When we were younger, one of the most difficult choices we had to make was what major to pursue in high school.
Our parents had stressed the significance of this choice by explaining how it would shape the course of our lives and professions.
And while we may disagree with them sometimes, I do believe that yes, this would be a big choice that will have far-reaching consequences.
However, there are parents who would go out of their way to ‘influence’ their children’s decision-making and convince them that there is just one way to achieve success in life.
What is their main line of defence? “Mother knows best.”
Let’s start with the numbers before we get into some of the tragic examples of people’s lives being derailed because they chose the incorrect major in school.
Since February 2022, reports have shown that an increasing number of high school students are switching to the arts after first enrolling in the scientific route according to the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP).
Over the last several years, schools have seen a dramatic increase in the number of kids who no longer want to engage in science, from a few per year to over 10.
As many have observed, this occurred because the school curriculum was too challenging to be taught online during the pandemic.
But, is that all there is to it? Is it the sole explanation, or have we failed to account for the possibility that some of these students just never showed any interest in science?
To show my support for everyone who was forced to take a scientific course but ended up working in a different sector entirely or, even worse, being unemployed after graduating – this article was written for you.
Most youngsters who are forced to study science end up depressed for years since they can’t pursue their actual love, but we also have to consider that college is exorbitant.
Would you, as a parent, be willing to spend thousands of ringgit to force your kid to pursue a career in the science industry, even when they don’t have the passion for it?
What if you didn’t spend so much money taking your kids abroad and instead put that money into something they were truly interested in?
To understand the impact of this outdated way of thinking, I proceeded to interview three individuals, Hani, Nur and Hazrael to understand their struggles in finding joy in a field that was selected for them and coping with a different profession because their field is greatly underpaid in Malaysia.
Disclaimer: We have changed Hazrael’s real name to protect his privacy.
What did they major in college and what is their current profession?
For Hani, she majored in Environmental Science & Technology and is currently an event planner for an event management company.
Nur has a Bachelor of Chemical Sciences but is currently a sales admin.
As for Hazrael, he studied Forensic Science but as for his current profession, in his own words, “Let’s just say I sell photos of myself online.”
Was it their choice to study in their degree field?
“It wasn’t my choice at all as I wanted to take Physics for my degree,” Hani replied.
“I know it’s still in Science, but I was forced to take science subjects when I was in school instead of pursuing my passion which was Art,” she added.
Nur replied to the same question saying, “Well, honestly yeah. I was interested in Science.”
She then proceeded to ask if she was eligible for the interview but in order to provide multiple perspectives to this nuanced topic, I insisted that she stayed and gave her unbiased opinion.
“Absolutely not. I wanted to work in the gaming industry but my parents said I wouldn’t make any money,” Hazrael answered.
How much did their degree cost in total?
Hani stated that her degree in Environmental Science & Technology cost her around RM28,000.
Nur stated that she previously went to a government university and estimated the cost to be around RM6,000.
Hazrael on the other hand mentioned that he received a full scholarship.
“But can you believe that I received a full scholarship and can’t even get a job in that field?” Hazrael cheekily added.
Are they satisfied with their current job and salary?
All three respondents replied saying yes, they are satisfied with their current job.
Do they believe that they deserve a career in the field they studied?
“Not really because I knew from the beginning that it’ll be hard to get a job in the field that I studied because the number of graduates is almost always more than the job vacancies,” Hani replied.
Hani explained again that she was forced to study Environmental Science & Technology even after telling her parents that she couldn’t possibly get a job after.
“When I graduated, I knew that I may not be able to get a placement in the field that I studied,” she concluded.
“Yes. I didn’t know that the field I was in is under-appreciated in Malaysia. The same goes for any science-related field except for medic, engineering, etc. Even if there’s a vacancy, it doesn’t pay well,” Nur replied.
Though Nur originally intended to pursue a career in science, she later came to regret this choice when she was unable to do so. She expressed regret that no one had warned her about the difficulties that lay ahead after college.
To those who still have time to salvage their careers, Nur hopes that this interview will serve as a warning.
“Well absolutely, but I don’t think I could ever work in a boring lab all day so even if I do get a job offer in that field, I would decline,” said Hazrael.
Do they agree that most science stream graduates are forced to take odd jobs or work in other sectors?
“I can’t speak for the majority but from my own observations, most of my close friends did not work in the same sector as what we’ve studied,” said Hani.
Hani continued to say that she does agree with the question based on her observations alone as she, herself, is one of those science graduates who had to look for a job in a different sector.
Nur answered the same question with, “Yes. Most graduates are forced to work in something unrelated to their field just to survive or they’d have to be an entrepreneur or promote slimming tea on their social media.”
“Oh yes, 100%! I think that most parents are blinded by the fact that most science sectors would only hire experienced or old people so our generation will never get the same opportunity. Thank you, boomers!” Hazrael replied.
What advice would they give to parents who only allow their children to join the science stream at school?
“I understand that parents only want the best for their children, however, parents also need to understand their children’s passion. You can cultivate their interests in science from the beginning since they’re a kid but if it’s not their interest, please just don’t force them to join the science stream,” said Hani.
“Kids are their own individuals with their own desires and needs, we can’t force them to take on our desires and live out our dreams, that’s unfair,” she added.
“If that’s the child’s interest then that’s okay, but please also inform your child that they could potentially be jobless as there’s really no opportunity in the science field and in the end, they might have to work as a sales admin,” expressed Nur.
“It’s embarrassing,” she concluded.
“Please listen to your kids. You might think you ‘know’ who they are from birth, but trust me, we know ourselves better,” Hazrael responded.
To all the parents and future parents who are reading this, from the response that I’ve received, clearly, paying attention to your child’s passions is a crucial parenting skill.
It is also important to highlight that times have changed and careers within the art sector should not be looked down upon with disdain.
Gracefully nudging your child to pursue their passions is always better than forcing them to do something they obviously don’t want to do – even if that means you can’t vicariously live through them.
Have you ever told your child they would never find work if they majored in the arts, so you made them pursue science instead?
After reading about these bright individuals whose flames have been extinguished, is it still better to spend exorbitant amounts of money just so your child could struggle after graduating?
I am grateful that my parents have always supported my interests and encouraged me to pursue my goals and I just wish for that same courtesy from other parents to their own respective children.
It is time for new parents to adopt this mindset and realise that a bachelor’s degree in science does not guarantee a secure financial future.