Going Interdisciplinary: A Science Student’s Conundrum

At the time of writing, I have approximately 3 months before concluding what has been an unforgettable 3 years of undergraduate study – being independent of my own schedule, having constant access to a resourceful library without having to commute back and forth, and frankly, the camaraderie between like-minded students, not least when we embark on course trips to Tioman Island and Krau Wildlife Reserve.

Our writer (front row, first from the right) on a course trip to Krau Wildlife Reserve, Pahang.

Yet, with approximately 3 months before concluding undergraduate study, an unfathomable sinking feeling engulfs me. The feeling that can be sharply, yet appropriately summed into the phrase, “Why do I feel useless?”

As a science student, it’s somewhat encouraging when someone as prominent as the Chief Scientist of Australia says that the outcome of a science university degree is not to be “job ready”. As a soon-to-be-fresh-graduate, it’s maddeningly perplexing. Ladies and gentleman, those are the words of Alan Finkel. He argues that the role of a university science degree is to facilitate students into thinking like a scientist, along with a set of transferable skills that will enable employment, rather than guaranteeing it. That argument is further supported by The Conversation, an independent media outlet, who suggest that unlike professional degrees (such as accounting and the Bar), science degrees do not have a set career roadmap, rather flexibility is offered in terms of what is studied.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. (Source: ABC News)

Much to my own surprise, I agree to the words of Mr Finkel. And to be absolutely fair to all other undergraduate disciplines out there, I personally believe that this conundrum applies to all university degrees.

Just look at Malaysia, for example. As of 2016, the Ministry of Higher Education published that out of the 200,000 students who graduate from institutes of higher learning annually, 1 in 4 graduates remain unemployed after 6 months of graduation. Among fresh graduates with tertiary education, a whopping 31.4% of degree holders are unemployed. Much to the relief of science students, admittedly, the greatest portion of unemployed degree holders come from the arts and social science background, making up a major 43.4%, whereas science degree holders make up half of that portion.

Going back to the feeling of uselessness, I understand that as much as a university degree is to prepare us in being “job capable”, success ultimately boils down to determination, perseverance and self-initiative, inter alia. For myself, part of that self-initiative was to gain skills from outside the realm of environmental science: within policy-making to be exact. I did this by joining a youth climate advocacy group called the Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD), tasked at furthering the climate change movement amongst Malaysian youth as well as educating Malaysians about climate change policy.

MYD organised an ‘Asian Youth’ dinner during the COP23 climate change conference held last year in Bonn, Germany.

As an aspiring scientist, this has been an invaluable, and will continue to be a vital lesson to me in shaping my views on tackling global issues, not least with climate change. As much as I want to contribute to research one day and have papers published under my name, gaining exposure to the world of climate diplomacy has taught me how scientific research can actually make a positive change in this world – by having them delivered straight to decision-makers, or, in the long-run, become a decision-maker yourself.

Of course, in the not-so-long-run, being part of a youth NGO has consolidated my communication and writing skills, and it has given me the platform in meeting influential players in the world of governance (I got to shake hands with the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment!) Finally, unlike my science degree, it has definitely given me a prospective career roadmap.

Syaqil (standing) speaking during a meeting with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. (Spot our Editor-in-Chief!)

So tell me then, how are you going interdisciplinary?


By Sheikh Muhammad Syaqil bin Suhaimi

West Malaysian spirit of magniloquence, periphrasis and procrastination. I have half a mind...

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