What can you do with a science degree?

A blog by Jill Bagwe, Vice President (Operations)

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I was recently asked by the Interdepartmental Science Students' Society (ISSS) at the University of Alberta to be a panel member for an EMPFEST 2018 session called, "What can I do with my science degree?". At that event, held on February 8th, I was asked to give advice to undergraduate science students who are in their early career development phase.

In hearing the attendees' questions, I thought there may be some value to share my own experiences as to how your science degree can lay the foundations of your career in ways that you didn't think were possible.

Having graduated with my science degree 25 years ago, I forget how meaningful it is to have BSc behind your name. My appreciation of those three little initials has grown over time as I discovered that the foundations of my science degree paved the way for me to assume progressively more responsible roles and explore career opportunities that my 22-year old self would never thought were possible! It was my personal experience that while a degree gets you a 'foot in the door', it is a combination of your hard and soft skills that will keep you in a job.

While you are in university and working towards your degree, you are acquiring hard skills. Hard skills are defined as job-specific skills and knowledge required to perform a job and these quantifiable skills can be easily defined and measured. Hard skills are acquired through education, training programs, or on-the-job training and can continue throughout a person's lifetime. As you start out in your career, you often think that your successful employment hinges solely upon your hard skills your learned in school and, to a lesser degree, your marks. However, your marks are only as good as your first job as soft skills are essential for continued success in the workplace.

Soft skills are defined as personal attributes or personality traits that are acquired through your life and work experiences and yet, are critical for you to be successful on the job. A person's soft skills will determine how a person will interact with others as they are tied into communication, leadership, problem solving, adaptability and perseverance.

As you begin your job search, know that there are some essential soft skills that are critical to your success as any employer will look for them in every potential employee. Along with strong communication skills, the three key soft skills you need draw upon and those are to be innovative, creative, and collaborative. You may not realize it while you are in the midst of navigating yourself through your academic career, but those soft skills are being honed in every lecture or lab you take and every group paper that you write - especially if you decide to use your BSc to work in an applied research field.

In a laboratory, it is essential that you be innovative when you conduct your research as you will apply this soft skill to find solutions to address existing problems or unmet needs. In addition to having meticulous attention to detail and good time management, along with strong analytical thinking, being innovative will enable you to conduct your research with a novel and fresh approach. It is my observation that innovators tend to be intellectually curious and thrive on new information, which, in turn, lends itself to shape new ideas in problem solving.

You will find that whole books are written on the subject of creativity in an R&D laboratory as it is the creative mind that will generate original new ideas, concepts or objects. Creativity is a conceptual shift in thinking as it is the creative scientist who has the ability to step back from what's happening in the lab, look at the big picture and put things into perspective (Neumann, 2007).

Lastly, being collaborative is absolutely critical in any work environment. After all, nearly every job requires employees to engage with others in some way and therefore, being able to interact well with others and professionally communicate with one another, whether that be orally, written or verbally, is important quality in any workplace.

At the aforementioned EMPFEST session, I was asked how a person with a zoology degree and who started as a field biologist, could end up being a Vice President of a educational technological start up company and my response was simple: relationships.

At a recent conference I attended (DisruptED 2018), one of the keynote speakers, Dave Wilkin, Founder of 10,000 Coffees, said that jobs actually come from people who you know and I would concur. I would not be where I am today had I not fostered good working relationships in all of my previous positions and earned the respect of those with whom I worked for and with - but how does one go about doing that?

In short, the people you work for, must see in their employee, someone with a strong work ethic, capability, competency, and the capacity to learn quickly and think clearly. Those with whom you work with, must see you as an individual who is trustworthy, confident, positive, appproachable, and collaborative. Collectively, these qualities typify a good leader and if your career goal is to be promoted into progressively more responsible roles, both your colleagues and supervisors must view you as that potential leader and when opportunities afford themselves, will want to promote you into that role.

Lastly, you need to set career goals for yourself and tell those around you of your desired intentions. Many of my job opportunities came to me through word of mouth and if you do not share your future employment goals with others, you may miss out on those opportunities that you didn't even know existed.

Now that you're armed with this advice, I wish you great success and happiness as you work towards the job you have always wanted!


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Jill Bagwe

Jill Bagwe

VP of Operations, passionate about Onlea's mission.