Science and Engineering

Students seek careers in science or engineering for many reasons. Some have specific goals: they wish to cure diseases or combat hunger or reduce pollution; or they dream of developing the next laser, transistor, or vehicle for space travel; or they imagine building companies that capitalize on new engineering capabilities. Some choose careers in science or engineering because they are curious about the natural world. Others are motivated by the excitement and beauty of the intellectual world and hope to formulate theories that will lead to new ways of thinking about the world. Still others imagine educating people about science or engineering in schools or through the media; they want to provide counsel or shape public policies on issues of direct relevance to science or engineering. Each of these motivations is legitimate, each is valuable, and each flows naturally from an education in science and engineering.

Careers in science and engineering are essentially hope-filled endeavors that can improve people's lives and result in knowledge that all people can share. As the techniquesand products of science and technology have become more central to modern society, a background in science and engineering has become essential to more and more careers. In fact, degrees in science and engineering are becoming as fundamental to modern life as the traditional liberal-arts degree. The contributions of scientists and engineers already extend beyond research and development and throughout the realms of teaching, business, industry, and government. People with bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in science or engineering are forming companies, managing businesses, practicing law, formulating policy, consulting, and running for political office. They are forming global communities of common interests that transcend the differences among individuals, corporate endeavors, or nations.

But if you are contemplating a career in science or engineering, how can you begin your planning most effectively? If you are an undergraduate or beginning graduate student—the groups for whom this guide is primarily de-signed—how well do your own skills and personality match the career you imagine?

It is important to remember that science-oriented students are not all alike, any more than all artists or all politicians are alike. Your success will depend on going where your particular interests lead you. Are you exhilarated by the challenge of a new problem or puzzle or need? Does the complexity of the natural world prompt a desire to understand it? If so, science and engineering study—rigorous though it is—will provide you with the tools and concepts that you need to achieve your goals.

Your own goals will determine which academic degree is most appropriate for you. Many people find satisfying careers in a variety of positions after the bachelor's degree. Others, notably engineers, find that a master's degree equips them well for professional careers. For those who hope for careers conducting research and/or teaching at the university level, a PhD will probably be required.

No degree guarantees lifetime employment. Like professionals in other fields, you might still have to change jobs and even careers during your life—perhaps more than once. It is the purpose of this guide to help you lay the foundation for your journey, no matter how many turns your path takes.

Just how rigorous is the path to a scientific or engineering career? Graduate study, in particular, is demanding mentally, physically, and emotionally. Not everyone has the perseverance to complete years of concentrated study. But the experience of doing scientific or technical work is supremely exhilarating for those with sufficient interest and determination. And many people will be willing to help you along the way and assist you over difficult hurdles as you gain the confidence to think and work independently.

Are you bright enough to become a scientist or engineer? Again, there is no standard against which to measure yourself; no kind of intelligence applies across all the many fields of science and engineering. But you can do no better than to trust in your deepest feeling. If your enjoyment of mathematics and science is real, you will probably want to understand, use, and explore them on a deeper level.

One of the most helpful guides to doctoral study in both science and engineering is a slim book by scientist and writer Peter Medawar titled Advice to a Young Scientist. Medawar writes: "A novice must stick it out until he [or she] discovers whether the rewards and compensations of a scientific [or engineering] life are for him [or her] commensurate with the disappointments and the toil; but if once a scientist [or engineer] experiences the exhilaration of discovery and the satisfaction of carrying through a really tricky experiment . . . then he [or she] is hooked and no other kind of life will do." And again Medawar is helpful: "One does not need to be terrifically brainy to be a good scientist. . . . Common sense one cannot do without, and one would be the better for owning some of those old-fashioned virtues . . . application, diligence, a sense of purpose, the power to concentrate, to persevere and not be cast down by adversity." (Medawar 1979).

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