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Why I’ll be a Student as long as I can

If you are an up-to-date reader of this virtual publication, you will surely be aware by now that I currently find myself without any long-term employment. After having undertaken and completed 5+ years of school, I find myself thrust upon the world with plenty of knowledge and experience, but little that entices most employers to drop me into the ranks of their company.

I put half a decade, tens of thousands of dollars and calories, and innumerable millions of neurons into my desire to better understand our world and the things within it, with little pragmatic thought as to how this could be applied to the world outside academia. Realistically speaking, my colleagues and predecessors who are now professors and researchers never left that world, and they continue to receive money from the government, as I did, for decades after completing their “education”. Now I don’t want to imply that privately funded research doesn’t happen, but the fundamental understanding of our universe that has been gained (and its current real-world applications) are almost without exception publicly funded, in full or in part.

Our current government in Canada is actively trying to slow this apparent flushing of money, while showing their severe lack of forward-thinking and lack of understanding of innovation and research. With little or no funding, the progress our country makes in medicine, technology and industry will surely stagnate, as is happening or has happened across the United States. There are past, present, and future generations of brilliant and imaginative minds who are excited about the history and prospects of scientific endeavour, and who are ready and champing at the collective bit, but who face larger and larger barriers to continuing to learn and understand and explain the world we live in.

In that I am one of these people in the present generation, itching to find a job to be able to develop and apply new and exciting ideas to novel research, I will always consider myself a student. Even though I am no longer formally enrolled in a university program, I continue to be fascinated and perplexed by science, but I do not fear this, but aim to wrap my head around its intricacies and its wonderful complexities. In this way, I will always be a student, in that I will continue to learn, and better understand our world, life and the universe we live in.

I am currently unemployed, and trying to find a way to start repaying some of the money government has been so generous to devote to my education, and to show them that their investment in me and the countless others like me can pay dividends if they will allow us to mature.

And so, for the time being, if you ask me if I am a student, I will undoubtedly reply “Yes, absolutely!”, especially if it gets me a discount on groceries on Tuesdays. For the foreseeable future, students will undoubtedly be poor, social sponges who have curious minds and learn new things at every opportunity, but have yet to find and be at home in their calling in life. In that way, I perfectly fit the definition of a student, and in my mind, I will always be a student of the universe.

3 replies on “Why I’ll be a Student as long as I can”

Hi Rob,

I stumbled onto your website. I'm also a graduate of UofO having completed my B.Sc in 2007. I can certainly relate to the difficulty in finding a suitable career upon graduation.

The problem is that there are too few entry level positions to accommodate the number of science grads. In the past, a bachelor or masters was all it took. It has become necessary to specialize to gain that elusive experience because you are competing with others who have.

I have also worked my entire life. My first job was at a grocery store. From there I've worked call centres, warehousing, food service, moving, and other manual labor jobs. At university I did paid work helping to manage my honors lab and also worked as a chemical technician during the summers.

My post-graduate journey took me from a chemical waste technician to a Contract Research Organization (CRO) and ultimately to my current career in Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs. In order to get my foot in the door, I chose to take a post-graduate certificate program. This program included a co-op placement directly leading to my present position. I have found my calling.

It was not easy, no one tells you about the possibilities. The alumni career centre were not very helpful. While networking and doing cold calls I met a fellow who pointed me in the direction of a business colleague. That led to an interview and job at a CRO. It was there that I had an opportunity to write a clinical trial application leading to my discovery of regulatory affairs.

I do not know what your journey holds, but from your education and interests technical writing would be a good start. A MSc. Chemistry is also useful in the pharmaceutical or a related service industry (eg. analytical testing labs). With some specialization, you may also consider the petrochemical industry.

With the way schools prepare their students for a lifetime of postdoc and research, I would say science degrees have become simply a credential. I never did the co-op at university, my biggest regret, and it is through those experiences that many grads find meaningful work.

Unfortunately, it is also just a bad time for new grads in general. It has been this way for years. Some get discouraged, and if the credentials of your degree don't get used it starts to become irrelevant. Competition is stiff, and most employers receive hundreds of applicants to each posting. The government is not hiring and layoffs continue in the public sector. New post election taxes in the U.S are hurting the Pharma industry (ie. medical device tax) and most are laying off.

To conclude, I would also recommend a book called "What Color is your Parachute". It really helped me define my goals and career path.

Thanks so much for reading, it's really nice to hear what I consider a success story for someone who has finished a science degree, even if it was only eventual success. I've spent a good amount of time debating myself as to what I would like to do with my life, whether it be working at a lab bench as I imagined as a kid, or just having a more traditional career which might involve science in some capacity. I've definitely done my share of calling and networking, but with minimal success. What kind of companies were you calling, and were you open to pretty much any "career"-type job at that point? I'd like to follow a path similar to yours, and it seems like it's just a matter of time until that happens. At least I hope that's the case.

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