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Science careers and university courses

(29 Posts)
littlebluespring Sat 20-Aug-11 16:02:37

I've been reading the AIBU threads of student ability and university courses and getting worried. I'm perhaps worrying a bit early as DS is only 13, but 5 years passes quickly and some important decisions have to be made in those 5 years.

DS will be doing at least 3 science GCSEs and possibly up to 5. He is currently inclined towards going into a science career and that will probably be at the hard science end of physics, engineering or chemistry, but possibly he might look at dentistry.

My concern is that some of these AIBU posts are saying that degrees like Physics or Chemistry no longer lead to a job, and that students need to go in knowing they want to do a very specific sort of engineering etc and do an appropriate course to get a job. I have no knowledge of science other than softer ones such as Ecology or the parts of Chemistry used in Biology.

I am concerned that we are encouraging DS down an academic route, and that he could end up taking on huge debts to go to a good university to do something like Chemistry and end up with no job.

Can anybody who knows anything about hard Sciences offer any advice?

CMOTdibbler Sat 20-Aug-11 16:17:42

I did a physics degree - mine did have an element of my chosen career in it, but the only requirement for career entry was a physics degree as there was a required MSc which covered all the knowledge base specific to that. I believe this to be true for most physics careers that you are best doing an MSc to get the subspecialisation unless you are very sure what you want to do - but generally the first two years are general anyway.

I'd guess Chemistry to be the same - although all the chemistry graduates I know just ended up in jobs where they did specific training on the job.

BTW, I'd recommend getting a really excellent maths grounding - doing A level early to get further maths etc - rather than extra science GCSEs. Maths is so essential to further science studies, especially physics, and the more secure he is in that the better

littlebluespring Sat 20-Aug-11 16:27:38

DS will do 2 Maths GCSEs but I think it is very unlikely he will be allowed to do GCSE Additional Maths or start his A level early. He will be able to do Maths, Further Maths A level (and STEP if he needs to), but it would all be done in the sixth form years.

I will have to look into how many A levels the school allows and if it is possible to do 2 x Maths and 3 X Sciences at A level.

notcitrus Sat 20-Aug-11 16:38:33

Just to reiterate that Maths is vital for most sciences, more so for CHemistry at uni level, and even more so for Physics. He might also want to consider the flexibility of his degree - for example at Cambridge he could do Natural Sciences and end up specialising in all sorts of physics and chemical and other subjects from a broad base, or even moving a bit sideways into Maths or Engineering if he wants.

Proven mathematical ability from a hard sciences degree will stand him in good stead for employment no matter what.

spanieleyes Sat 20-Aug-11 17:17:35

He's only 13, how on earth does he or you know what he will want to do for A level, let alone for a degree!

littlebluespring Sat 20-Aug-11 17:37:37

SE, children need to have some idea or they can't choose appropriate GCSEs.
If, for example, DS thought he might want to study languages at university, he'd be looking at doing fewer Science and Maths GCSEs and choose to continue more languages. To some extent, children and parents are already considering this when they choose a school at 10, because schools will offer different subjects choices. DS could well be sitting his AS level Geology exam at 14, so he has to make choices at 13.

pippop1 Sat 20-Aug-11 17:49:14

DS1 is about to start job in Civil Engineering (Look at the Institution of Civil Engineers' website for proper explanation). Physics and maths are the two most important subjects. DS1 did a four year course (BEng and then MEng) and has JOB to start in Oct as it's a fairly voccational degree. If you don't do the MEng you can't qualify as a Chartered Engineer (eventually after about 3 years of work) so best to apply for the four year MEng at Uni. Need around 3 A levels. There are certainly jobs in the civil engineering field around. DS1 was offered two (turned down one) and after accepting one was offered another one which he also turned down.

pippop1 Sat 20-Aug-11 17:50:22

forgot to say he did A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and AS Chemistry and knew from 16 that he wanted to be civil engineer.

littlebluespring Sat 20-Aug-11 17:54:22

Pippop, how did he know he wanted to be a civil engineer? Did the school give a lot of careers advice or did you know people who worked in STEM careers who gave him advice on the range of jobs available?

pippop1 Sat 20-Aug-11 18:14:46

It's certainly not a job within our family. It's lawyers and accountants. He is a bit dyslexic but pretty bright and had a chat with a Connexions adviser at school. she suggested he look at the various types of engineering and he liked Civil best. He also liked mechanical but having looked at the jobs market for mech engineers in the UK he decided that civil would be best. Managed to get a week's work experience via client of his Dad and we were off. Was then easy to choose A levels and do appropriate experience towards personal statement for Uni. He got a First by the way. (I'm a v proud Mum!).

I honestly know no-one in engineering (I had to Google civil engineering to find out what it was) so I thank that adviser for setting him on a good path. He said that doing the further maths A level helped in the first year of the Uni course but not after that. I think it helped to get him in though.

