was that moment, when my grossed out dissection partner shied away and I took charge, that I knew that I wanted to explore the world around me through science.

By now, you may not know what type of career you want to have, but if you are thinking about a career in a science field, there are a number of things to consider.

First, are you a curious person? Do you like to understand the world around you? In high school you are learning the basics but if you continue with a science field, your education will give you great insights into the world around you. For example, you’ll understand why and how your heart rate increases as your run down the street. You’ll understand the aerodynamics that help your airplane take off and carry you to new destinations.

Second, are you a person who likes to work with his or hands? Do projects make you happier than essays? Writing is always important but there is a distinction between those who love to read literature and write essays and those who are satisfied by tangible, product-driven projects. This is true throughout your career too – if you end up working in a lab you’ll find yourself working with your hands as you pipette genetic samples and spin tubes of cells to separate the layers. For example, if you pursue a medical career, your hands are diagnostic tools as you press on patients’ abdomens to feel for their liver size and use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal heart sounds.

Last, are you comfortable with math and numbers? This is important; otherwise you will struggle throughout your time in school and later in your career. Don’t fear, you can train yourself to become more comfortable with numbers, but it’s still important to have this knowledge about yourself.

If you answered “yes” to the above, there are some things you can start doing today to prepare yourself for a great career.

  1. Read about Science

If you really are curious about the world, this will probably come naturally to you. But what should you read? Really, anything that interests YOU. The New York Times has an online paper and you can read 10 articles free per month. Their “Science” section comes out every Tuesday and has a mix of interesting articles ranging from space exploration, exercise physiology to stories of patients with cancer. This is a great resource where even non-science lovers can find articles that interest them. I especially enjoy the opinion / perspective pieces where doctors and healthcare works reflect on difficulties they face in patient care. There are also a few books that many pre-medical students read and find inspiring. Check one out:

  • “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” By Tracy Kidder
  • “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” By Anne Fadiman
  • “How Doctors Think,” By Jerome Groopman
  • “Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor” By Perri Klass
  • “The Hot Zone,” By Richard Preston
  • “Better” By Atul Gawande
  • “Cutting for Stone“ By Abraham Verghese

TIP: Although these books may motivate some of you to change the world, when you eventually write admissions essays for college and beyond, don’t say a book is the reason you are doing what you are doing. It’s a generic answer that bores admissions committee members! Reading CAN help you develop an understanding of your interests so that you can eventually write a really strong, unique personal statement.

Another way to explore science interests is through podcasts. NPR has a free online podcast called “Science Fridays” and WNYC Radio Station puts on a podcast called “Radio Lab” with really interesting science-related stories. These are great for on-the-go learning and exploring.

  1. Take Classes

High School

You may not have many opportunities to choose your own classes in high school but you can often choose to take advanced or AP classes. Challenge yourself and take these classes. Even if it’s AP European History and you think it won’t help you with science classes, the challenge alone will teach you something. There is also an opportunity to take classes through local universities and community colleges. Free, open, online courses are also becoming more and more available to students like you. Check out Courses and see if you can sign-up for an online course that interests you.

University

When you get to university, you may feel pressure to be a chemistry or biology major, to advance you in a science career. While these majors can help you, you should still find a major and take classes that meet your interests. I ended up majoring in Biology because it meant I only had to take four additional classes beyond my pre-med requirements.

This gave me the flexibility to keep up my French minor and explore classes in anthropology and sociology. A classmate of mine majored in philosophy and another majored in policy, while still completing their pre-med requirements. They hope to be doctors who focus on medical ethics and healthcare policy, respectively. Can you imagine if they felt limited to science majors only? Explore, explore, explore.

TIP: If you do plan to explore a non-traditional route, it will require foresight and planning to keep up with your science requirements. I wanted to go abroad during the spring of my junior year, which is when most pre-meds take physics and study for the MCAT. Instead, I completed physics over one summer and studied for the MCAT over another. I was living at home and working at a lab at the same time. My junior year was then free to take a class from my major, continue French, and eventually go abroad.

  1. Volunteer

If you are really interested in science, you can round out your experiences by volunteering in something related to your field of interest. It’s important that you start taking these opportunities on early in your education for a few reasons.

Universities are looking for well-rounded individuals; it doesn’t matter if you ace all of your science classes, they want students who will offer something outside of the classroom. Also extracurricular activities and community service turn you into a leader outside of the classroom. These experiences help you learn organizational, administrative, and teamwork skills you don’t gain through coursework. Last, these opportunities give you a chance to understand how you can use science to make a difference in the world. Volunteer at a local clinic, tutor younger students in science, or help out at a blood drive. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something.

Take a help of Science Tutor Mississauga to make your career in science.

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