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High School Student Thinking About Future Careers

  1. May 19, 2015 #1
    Hey! I'm a Grade 11 (entering Grade 12) high school student living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and I was wondering if I could come here and ask a question on if anyone could give me any advice on what I should do with my life? More specifically, which one of these careers do you think would be better for me? A Physicist, An Astrophysicist, or an Engineer?

    I'll give you a little background on me. I'm a high school girl who LOVES Science. I also love computers, art, music, writing, drama, and Biology. You can see why I'm a bit confused, right? I also really want to help... call me idealistic but.. save the world in the future. Find out something that could improve our quality of life. Find something that could help save our environment. Another personal interest of mind is mechanics, and most importantly, this sounds stupid but, if one day we could possibly give humans more accurate prosthetic limbs. Like limbs that were widely available, and gave the same functions as a person's lost limb. That would be great to be part of. But, I also love the planets, and I would love to be invested in discovering a new one, or perhaps, I don't know, designing a possible spaceship. I also love Green Energy, and a job where I get to help people harness and/or use it would be awesome. Most of these are stupid fantasies, I'm sure.

    But like I said I'm not sure what I Should go into, and if I should even bother with science. My High School GPA is 3.0, and I'd need to get higher to get into a University up here (I think I could do this easily though). I'm also very, very good at Physics and Biology, but I've had issues with Math and Chemistry this year (Although Chemistry I think at least it's because my teacher was bad. The entire class complained about her). I'm really, really good at Music, Law and English, but those don't really tie into any of the careers I posted above, and before anyone asks, I really don't want to go into law.

    Aside from that, I'm trying to figure out if I should become a Physicist, an Astrophysicist or an Engineer. I'm really concerned with a lot of things, how much schooling is required for each position (my family doesn't have a lot of money), if there's even a market for these jobs anymore (I hear really bad things about Engineers in Ontario), and which job I'd like better. I should also mention that along with being a girl, I'm also a visible minority (Black), and I've just read a lot of studies online that the STEM field isn't exactly friendly to people like me? This isn't really a factor, I'm not going to let that stop me, but if anyone has any personal experience with that their input would be welcome too.

    So, tl;dr: Engineer, Astrophysicist or Physicist? Any input is welcome!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 19, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Only you can best answer this question. My suggestion is to create a list of pros and cons for each career type, score each one by importance to you and then add them up. What you may find is that one career will come to the fore but you may still feel unsure and that's okay. You will have lots of time in college to decide on a career. You can continue to use to your list and reevaluate it from time as you explore various academic fields at college.

    Having said that, your desire to help others and your interest in STEM related subjects might mean that becoming an engineer would be the right path. There are many types of engineering. One such popular one is the BME option:


    which incorporates many of your interests and goals but don't make your decision now instead get into college, look around and see whats out there.

    Take care
  4. May 19, 2015 #3


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    To the OP:

    It sounds to me that you are interested in a wide variety of areas, including science, and want to find some way of using those skills to contribute to society. Have you thought about applying to the following programs?

    1. The Systems Design Engineering program offered at the University of Waterloo. It's a multidisciplinary engineering program, unique to the school, which offers students the ability to learn basic engineering design while giving a lot of flexibility to specialize in many different areas, including some of the areas you mentioned (biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, etc.) Here is a link to the program and its description below.


    2. The Engineering Science program offered at U of T. This is a highly competitive, multidisciplinary engineering program that also offers students a chance at learning basic engineering design while offering a chance to specialize in different areas in upper years.


    There are many other programs offered in different schools that may offer a chance to explore your different interests. You have lots of time to think both now and while in university of what to specialize in and what career paths you wish to pursue. Best of luck on your studies!
  5. May 19, 2015 #4
    Thanks a lot for you advice! I was looking into Biomedical Engineering, and I was wondering, since there is "Bio" in the title, does this mean this form of engineering also has a big focus with Biology? Because I LOVE Biology. But thanks for your advice about how much time I have left especially, and the pros and cons.
  6. May 19, 2015 #5
    Thanks for the luck! I have been looking into both programs, and especially the Systems Design Engineering. I guess the only thing that might get in the middle of me achieving that are my marks (Waterloo and UofT are the hardest universities to get into in Ontario), but i think I can make it. Just to as though, do we have anyone on this board who works/took Systems Design Engineering (And for that matter too, Biomedical Engineering)? It'd be cool to learn more about it.
  7. May 20, 2015 #6
    Isn't it much riskier to follow a broad engineering program compared to following a board scientific program?