In contrast to some posters on here, son found it really helpful to know what he wanted to do at Uni at a young age. DS2 on the other hand is at Uni doing history and wants to be a........don't know yet Mum.

jgbmum Sun 21-Aug-11 09:06:54

It might be worth your DS looking at the Smallpeice Trust Engineering courses. These are really well run, and introduce students to different elements of engineering. DS2 has been on 2 of them and has really enjoyed them. He has just finished Y11 and knows he wants to do engineering but is still undecided on which sort out of a short-list of 3 or 4.

pamplemousserose Sun 21-Aug-11 09:10:43

The science degrees are a good basis for getting a job, they are still well respected in non science careers too as they are such bloody hard degrees.

MrsOzz Sun 21-Aug-11 13:22:24

I did a Cell Biology degree and then a PhD because it just felt a natural progression at the time. My friends are doing all sorts - teaching, medicine, vetinary science or even completely unrelated things like stock broker training!

Whatever science he want to do Maths, further Mathers, Chemistry, Biology and Physics at A-level would leave his options open. With those he could do any science degree, medicine or dentistry.

However, remember medicine and dentistry are EXTREMELY competitive and 5 A*s at A-level by no means guarantees a place. They are also 5 years instead of three so that is a lot of fees/living costs for you to pay or him to take out loans for. If his heart is set on it then encourage him, but let him have a back up plan also.

FootsFirst Sun 21-Aug-11 13:29:35

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

kritur Sun 21-Aug-11 17:01:23

No degree is a guarantee of a job (in fact that isn't actually the point of higher education but I will leave my soapbox where it is for now!)

Maths, sciences and engineering have some of the best employment statistics around so I wouldn't worry too much since it is nearly 8 years until he will be entereing the jobs market.

ragged Sun 21-Aug-11 17:10:39

A good (2.2 result or better, also depends where, mind) "pure" science degree is like gold-dust, OP. It doesn't exactly guarantee a job, but it will suggest the ability to do well at a great many other fields and allow him to springboard into many other things (careers or further training; I am an ex-Uni academic myself, btw). I honestly think it's an excellent target at this point unless your son becomes very keen on a more specific career option. As for engineering... does your DS like D&T? DH has a degree in electrical engineering & spent most of his High School time in the workshops, that's how he knew he wanted to be an engineer.

But with maths, yes, definitely, maths will never hurt.

Incidentally, I do know a fair few chemists who ended up in other fields; but that's fine; the good results in chemistry helped them convince employers and similar that they were well able to excel at many things.

senua Sun 21-Aug-11 17:44:57

I think that it is dangerous to specialise too soon because you never know how things will pan out. You should be ensuring that he covers the EBacc subjects at GCSE, to give him maximum opportunities / flexibility when it comes to choosing A Levels.

littlebluespring Sun 21-Aug-11 18:18:34

Thanks everyone for the advice; it has reassured me. I have had a look at some of the websites following on from what you have posted. I've got a much clearer idea of what is required, both in terms of extra curricular activities and A levels.

Although I realised before that maths was required, I hadn't appreciated how important the type of maths was or that for some science degrees the maths grade required is higher than the science grades!

Senua, yes, DS might drop the fifth science to carry on with Geography instead for the Ebacc. Doing at least 1 MFL is compulsory anyway.

ragged Sun 21-Aug-11 18:43:56

I have the impression that some of the early seemingly specialist courses are considered quite Mickey Mouse (inferior to classic pure subjects). "Pure" traditional subjects are more flexible and carry more weight on a CV.

ragged Sun 21-Aug-11 18:53:41

No idea how true this is, but this link suggests that Physics,maths, chemistry is one of the strongest combos you can have for leaving all options open.

spanieleyes Sun 21-Aug-11 20:22:29

I would certainly aim to ensure he has the EBACC if at all possible, although it's not "compulsory" for University now, you never know what might happen in 5 years time!

mumzy Tue 23-Aug-11 22:02:06

Agree with ragged re: maths, physics, chemistry being the A levels which will open most doors . Have known people go onto law, economics, medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, different types of engineering uni courses with this combo . They are seen as the most difficult A level choices. Dh did this A level combo then did maths at uni and now works in finance.

Pedallleur Sun 28-Aug-11 21:36:10

Medicine/Dentistry/Vets are brutal to get into and will require Phys/Chem/Biology. Mech. Eng or any kind of engineering will require maths. But as posted above, a good degree in these subjects doesn't mean a career in them. A number of students are not going into medicine now as their Degree can get them into Banking/Finance where the rewards are greater. This is esp.true of Maths students as they can go into financial modelling/stock market stuff.

BikeRunSki Sun 28-Aug-11 21:47:11

It was a long time ago (1992) but my degree is in Physics and Geology, with subsiduary Maths and Chemistry. I didn't really know what I wanted to do until the 2nd year of my degree. I then did an MSc to then get into my chosen field (Civil Engineering) and was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to do so.

However, I have always found my "pure" science background invaluable, and can shed light on matters that the people who went straight into engineering can't understand.

It may be a circuitous route, but a hard science degree (+ appropriate post grad stuff later when he is more certain of his interests) will never be a waste of time if your DS thinks he wants to do something scienc-ey. Choosing Dentistry/ a specific type of engineering etc now may well limit his future oppurtunities.

RebeccaMadScience Thu 15-Sep-11 13:15:06

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