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A Career in Science: A Treasure Trove of Opportunities

  • You could be a scientist too!
    You could be a scientist too!

Photo: Siddharth Kankaria / Research Matters

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Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, astrobiologist, author and science communicator had once famously said - “Science is a way of thinking”. But how does one ‘think’ in science? If you have an inquisitive mind that loves to question and explore things around you, chances are that you actually ‘think’ scientifically and perhaps have a scientific bent of mind. Then why not consider a degree in science? With a plethora of exciting options to choose from, science education today is most exciting than ever! Here’s a list of resources and opportunities to help you in your quest for science.

Honing one’s scientific aptitude

There is a perception that students who excel in academics at school naturally have a scientific bent of mind and are eligible to pursue science. But nothing else can be far from truth. While it is great to excel in academics, one’s school years are also formative years to analyse and consolidate his/her aptitude for science by being exposed to science-based activities at various levels.

Thanks to the Internet, today students have easy access to ample science-based resources – books, blogs, videos and podcasts. Popular books on science by authors like Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Richard Dawkins, Issac Asimov, Stephen Hawking and others kindle one’s interest on various aspects of science. If books are not one’s cup of tea, there are various multimedia offerings in the form of podcasts and videos published by the likes of Science, Nature, RadioLab and 60 Second Science, to choose from.

Numerous competitive exams also provide an excellent platform to put one’s scientific knowledge to test. National Science Olympiad (NSO), International Science Olympiads (offered separately in various subjects), National Talent Search Examination (NTSE), National Level Science Talent Search Examination (NSTSE, Unified Council) and Science Olympiad Foundation are great places to begin.

But, school curriculum can only take one, so far. Participation in extra-curricular activities like debates, quizzes, exhibitions that showcase science models and demonstrations, nature walks, citizen science initiatives and volunteering for various conservation projects can further help students in broadening their scientific knowledge. These activities ensure that students are not only adept at learning scientific concepts, but also develop critical soft-skills like communicating and working as a team, resulting in one experiencing a wholesome flavour of science.

Avenues in Science Education

A degree in science starts by choosing to study science subjects after school, in the 11th and 12th standards. While most science curriculums today offer a choice between mathematics and biology, and mandate the study of physics and chemistry, some offer the option to study all the four. This allows students to better appreciate the interconnection between all these basic science subjects, defying the man-made demarcations. Considering one’s interest may evolve in future, an early exposure to basic sciences enables building a strong foundation in science and opens up more options for the future.

Gone are the days when science education at a college level meant a professional degree in either engineering or medicine. Newer avenues in ecology and conservation related studies, animal behaviour and veterinary sciences, agricultural sciences or interdisciplinary fields lying at the interface of the natural and social sciences provide lush and fulfilling professional careers. These enhanced opportunities are calling on students to consider basic sciences and the grand old degrees are gaining back their lustre. 

Today, Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) and Master of Science (M.Sc.) degrees are offered in various colleges across the country. Institutes like the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERs) have taken a degree in science to a whole new level with their 4 year B.Sc. (Research) and 5 year Integrated M.Sc. programmes that are focussed towards building a strong foundation in all natural sciences than offering specialisations. One can secure an admission to these courses through competitive exams like Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE), All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) and Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY).

What’s more, many of these institutes offer scholarships to eligible students to financially support their education.  KYPY, for example, provides a monthly scholarship amount to all KVPY scholars enrolled in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in basic sciences. The INSPIRE fellowship offered by the Department of Science and Technology provides an annual scholarship to students pursuing a degree in basic sciences.

But, what if one can’t crack competitive exams or is time pressed due to other reasons but is still interested in pursuing science education? The Internet is here to help! The advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) from reputed universities through channels like Coursera or EdX open up the possibility of earning a degree sitting thousands of miles away from a university. Hundreds of online courses for people with various academic backgrounds are offered either free of cost or with a nominal fee for a certificate. With personalized feedback, video tutorials, online meet-ups and active discussion forums, they come close to giving a real classroom experience, and augment one’s learning.

In addition to classes in schools, students today have an opportunity to gain hands-on practical experience by being an ‘intern’ in a scientific institute or industry, or a ‘volunteer’ in a scientific study.  This exposes them to the process of research and trains them to ‘think’ like a scientist – logically, analytically and objectively. There are also various short-term science-based courses offered by certain universities and NGOs.

Career Avenues in Science

A degree in science reaches its highest level with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), enabling one to carry out further research in his/her area of choice. A couple of post-doctoral research experiences can enhance a researcher’s skills and eventually help to serve as a faculty in an institution. Pursuing research, often perceived to be intellectually challenging and intensive, is a rewarding experience on its own. With ever-growing number of research laboratories and facilities in our country, as well as various funding agencies, cutting edge research at institutes like IISc, IITs, IISERs, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), etc., have put India in the forefront of research.

Government organizations like Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and PowerGrid, have a great demand for graduates in basic sciences and offer a competitive pay at par with industry standards. A career as a scientist in government institutes can be a great way to balance one’s thirst for research with an excelling career.

If research is not one’s true calling, there is an increasing number of science graduates who branch into allied fields like science communication, scientific publishing, science policy formulation, administrative and consulting roles in scientific institutions, and delivering services that cater to the scientific community. Civil services and entrepreneurial ventures also appeal to many science graduates.

As Albert Einstein put it, “the important thing is to never stop questioning”, and science education teaches you exactly that. It teaches life lessons in problem-solving, analytical thinking, de-constructing and processing data, and most importantly, keeps one inquisitive for life!. With never-ending avenues for a career in science, time is ripe to get cracking, get creative and to be inquisitive!