    For engineering you need very focussed problemsolving skills as you will likely be applying your knowledge to specialized problems. Spreading yourself too thin may hurt yourself more there.
  8. May 20, 2015 #7


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    You can get a good job as an engineer with just a bachelor's degree, but there are many different engineering fields to choose from. Probably mechanical engineering is the most versatile, but regardless of the particular engineering specialization, pretty much the first two years of college are spent learning the basics of engineering, which includes math, physics, chemistry, etc. After that, then the courses become more focused on actual engineering study.

    In addition to mechanical engineering, electrical or electronic engineering, chemical engineering, and possibly petroleum engineering may provide good career opportunities for a new graduate starting out.

    As far as Physicist or Astrophysicist, most of these jobs will be largely found in academic environments, universities and think tanks and such. If you want to get a shot at a good job as a physicist, this will probably mean you'll need to attend graduate school, with the goal of getting a doctorate. Ditto for Astrophysicist, which is really just a specialization of physics applied to studying things in outer space.
  9. May 20, 2015 #8


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    I can understand why you may think so, but from what I know anecdotally of people who have graduated from broad engineering programs like the University of Waterloo's Systems Design Engineering program and the University of Toronto's Engineering Science program is that the respective programs provided the students with a very solid set of problem-solving skills that can be applied to a broad range of problems, with ability to specialize in later years. Graduates have subsequently been able to find careers in a broad range of areas.

    This is particularly the case with the Systems Design Engineering program -- in which, like all engineering programs at the University of Waterloo, students are required to pursue (usually paid) co-op internships as part of their ability to complete the program, giving students about the equivalent of up to 2 years work experience prior to graduation.
  10. May 20, 2015 #9
    You would graduate with a master in Canada? If so,you still have time to specialize in the MSc part.

    I don't dispute that they are good schools. But people from the specialized engineering programs will be better solving the problems they specialized in.
    Generally, companies aren't so interested in hiring allround engineers.

    If you are a scientist or work alone or in a very small team/company, then it may help.

    But as an engineer in a big company you will often be tasked to solve a very specific program. If you end up in a management position, yes then it pays off to know a little about everything.

    Generally, I hear far worse things about interdisciplinary engineering programs than interdisciplinary science.
  11. May 20, 2015 #10


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    In Canada, you graduate with a bachelor's degree, with an additional year or two to finish a masters. As for the Systems Design Engineering program (of which I've had numerous friends graduate from), students have the option of specializing in various directions in their 3rd and 4th years in various different directions (e.g. biomedical, electrical, mechanical, environmental, industrial, to name just a few). And I would disagree about companies not interested in all-round engineers -- so long as you have the specific technical knowledge or the capacity to learn it, the specifics of the engineering program doesn't matter nearly as much (with a few exceptions).
  12. May 20, 2015 #11
    Undergrad engineering programs can be pretty generalized even if you get a degree 'specifically' in EE, ME, NE, CompE, CivilE, ChemE and so on. You're taught to solve relatively simple problems in the classroom and the difficulty goes up exponentially in labs and projects but it's not like you getting a degree in X kind of engineering prepares to solve all kinds of problems in a chosen sub-field. Especially because you can end up with a generalized degree in X engineering, depending on what electives you pick. You're putting too much stock in the name.
  13. May 21, 2015 #12
    Thanks for all of the replies guys!

