Alternative Careers in Science III
For a few of us who graduate with a science degree from Oberlin, research is not the end-all, be-all. Many of us enjoy the rigorous mode of thinking that science demands. For the end of my series on alternative careers in science, I will look at science careers that may be seen as more high-profile than research traditionally is, or may require extra education after Oberlin. Specifically, careers in business, law and policy offer yet more opportunities for science lovers at Oberlin.
Business might be the most glamorous of the three fields, certainly in terms of salary.
“Researchers are superbly suited for any area of business because scientific training teaches you analytical and logical skills,” says Don Doering, a research fellow in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who is a good example of someone with a science background who has pursued a business career. Business provides incredibly diverse employment options. You have room to make choices between a more analytical job and a position that is more people-oriented.
Primarily, a general understanding of how science works is more useful than the specific facts of, say, a particular signal transduction pathway. Your science background has taught you “intellectual discipline, problem-solving skills, a quantitative way of breaking down issues, the art of data interpretation and good communication skills,” according to Sara Beckman, former co-director of the Management of Technology program at the University of California, Berkeley.
Ultimately, if you choose a career in business, you need to enjoy working with the broader aspects of science and be comfortable with some imprecision, with making fast decisions and with communicating in a new style. A career in business will give you a variety of settings and capacities, diverse types of professionals, practical applications of science, cutting-edge ideas and opportunity for quick change as well as an element of risk.
Those in science who are also interested in law may want to combine the two. According to the Patent Law Web Server’s section on Career Opportunities, what really matters for a career in law is “your basic intelligence, ability to learn new things very quickly and your strong academic or experience grounding in all areas — chemistry, industrial processes, software, electrical engineering, biology, physics [and] mathematics.”
There are three basic areas a science major can choose from in terms of a science-related law career: intellectual patent law (which includes patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets), environmental law and medical device product-liability law. In these areas, you can work for corporations, law firms, universities and government agencies. Additionally, there are at least two large nonprofit environmental law groups one could work in. These are the National Resources Defense Council and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Both organizations need people who care deeply about the environment and have the science background to successfully help those in need.
The last science career option I present is that of science policy, advocacy and regulation. This type of career is certainly smaller, and would pretty much restrict you to the Washington, D.C. area, but in it exist opportunities for real change. With more drugs going to market and mounting concern about the environment, there is a growing need for people with a technical background who also understand the laws that govern the manufacture and marketing of healthcare and environmental products and services.
Science should never be seen as a limited career choice. An undergraduate
degree in science provides such a multitude of skills, it should never be
measured by how much specific science is covered, but by how much you have
learned about how to understand science that has yet to come. This skill
specifically, along with the ability to communicate this understanding to
others, gives us science majors at Oberlin so many choices for our future.