Ignorance Of Opportunities: Lesser Students Opt For A Career In Biology
Batch strength of biology sections in senior secondary schools across the country has reduced by up to 40 per cent in last one decade. General opinion is that opting biology means becoming doctors, which means studying for at least a decade. As a result, more and more people force their wards to opt for engineering or commerce, often against their wish.
After class 10, one of the biggest dilemmas faced by the students is to decide among commerce, humanities and science. Even in science, it becomes really difficult to decide whether to opt biology or not. Common perception is that biology is only good to become doctors or teachers. Not having biology with science stream automatically means for parents that students have to be engineers.
Add to that the societal pressure exerted by fat pay cheques that IT and business jobs bring, and people end up ignoring biology altogether. Not only that, even from those who opt bio in class 11-12, less than 30 per cent go for a career in biology. As a result, over the years, cut-offs for biology courses have come down. India is witnessing severe shortage in the areas of healthcare and biological research. Who is to blame? We would say ignorance.
Aanchal Sharma is a software engineer, who hates what she does. Though her job takes her around the globe, she is sure that she didn’t want to do coding. Many of her friends are pursuing PhD in molecular biology in the US; she was always interested in biology, though she never scored well in it, just like all other subjects. So her parents decided that she was better off pursuing engineering, when she was bad in everything. No importance was laid on her interest.
“My parents are after me to get married, but I cannot handle two tensions simultaneously – a husband and a job which I hate. It may seem irrelevant to all those kids out there – they would mostly be interested in glamorous globe-trotting and fat pay-cheques – but this is my earnest request to let them all know that you must pursue what makes you happy.”
Utkarsh Arora is another person, who is an engineer and an MBA from one of the tier-III colleges from Delhi, and has been looking for a good job for last one year. He’s overqualified for call centres, and is not interested in sales jobs, for he cannot ride a bike well. He scored 80 per cent in class 12, though he got 97 at biology. He was keen to pursue B.Sc. Honours Zoology since he was always fascinated by extinct animals such as mammoths.
He could have easily got the admission, but he, too, was shown the highway by his parents. His property dealer dad made sure that he studied engineering; he paid up heavy capitation fee to get him through one of the private colleges run by Maharshi Dayanand University. Little do parents realise that it's not worth forcing their kids into engineering, when they love biology.
Engineering is a business in India, with many institues mushrooming all over. It's not difficult to pass either. We have many engineers who don't really know anything about their field. Courses are outdated and students are provided no practical exposure. Strangely this is true for most of the privately-run engineering colleges. We have earlier done a story on how engineers produced by them are not really up to the mark. Adds Amit, who teaches at one of the most prestigious engineering entrance preparation institutes in Kota:
“Beyond IITs and NITs, you cannot really be sure of bagging the best of placements. There are some private universities with good curriculum, but you need to love engineering to study there and yet get into research-based programs abroad. Otherwise, you will end up working at IT firms, known for bodyshopping; that’s the trend these days.”
It must be clear that studying science shouldn't automatically mean being an engineer. Biology must reclaim its lost glory.
Promises That Biology Holds
There are many Aanchals and Utkarshs out there, who either succumb to parental pressure, or suffer due to ignorance. A career in biology can be your ticket to success and immense satisfaction. Neeta Saha, a biology teacher in one of the private schools in Delhi, adds:
“It’s not just about being a doctor. And even doctors don’t have a hands-to-mouth existence. They start earning in 4.5 years and after that it’s on one’s potential. Some of my students are earning crores today as consultants and surgeons. There’s a lot of investment, but rich dividends. Biology, after all, is something that humans didn’t create. Technical expertise is dependent on man’s brains limits, but living organisms are machines perfected by billions of years of evolution or God’s intervention, depending on what theory you believe in. A career in biology means only you can decide the limit of how much you can explore. There’s nothing like this software won’t work in this phone.”
We can relate to her sentiments. India needs fifteen times the healthcare staff than it currently has to meet the global benchmarks. There are immense career options in allied healthcare services such as physiotherapy, nursing, occupational therapy and traditional medicinal systems. Indian nurses working in the Middle-East are a great source of remittances back home. S N Bappasri Rao, who is a male nurse in Saudi Arabia is one such successful person:
“We were living in abject poverty back home, with a lot of debt due to failed crops. I was an average student in a government school, but I pursued nursing at the suggestion of my aunt. Everyone laughed at me including my friends. But I am satisfied; I am earning much more than all of my friends and I helped my family come over all the crises. Now they live peacefully in Chennai.”
If the paramedical courses are not-so-hifalutin for you, then you can simply pursue a B.Sc. in botany, zoology, biochemistry, biotechnology, human physiology, microbiology, nutrition or many of the other available courses. After masters, you can either go for PhD, followed by a career in research or take up teaching, if you like.
Many KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing) and consulting companies specifically look out for people with specialization in biological sciences. What more, you can take up Indian Forestry Services exams, which call for a good understanding of biology. One may even go for a pharmacy course. A Diploma in Pharmacy qualifies you to open your own drugstore, while a bachelors degree throws open many other avenues.
Even high on engineering sciences, such as space exploration, call for biologists’ participation, or one may never successfully send people in space. Many universities of great repute, in the US and Europe, lap up Indian talent.
Niharika Khanna went to Germany’s celebrated Max Planck Institute of Technology immediately after her B.Sc. degree. Her parents made very little investment, and now she’s pursuing a PhD from Stanford with all expenses covered under various grants. Many of her friends, who could not even afford air-tickets after graduation, though they, too, were offered scholarships by the German institute, did their masters in India, while giving tuitions at premier coaching centres for medical entrance preparation. Now all of them are studying in the US, Australia, Canada or Europe. Fate had a sweet surprise in store – two of her besties from the college time are pursuing their PhD from Stanford, too. Nithya, one of them, adds:
“We love it here. We are sure of a bright life ahead. Teaching or working in labs of pharma majors – we haven’t decided – but it’s really cool. We plan trips to any place we want. We live. We don’t need to worry about pleasing our bosses and colleagues. We don’t have an agenda to add to the company’s bottom line like our MNC-employed friends. We get offers to participate in seminars across the globe; we get funding for that... just let any serious kid know not to give in to hearsay.”
We hope it happens, given that we produce not even 5 per cent of the quality PhD theses that China does. We have a lot of catching up to do. No kid should suffer for a bad career choice. It’s great to excel at something what one likes doing than being a sulking mediocre performer in a field one doesn’t have a natural inclination for.
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