15 October 2012
On the Impacts of Career Choices
My A levels were in Maths, Chemistry and Zoology. However, a particularly bloody film we were shown in Zoology class quickly put me off that. So for my undergrad degree I hedged my bets and did a joint honours degree in Ag Economics and Food Science and Nutrition.
My motivations for wanting to be a doctor boiled down to wanting to help people, to make a difference in their lives.
I suspect many of us in international development still feel that drive. So it was interesting to think about these issues again in the context of (1) the UK's Research Excellence Framework, (2) the ESRC's new Research Outcome System and (3) a conversation a friend of mine was having with their 16 year old nephew (let's call him Henry).
UK Universities are occupied with developing their "impact case studies" related to the research work they do. This is for the UK's Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) review (Research Excellence Framework or REF) every of 7-8 years of different submissions by different Universities to different disciplinary/subject panels. (IDS is not eligible to participate in the REF exercise as we are not a University.) This week the Times Higher Education Supplement has an interesting article on the impact case studies (how some Universities are recruiting new professionals to help them get this right--it is a big deal as this now comprises 20% of the overall score and these scores drive government resource allocation to Universities).
The UK Research Councils (UKRC), the premier research funding body in the UK, has just launched its Research Outcome Systems, which encourages Universities that receive UKRC funding to update their profiles by output, outcome and impact.
It will be interesting to see how the impact scores vary by discipline and topic within each of these two new databases.
Which brings us to Henry. Henry is just starting A levels and is trying to make the "right" university subject choice--and a key criterion for him is "impact".
This is an excerpt from his exchange with my friend (obviously he has agreed for this to be published): "we discussed over the phone the amount of 'good' achievable through various occupations. At this stage of my life evidently I will not be able to foretell...whether a certain person will be able to make more of a difference as a politician, a charity worker or say a doctor...one of my fears is procrastinating throughout life and not really ever invoking change...I was wondering what your views were on how possible/difficult it is to make large changes as for example an economist or a politician.
The reason medicine fascinates me ...is because although this may sound naive and premature...with politics and many economists I often feel this process of dehumanisation whereas with the scientific side, it is actually dealing with life and death scenarios and face to face interactions and the human process that, I think, inspires me more"
The REF and RCUK databases will probably not be that useful for a young person trying to figure out life choices, so if you have any advice to give Henry (constructive please!) that would be most welcomed.
My own view is that the propensity to want to make a difference to other people's lives will probably find productive expression no matter what career choices are made, both in the one to ones and in the wider systemic changes. (Social scientists can have profound impacts on their students, on communities, and on policy and doctors can affect how their profession works and can have a profound impact on government policy.)
The choice you make, it seems to me, has to be the one that first of all inspires you.
But it would be great if you could give Henry some advice and feedback... thanks
Posted by Lawrence Haddad at 14:42