What to do if you are reading Science/Engineering and don’t like it

smiling-catI’m sure many of us out there are actually clueless as to what we are getting ourselves into when we choose a course to study in university. Don’t worry, you are not the only one and this is absolutely logical.

We would, only to some extent, find out information about the course we are about to study from reading the various universities brochures, or at most, speak to seniors who are in the course. We certainly wouldn’t go all the way out and spend several years researching just to find out more about all the courses available, both in local and in overseas universities–just to pick one that we feel is most suitable. And yes, feel, there’s no guarantee that the course would be the most suitable. There is even a term for this –  satisficing, meaning a choice made which may not be the most optimal, but sufficient and satisfactory: simply put, a choice that is good enough.

Satisficing

Satisficing is an incredibly common and in fact, one of the most rational ways we make decisions in our daily lives, which in this case, has inevitably resulted in us realising, after a few weeks of school that hey: I don’t like what I’m studying now and I really don’t want to waste my time or my youth for that matter, studying something I totally hate. When that thought strikes, you would already be stuck in university in a course you don’t like, feeling like you are going nowhere.

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At this point in time, you will be presented with three options:

One: stay on and struggle, studying something you really detest in-depth, because 4 years will be over in a blink of an eye. Isn’t that what everyone means when saying time flies?

Two: switch to a course that you are more interested in, and spend the rest of your university days happy (ier).

Three: drop out of school and see where it gets you, because who says you need a university degree to do something big? Look at Bill Gates, or a more recent example, Mark Zuckerberg.

Being (ironically) an adventurous yet conservative individual, guess which option I opted for? No prizes for the correct answer, but of course I eliminated the extremes and went for the second option after much deliberation.

Having been through it (and survived), don’t worry, you are not alone. Let me share my story. Through it, you may find some situations rather familiar, like what you are currently going through, or some feelings that you have been feeling but are afraid to make known and let them surface.

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My first 6 months as a Biological Sciences student

Having been a student in the science stream all my schooling years, I was beyond ecstatic when I got the acceptance letter from NTU Biological Sciences. It was every science student’s dream come true and needless to say, I accepted it without much hesitation. I entered NTU Biological Sciences as a very passionate teenager with big dreams, ready to run experiments, eager to contribute to cancer research and invent cures which will put an end to mankind’s suffering.

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I went to lab religiously for six months, running experiment after experiment, conducting endless research. You would think, having been a science student for my whole school life, that I would thoroughly enjoy this process. However, I surprised even myself when I found that doing repetitive work left me miserable all the time. The lab environment was just not right for me, with its high amount of solo work and emphasis on details. I recall needing to be extremely detailed: for example, needing to count literally every cell under the microscope.

Ask yourself, what do you not like about the course

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So here is a little suggestion from someone who has been there and done that:

Despite disliking the subject area that you are studying, suck it up and continue to strive; do your best to obtain a decent score. Then, gather information by talking to people. Yes, the power of such a direct method is often underestimated. You cannot imagine how much information you will be able to obtain just by talking to people with first-hand experience. These people will give you an honest account of what they’ve encountered. I spoke to my seniors in Biological Sciences to know more about life as a Biological Science student in subsequent years (years 2, 3 and 4), about the content covered, future job prospects etc. I did so to further validate my choice if I ever wanted a switch. I was afraid that I might have jumped to conclusions, as it could be that year 1’s content covered more of the basics, thus making it boring, whereas content would be more interesting as I advanced. However, I found out that content covered in subsequent years would be similar to what I did in my first year, aka experiments and more experiments, which further strengthened my desire to switch courses to study Business Management.

Even when I was still in Biological Science, I already knew that I was interested in studying Business Management. I recall constantly reading business-related self-help books, even to the extent of borrowing lecture notes from my friends in Business school to read during my free time.

Hence, I would really like to emphasise this: before making any decisions, always always, stay calm and gather as much information as possible. As cliché as it may sound, you really need evidence to support your stand, and of course in some cases (especially in my case), to convince yourself.

A seemingly insignificant part-time job actually changed my life, sort of

When I was working part-time as a sales promoter promoting a certain news magazine, I found out that I really enjoyed communicating and interacting with people. I realized that I am really passionate about meeting new people every day and doing work that would enable me to see results instantly, a side of me even I myself was not aware of.

You can really say that a seemingly insignificant part-time job I took up during the holidays to earn some extra allowance kind of changed my life. It led me to discover an area I never thought I would be interested in. So friends, never underestimate the part-time job you take up during your term break!

Overcoming obstacle after obstacle

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I spoke to my parents after gathering information, to discuss my decision and seek their opinions and support. Unsurprisingly, they strongly objected to my decision, as they felt that since I have already made it into Biological Sciences, which promises a bright future as a researcher, why not continue? I would be assured a comfortable job given the high demand of researchers wanted. My parents even got my relatives, who were high flyers, to persuade me out of the idea of switching course. Besides, they felt that I definitely did not need a business degree to do business.

Needless to say, I was utterly dejected and frustrated as more and more people tried to talk me out of switching courses. What I was seeking was not advice, but some form of validation and support from my family. Without support, I continued and struggled in my second semester studying Biological Sciences with hopes that it would become better but no. In fact, it got worse.

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Although everything was against my switch, deep inside, I knew it was the right choice to make. I would really regret it if I did not muster enough courage to make that decision. Thus, I really convinced my parents to lend me their support and wrote to the school to request for a switch in course. I was more confident than ever at this point, now that I was armed with sufficient information of what to expect in the future.

Life after the switch

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It was fantastic. I may sound like I am exaggerating but the feeling was truly liberating. I went all out and told myself that I would not accept anything but top-notch results. I really needed to perform well to change what people thought of me, to prove to those who were unsupportive of my switch wrong. I really had to be the very best.

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Following my switch, I even had the opportunity to do a six-months internship overseas in India with Tata Group, which was an eye-opening and life-changing experience for me. Subsequently, I went on and worked with P&G upon graduation in the marketing department for a few years before starting up my very own company. In fact, my unique experiences during my internship in India eventually resulted in the birth of my company, Village Singapura, which is all about creating fun and meaningful experiences through team building activities in Singapore , and learning about the cultures of the world.

Before you go, one more important tip that may sound odd, but it actually works

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Flip a coin, and leave it up to fate. Yes, you did not hear me wrong. Flip a coin to decide, but do it rationally. Let me use my personal experience to better illustrate what I mean. Let the coin decide – head means remain in my current course (Biological Sciences) which I would absolutely detest, and tails would mean that I should switch courses to read Business Management like what I really wanted.

If the coin lands with heads facing up, and I hear my heart screaming out in protest and I instantly visualize how miserable I would be in the next 3 years of study, then the answer is crystal clear – I obviously want a switch in course. So this is what I mean by deciding your fate by flipping a coin, literally. Sounds like some sort of bizarre sorcery but trust me, it really works. Especially in circumstances when you really cannot decide it yourself and would like a special something to give you a little boost of confidence and a little jolt of affirmation, or to ‘force’ that answer out of you.

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