    Speaking financial wise and interest wise, I think I'm leaning more towards Engineering. One question though, would any of you say that where you go to study Engineering has a lot to do with your success after University? I want to go to U of T or Waterloo, but those two schools are really competitive. And if it does matter, does anyone know of any other schools in Ontario that are similar to them in prestige? Thanks again.
  14. May 21, 2015 #13
    Unless the school is very well known in a sub-field or is in like a nation wide top 10 list, I wouldn't say the prestige of where you graduate from matters as much for industry as it might for academia. If you have the right background (in terms of classwork and project work) and can make the case that you have the skills to solve the kind of problems an industry is looking for, you can get a job.
  15. May 21, 2015 #14

    So this is just a general update towards everyone on the thread, but I've decided to study towards Biomedical, Electrical or Mechanical Engineering. In particular, I'm looking at studying Engineering Science with a focus in Biomedical Systems at the University of Toronto, and Systems Design with a Biomedical focus for the University of Waterloo. I might look into Physics later if I have time, but so far I think that Engineering is more of what I'd want to do.

    My only issue now is actually one of money. My parents don't really have a lot of money to give me if I head off to school, and from what I've been looking at in Ontario, OSAP wont cover my full costs. (I can't stay at home during my studies because of some personal issues, I don't really want to go into it.) Does anyone know any other way to fund an education? Like, loans, Scholarships, bursaries, etc? And what will happen if I can't get the entire amount (actually around 20k for one year) in time?
  16. May 21, 2015 #15


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    Hi ShatteredAwe,

    Sounds like you're on the right track. Are there things in Canada similar to Community Colleges like we have in the States? Basically you two your first two years at a local Community College at vastly reduced cost and then you can transfer to a four-year college for your final two years and you get a BS degree from the 4-year school. I recommend you look into that to see if they have a similar thing in Canada. It might help with the cost.

    Also, after your second year in college you can get a decent internship which should go a long way towards paying your third and fourth year.
  17. May 21, 2015 #16
    There is something like that here, but at the same time it's very different.

    From what I've observed, there are only two Universities that let someone do something like this. Basically, the process is that someone would go to College for 3 years to achieve a Engineering Technologist Advanced Diploma, and then you'd apply to either Lakehead Or Queen's University (I'm not 100% that Queens does this but I read it somewhere on the internet). Then you'll spend 2 or so years studying at that University, and you'll both have your Diploma and your Bachelors of Engineering. So basically it's 5 years instead of 4 years for a regular Degree. The only issue I can see with this is that it's the only one of it's kind in Ontario, and I'm not sure how I'd survive in Thunder Bay, but I'm looking into it.
  18. May 22, 2015 #17


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    Have you thought about looking into the Canada Student Loans program, which is a separate student loan program from OSAP? I know many students who were eligible and have taken loans from one or both programs to complete their studies. Here are some links you can look into:

    http://www.canlearn.ca/eng/index.shtml [Broken]

    Also, are you certain that OSAP won't cover your full costs? OSAP has generally been known to be fairly generous so long as you meet certain criteria (e.g. not relying on your parents' income). I would speak to your guidance counselor from school about other student financing options. I would also contact both U of T and Waterloo for any financial assistance programs or bursaries/scholarships that may be available for you.

    Another possible option may be to contact your bank/credit union where you bank and ask about individual student loan programs that they may offer, separate from Canada Student Loans/OSAP. I wouldn't recommend this, since these loans often charge higher interests, but it may be worth a look.

    I would also add that if you do decide to attend Waterloo, you are required to go through co-op, and many students have used the money earned from their co-op placements to cover at least part of their school costs like tuitions, books, etc. U of T has a similar program called the Professional Experience Year (PEY) available for 2nd or 3rd year students (essentially a year-long internship), and there are numerous other internship opportunities available, which can go some way to covering school costs.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  19. May 22, 2015 #18
    Awesome. I'm personally going to see if I can get a part time job for the next 2 summers to try and save up. I think that will help me a little bit.

    Thank you everyone for giving me pointers/tips! If you all don't mind I'm going to ask you another Engineering related question. In terms of employment and/or career advancement, would you say that Systems Design Engineering or Engineering Science is a better topic to study? Also, does anyone know how Co-Op is like? For example, if you have a Co-Op term and you're living on Campus at a University, would you still live on campus and just commute to your Co-op placement? Sorry for asking these questions a few years before I'll need the answers, I'm just really curious.
  20. May 24, 2015 #19


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    As to your first question, I really can't say which program has better employment and/or career prospects. I've known people who have graduated from both programs who have found great employment opportunities, although my personal sense (based on my conversations with people I've known who have graduated from both programs) is that the Systems Design Engineering program tend to open many more doors for career advancement/employment, especially if you don't necessarily wish to pursue beyond the undergraduate level.

