School to Work: Episode 5 Science Student


Interview with Caitlin Van Kooten, Science Student

IMG_0940-CompressedAre you fascinated by biology, chemistry, physics and the like? Do you want to know what they are actually talking about in the Big Bang TheoryCurious to know what it’s like to study science at the university level?  

I recently sat down for an interview with Caitlin (Kate) Van Kooten, a 4th year Concordia student, majoring in Biochemistry. Kate had plenty to tell us about late nights of completing lab reports, her plans to hopefully pursue a career in dentistry, and what it’s like to find balance while working to support yourself through university.

Listen to the podcast and read on to learn more about Kate’s experience as a Science student and how she is preparing for life after graduation.

Listen here to the full interview podcast:

Don’t have time to listen to the full Podcast?

Here are a few excerpts from my interview with Kate:

L: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself in terms of your academic and work background?

K: I started going to Cegep in Granby, it’s near my dad’s house so that was the primarily reason for going there – also I thought that since it’s a French language college, I could become bilingual that way and that it would help me later to become a dentist […] Then I applied to Concordia after my Science diploma at the college,
Another-One-Compressedand I was accepted to Biochemistry.  I was accepted at Concordia and Bishop’s, and I chose Concordia just because I like Montreal more and I thought I would just enjoy my time there overall […] I did help out at a dentist office for a while, because that’s my ultimate goal with Biochemistry is to become a dentist later on, so I spend a few hours a week doing that – the dentist showing me how everything works and making sure I liked it, which I thought was beneficial.

L: Why dentistry in particular? What drew you towards this field?

K: Growing up, my dad always had trouble with his teeth and I saw him go to dentist after dentist, always getting poor results and I thought, you know, if I can do this, I could actually help and maybe make a difference, so I thought if I could learn to do something like that and I could be good at it, I could really help a lot of people.

“I thought, you know, if I can do this, I could actually help and maybe make a difference.”

So many Science programs to choose from you – which one is right for you?

Here is a list of Science programs classified under “Biological and biomedical sciences” and which Canadian universities offer programs in these fields. Happy exploring!

Source: Government of Canada, Job Bank Website

L: What do you think is the most rewarding and the most challenging part of your program?

K: I think the most challenging is that there are often very few instructions given for how to solve problems or how to understand what you’re doing in the lab.  They givePapers you the step-by-step, “here’s what you should mix”, but they don’t necessarily tell you why – that’s up to you to figure out. That can be very time-consuming and very frustrating at times, but the rewarding part is when you finish a lab report and you look it over, and you’re like, “wow, I really understand all of this,” where before it was all just graphs and numbers, and nothing made sense.

“You’re like, ‘wow, I really understand all of this,’ where before it was all just graphs and numbers, and nothing made sense.”

L: Do you think that you have been learning the kinds of techniques and procedures that are going to be critical in the next 5 – 10 years?

Kate-Compressed (1)K: I remember some of the introduction courses, we were taking titration, which it takes about 4 hours to do one problem.  [Titration is] when you’re trying to determine how much of another compound is in a liquid by adding either acid or base, and you wait for a colour change – so you’re adding drop by drop for 4 hours, and you’re taking note of it and making a graph, and then finding out what it is. And I remember thinking, wow, this is really long, this is something I can do hands-on and then the next course I took, they showed us a machine that does it in 10 minutes and I was like, oh okay, that’s not something that I really need to be good at because nobody is going to pay me to do that for 4 hours. On the other hand, we used some machines that are very modern and that are actually useful, and that we would need to use in real life. I still feel like they will be replaced by machines in a few years, but right now it’s relevant.  

Kate’s career advice to our viewers:

“One thing that my dad said to me when he told me about why he picked his job is, if you pick a trade, you fall on your hands, not your face – so I thought, okay, I need something that has hands-on skills because something without hands-on skills might not be there or might disappear over time so I looked for things that had hands-on skills. Biology in my mind didn’t really have as much hands-on as Biochemistry, and Chemistry alone I found kind of boring so I went through to Biochemistry… I would recommend to other people, you have to sort of decide, do you want to work with your hands and do technical things, or are you someone who wants to do things more in a theoretical sense?” 

Interested in a program or career in Science?

Visit the Government of Canada Job Bank website for more information on what recent graduates across Canada are doing with their degrees.

Here are some quick stats (2011-2013) from their website:

  • 79.55% of recent Science graduates are employed
  • Earning range is between $34,746 – $63,816 with $49,580 being the median
  • Hamilton-Niagara Peninsula Region, Ontario is the top-paying location in Canada
  • 31.29% of recent graduates are in jobs that are closely related to their field of study
  • 72.21% go on to pursue further education
  • 66.37% would choose this field again

Food for thought:

The world of work is ever-changing and rapidly evolving.  Youth today need to adapt and prepare for the future without knowing exactly what to expect upon graduation. As Kate and I discussed, science and technology are fields that are especially susceptible to this reality – and it is important to keep an open mind and to explore multiple career options, just like Kate, who is considering dentistry or even maybe a career in genetics.  I also mentioned a really great Tedx Talk by Dave Redekopp in our interview, which speaks about how impossible it is for youth today to answer the question, “What do you want to be/do when you grow up?” Dave Redekopp underscores the fact that there are currently 40,000 careers in existence, and by the time today’s youth enter the workforce, 10,000 of these careers will no longer exist and 10,000 new careers will come into existance.  This is definitely an intimidating reality to grasp, but at the same time it’s exciting – and means that new possibilities are on the horizon for today’s students and recent graduates.


A very big thank you to Kate for sharing her story with us!

Interested in getting involved in this project?

We’d love to hear from other students or graduates who have something to say about their education and career experiences.

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