Choosing science opens up a vast and exciting range of study and career options

Career Guide: Science

PhD student Monika Koziel, responsible for identifying potentially fatal species of bacteria in monkeys which can be passed onto humans at the CREATE build at Cork Institute of Technology. Photograph: Darragh Kane

PhD student Monika Koziel, responsible for identifying potentially fatal species of bacteria in monkeys which can be passed onto humans at the CREATE build at Cork Institute of Technology. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 00:00

Fancy living in a cave, picking beetles off the wall, shivering in fear for your life? That’s where you’d be without science. There’s no going back from science, which has become central to the way we live our lives.

Science graduates are trained to think in an analytical, logical and structured way. They focus on facts over speculation. Employers value science graduates because of their ability to research and analyse information, to spot patterns and trends, and present their findings in a disciplined manner. Being able to think scientifically is also a useful skill for day-to-day life, while well-trained science graduates are crucial for making informed decisions about major public issues including climate change, food policy, and enterprise.

The natural sciences – what we usually think of as physics, chemistry, and biology – are a very broad church, and students can take many different paths. Geology, for instance, is nothing as snoozeworthy as the study of rocks: it is a way of discovering the history of the Earth and its many cycles of life and extinction. Genetics gives us an insight into the most complex code ever written, the human genome. Pharmacology, which develops crucial medicines, is now nothing less than our ability to stay alive. Then there’s microbiology, zoology, astronomy, theoretical physics, neurobiology.

But you don’t need to worry about that just yet. Increasingly, third-level institutions are moving towards general entry, with students choosing science specialities after a year of studying several subjects.

Where to study science

Where to study very much depends on what you want to do, although Trinity College has the best overall research profile, with a world-class reputation in many areas, including immunology and nanoscience.

If you’re broadly interested in science but have no idea whether you want to study the human brain (neurobiology) the ocean (oceanography) or the universe (astrophysics), it makes sense to choose a common entry course: students take three or four subjects for the first two years, before choosing among 16 specialities for their last two years.

University College Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Technology offer general entry courses, with an emphasis on physics, chemistry, biology and maths in the first year, before students go on to specialise. If you’re a bit more certain, University College Cork has retained its direct entry system, with first years courses including chemical sciences, physics and astrophysics, and genetics, among other options; DCU offers both common entry and specialised entry science courses.

Science is, of course, exceptionally broad and despite the tentative move towards general entry, there are a huge number of more specialised interest courses, many geared towards employment prospects.

Some of the more interesting scientific courses are the most revolutionary in terms of how we understand ourselves and the world.

Nanotechnology – the science of the very tiny – is still in its infancy, but it is also at the cutting edge of science and of increasing importance to how we live our lives, sparking massive advances in medicine, materials, and technology. Nanotechnology deals with atomic scales, as small as one-billionth of a metre. Trinity College is leading the way here, offering a Nanoscience, Physics & Chemistry of Advanced Materials degree course. DIT has a Science with Nanotechnology course which includes an industrial work placement.

Genetics is nothing less than the code of life, providing an insight into how human beings work. Courses are available at Trinity College, UCC, and DCU, with graduates going on to work in public and private labs, research and development, hospitals and medical diagnostics, clinical science and genetic counselling.

Ireland, as befits an Atlantic island, is also gaining a strong reputation for marine science, with NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute emerging as the top research centre. The centre has two undergraduate courses: Marine Science and Environmental Science. NUI Galway also offers a BSc in Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Career opportunities

A 2012 survey from the Higher Education Authority showed that 63 per cent of science postgraduates were employed in Ireland and abroad, with 10 per cent in further studies or training and 11 per cent out of work.

Science students who want to advance their career and earn decent money will need to give serious thought to postgraduate study.

Industry is an obvious destination for science graduates, with a strong biomedical cluster in Galway, a pharmaceutical industry with job opportunities in Cork and Dublin, the food and drink industry, and high-tech manufacturing. Opportunities in academia are increasingly limited, but commercial research and development is growing. Regulation compliance and quality assurance, laboratory work and clinical trials, and science teaching are some other routes for science students. Environmental scientists have good employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors.

Science degrees, however, are broadly useful and appreciated in any career that requires rigorous and logical thinking, such as banking and finance, statistics, telecoms and computing, and business.

CAO points 2013

Science UCD: 505 Science Trinity College: 510 Science University of Limerick: 365 Biotechnology DCU: 470 Science NUI Galway: 405

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