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Career Uncertainty

  1. Feb 25, 2015 #1
    Hi everyone. Sorry in advance for the long post.

    As much as I regret it, I didn’t spend as much time as I should have thinking about what I wanted to do for a career when I was in college. I graduated with a biology degree in May 2013, and entered a physical therapy program (a decision I had made because I was passionate about physiology and exercise). Unfortunately, I had never worked as a PT aide and didn’t do enough research, and eventually found out that direct interaction with patients on a daily basis was not something that I preferred or was comfortable with. So, I withdrew from the program and am now in the middle of applying to a clinical lab science program. I’m trying to do better this time and make sure I choose a career that’s a good fit for me. I’m more confident that clinical lab science would be better for me than PT, but I still want to research other careers in this time I’m not enrolled in a program just to make sure I’m doing the right thing.

    I realized late in undergrad that I’m passionate about math and physics. Even if I don’t need them for work, I still want to spend some of my time studying those things, like calculus and linear algebra, and working my way up from general physics to quantum mechanics (very gradually lol). Because of this, I’ve been trying to research careers that use some of those skills. I’ve considered (or plan to consider) engineering (mechanical, electrical, or biomedical), computer science, actuary, physicist, and statistician. All of these paths would require more education (at least another whole bachelor’s degree) whereas a clinical lab scientist would only require 2 more years since I’ve completed all of the prerequisite courses as part of my biology degree. The youtube videos I’ve been watching or websites (like BLS) I’ve been looking at give somewhat of a picture, but I feel like they don’t give an accurate feel of what it’s like to be in a certain field, and if I would enjoy it.

    It’s frustrating because I feel like all the careers I’ve listed (including clinical lab scientist) are ones that I could enjoy and potentially be competent at, but that any one of those could be one that I potentially don’t like and am terrible at. I realize that at some point I just have to go for something and take it on faith, but I guess my question is if there are any careers out of the ones I’ve listed that you’d recommend for someone who is interested in learning about physics/math for the enjoyment of understanding the theory. Or if anyone has been in a similar situation. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2015 #2
    Well, fortunately you don't need to have a job in a field to know that you don't like it, generally. If you take some math classes and decide you don't care for it, you probably won't end up as a mathematician. If you take some physics classes and decide you don't like it, you probably won't end up as a physicist. The same thing goes for computer science. You don't need to "go for something and take it on faith", try out some classes. If you can't afford to (whether time or money), try to teach yourself some calculus and basic physics. Physics gets interesting long before quantum mechanics, I promise!
  4. Feb 26, 2015 #3
    These are healthy concerns. Schoolwork tells you little to nothing about how rewarding you’ll actually find the work you do in a career. I agree that you need to start at the end and go backwards; try job shadowing and interviews with people in a career to assess whether it will be a good fit. Watching YouTube videos is a good idea, but I think seeing things in person is important. It seemed to be the clincher with respect to PT, after all.

    I especially encourage you to spend some time researching these Clinical Lab jobs in person. My second-hand experience is that they’re pretty awful jobs, with mediocre pay, a saturated job market, and little room for upward mobility. Hopefully you find I’m wrong!

    However, as you’re researching careers, that keep in mind that finding an appropriate career is only half the battle. I’ve become convinced there are lots of awful jobs in most careers. I much prefer being an actuary to an engineer, but I am confident I would prefer the best engineering jobs to the dullest actuarial ones. I believe the variation in job quality within careers is greater than between them.

    One note – you suggest in your post that you would have to go back to school for 4 years to become an actuary. If you’re in the US this isn’t true. It is not necessarily true in Canada, either.
  5. Mar 5, 2015 #4
    Thanks for the replies! Locrian, I've heard about the little room for upward mobility and less than desirable pay in some cases, but I've also heard that there is a shortage of clinical lab scientists and that the pay is substantial enough to live on. I'm actually taking an intro course in CLS and we're visiting a clinical lab soon. I'm glad as that will give me a chance to see what they do in person and maybe ask some questions.

    I have a few questions about being an actuary if that's OK. I do live in the US. Would I have to take a certain number of courses in math before taking the tests, or do employers mainly look on how well you perform on the actuarial exams? Also, I know next to nothing about business and know that I would have to learn a lot in order to think about becoming an actuary. As an actuary, do you work mostly with probability and statistics and can get away with not thinking so much about business, or do you have to know a lot of business in order to do the day-to-day work?
  6. Mar 5, 2015 #5
    Happy to answer any questions you have.

    It's not strictly necessary to take or retake any courses, though having to learn the background mathematics as you study the exams would slow you down. At the very least, I'd think you'll need a strong background in calculus. There's certainly no degree requirement, and, while rare, there are actuaries with english and music degrees.

    Employers hiring entry level actuarial analysts are generally looking for three things: someone who can pass the exams, someone who can perform the work, and someone they like to work around.

    I would describe actuaries as sophisticated business professionals who use their background in actuarial science to maintain the financial stability of companies (usually insurance) they work for. We are almost never mathematicians and rarely statisticians - the reason being that actuaries have a full time job being actuaries, so there's little time for mathematical research. Actuaries need to know some statistics, and I utilize them regularly, but I use the tools very differently than traditional statisticians (I'm almost never doing hypothesis testing, for instance). There are examples of actuaries who are also statisticians and utilize the more common tools regularly.

    The work you do changes a lot as your progress. Entry level analysts tend to do more technical work, while credentialed actuaries are informing or making business decisions. The process worked out well for me; by the time I became credentialed, I was starting to tire of the technical stuff anyways, and I've found the business side of things very engaging. Not everyone makes that transition well (or at all).
  7. Mar 6, 2015 #6
    When working as a lab analist without a PhD it is always hard to move up. Especially in big companies. Much better if you have more engineering or process technology background as then there's actually people you can manage. And you won't let you manage a lab with research associaties and analists when you don't have a PhD because likely there will be others you would be managing that do have a PhD and a publication track record. When it comes to making decisions about innovating analist methods and developing new products and protocols, your experience and skill as an analist is kind of useless.

    Then throw in automation and MD's/clinical experience, and there are more worries.
    In the US, and some other countries, people often get into this type of career as a backup to becoming an MD or because their fun biology or animal science career doesn't deliver.

    Doesn't mean you shouldn't go into this career or that there won't be any job, but if you are going to be a lab analist, don't expect huge upward mobility.
    As for using math and physics in this line of career, that usually only enters at MSc or PhD level and is mostly too academic for jobs in the private sector. Exception may be statistics and bioinformatics/[...]omics.

    Systems biology is fun, but companies don't need them to less their product. This may change either very slowly or faster than expected, but we can't count on that.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2015
  8. Mar 7, 2015 #7
    I have to disagree. I "tried out" a whole degree in math and thought it was great. I went to grad school where you start doing things similar to the job of being a professor and came out screaming and running for my life. This is applicable to most fields. You can't just think about what it's like to take the courses. You have to think about what job you're going to be doing at the end and if you will like that, not just the courses that lead to it. In my case, I just went off of the courses, assuming everything would be fine, and it was, until I had to teach and do research, which was a completely different thing. And it's always a bit of a gamble to some extent, although some people will keep winning and never realize it. So, at some point, you do have to take the plunge. Also, many people have the experience of not liking a subject and discovering that they liked it later on if a different approach is taken. For example, I never liked math in high school.
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