    As far as the Co-op system works, here is a link to provide you with reference:


    From the link above, what you see is that in the co-op program as administered at the University of Waterloo, students alternate between study terms and co-op work terms. During a study term, students apply to numerous job positions, and the employers will interview those they select among students who have applied to the program. You the student will rank among the employers who have interviewed you and you will be matched to that employer (remember, all of this occurs during your study term).

    Keep in mind that co-op placements could take place anywhere in Canada or even outside of Canada, so you may not necessarily be living some place that is within commuting distance from Waterloo, although you are certainly able to apply to employers and positions either in Waterloo or near where you and your family live. Among my friends who graduated from Waterloo who pursued co-op, many did just that, and for those who had co-op placements in the city of Waterloo, many chose to live either on campus or in other nearby rental units.
  21. May 25, 2015 #20


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    There are magazines you should get and look for the special issues. The magazines have titles like Physics Today or Biomedicine Today or that sort of pattern. They are the "happy gossip" sort of magazine specific to particular areas of study. University XYZ has started a new primate research department, and University LMQ has expanded their library and that sort of thing.

    What you want are the issues of these magazines with recent graduates. You want to find out where recent grads have gotten jobs. If you are considering a school and you find that recent grads from there have gotten jobs that make you go BINGO! then that is probably a good school to apply to. If the jobs all make you go Ick! then you should think about driving on by.

    Your librarian will know how to get such magazines. Or you may be able to Google them.
  22. May 25, 2015 #21
    I graduated from Systems Design Engineering (BASc 2001, MASc 2003), and this is a tough question to answer. If you're skilled and motivated and work well with others, then your program can influence specific employment opportunities but it probably won't affect your success. For example, I worked for over 7 years at MDA Space Missions, where I learned that MDA had strong ties to the Engineering Science program at UofT - but that didn't stop me from working there.

    When I was applying to university programs, I lucked out and found a first-year student in electrical and computer engineering who helped convince me to go into Systems Design. This was back in 1995, and at the time the E&CE program was extremely competitive, while the systems design classes tended to work together much more; to a large degree we worked together, studied together, and passed together. That was 20 years ago, though, so I would suggest trying to get in touch with some current students if you can. The university visitor information centres should be able to help with that. My wife used to work as a tour guide, when she was a student, and I remember her describing that they had students working on replying to questions like yours.

    The co-op program is amazing! It can get annoying to move every 4 months, but that also helps keep you from accumulating too much stuff. :-) When I went through it, we had to find our own accommodations for each semester, but you might be able to arrange to live on campus if you have a job nearby. I only had one co-op placement in Waterloo, though, and that was in 4th year so I was already living off campus with a bunch of friends.

    I also want to touch briefly on your comment that you're a girl and a visible minority. My impression as a white male entry-level engineer was that it didn't matter; on my work terms, at MDA and at the CSA it seemed to be fairly evenly distributed -- but in hindsight I do believe there was some bias. In one particular case, one of my female colleagues had to ask for extra work (because she was exceptionally effective) for months before the managers finally caught on and gave her as much as she was capable of. Where my wife (also a visible minority) works as a manufacturing engineer, the distribution is also fairly even at the entry level but now that she's getting more senior it's also getting more biased; for example, in the past couple of years many more men have been promoted than women. It sounds like you have the spirit to succeed despite such hurdles, which is awesome!! If you have time/interest, I would also suggest learning more abound Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In (or just check out her TED talks: https://www.ted.com/speakers/sheryl_sandberg).

    Good luck!
  23. May 26, 2015 #22
    Alright guys! Thanks for all of the replies! I now know of 2 good schools I could go to, and I know how to fund my education now. Also, thanks for all of the extra stuff you guys have posted here!

    I'm set now, but if anyone has anything else to say I'm still going to come in and check on this thread. But thanks a lot to everyone for all of your help! It doesn't really seem to daunting anymore.
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