Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2005

DANIELLE MILES, IAN HUTTON, AMY HUNTINGTON AND STEPHEN ROWLEY

  Q60  Chairman: How much are you being offered to move?

  Ms Miles: We are being offered up to £2000 relocation—but that is up to and I cannot really see getting very much of that. At the moment they are pressurising us to go to Bristol or Bath for the regional aspect of it. I am not sure how that works and what sort of funding it is, but they are pressuring us to go there, and from my personal point of view I do not really want to go. I did not go to Exeter because of where it was, it was because of the university, and I am looking at going to Leeds and I have not really had that much help in getting there, I have had to go off and do it all myself.

  Q61  Chairman: Are you having a choice of courses thrust at you?

  Ms Miles: They have said to us that we can transfer on to any other course in the university, but from a personal point of view again chemistry is all I want to do. A few of my friends are doing chemistry and law and they have decided to go on to law, but that is just because they do not really know what to do and they are panicking about being lost and not knowing.

  Q62  Chairman: Why are Bath and Bristol being chosen and not Cambridge and Oxford?

  Ms Miles: Bath and Bristol are being chosen because they are the local universities.

  Q63  Chairman: Local universities?

  Ms Miles: To Exeter, yes; they are playing a regional card and trying to keep us as we were.

  Q64  Chairman: But you do not pick the university because it is local, do you?

  Ms Miles: No. I am originally from Buckinghamshire and I want to go to Leeds. So it is about the same distance to Leeds as it is to Exeter, so it makes no difference to me whereabouts it is.

  Q65  Chairman: Do you think you will manage that, going to Leeds?

  Ms Miles: I went up and saw them on Friday and they seemed very happy.

  Q66  Chairman: There is a chance?

  Ms Miles: Yes.

  Q67  Chairman: What do you others think about this kind of situation? Do you fear it might happen? Are students talking about it?

  Mr Hutton: They are not talking about it at my university. I do not know. I guess, what are the reasons for the closures? Is it because science is unfashionable, or is it because science departments are expensive to run in the university? Then that brings into question all the pros and cons about having research-based science faculties or science faculties which literally just teach, and how that impinges on costs.

  Q68  Chairman: There have been threats of closures at UEA.

  Mr Hutton: What, for biology?

  Q69  Chairman: Not in biology but in other departments. If you think not just about yourself perhaps, but other students and what they think potentially closing and having to move? Because you guys have been through it, Amy and Stephen, at your universities?

  Mr Rowley: Yes, but I did not have to move it, they just ran the course out until everyone was through. So it was different in that sense.

  Ms Miles: It is huge at our university, we are all talking about it at the moment because our Vice-Chancellor has made the point in the Senate meeting about the fact that if chemistry is not closed other subjects would have to be closed. So a lot of other subjects are now panicking and a lot of people are worrying about their degrees and there are lots of rumours going around and lots of panic, and they were talking about closing the Italian and music, and it was sort of across the board, and there is quite a lot of widespread panic actually at the moment about degrees being cut off and no one really knows what is going on.

  Q70  Chairman: There is a court case pending, is there not?

  Ms Miles: Yes.

  Q71  Dr Turner: So you will not be able to have an Italian with a chemistry degree in Exeter!

  Ms Miles: No!

  Q72  Dr Turner: Not many people obviously go into science related careers without having an undergraduate science degree, although the relationship is not absolutely absolute. How much did your career aspirations and interests affect your choice of undergraduate course? Danielle, you have done chemistry, you are interested in forensic science. Did you take career advice about that, for instance?

  Ms Miles: I did because I was looking into doing forensics and I was told that if I do chemistry it is probably a better degree to have because I can still get into forensics, but it does not narrow down my options too early, and also I get a more wide ranged and in depth chemistry than I would have with forensics because you would be looking at other aspects and not just chemistry with it.

  Q73  Dr Turner: You had some sound career advice because we have been looking at forensic science in another inquiry, but what was the experience of the rest of you with the quality of the career advice you got into the relevance of the subjects that you were proposing to study? Amy?

  Ms Huntington: I knew I wanted to study physics. It was not because I wanted to do X as a career. What my career advice was, basically, if that is what you want to do it is not going to harm you in most career choices.

  Q74  Dr Turner: Yes, you could end up making a fortune in the City with a physics degree, I can assure you. Ian, you want a biological career presumably?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, but I was given similar advice as well, that a biology degree is a very good degree to have because of the transferable skills and if I wanted to do something else then it would not really be a problem to transfer at a later stage, and I had the time of my degree to make up my mind.

  Q75  Dr Turner: Stephen, did you get good career advice from the point of view of engineering?

  Mr Rowley: I think so, yes. I was aware I wanted to do something that got me out and about; I did not want to be stuck behind a desk and things like that. They made me aware that there was going to be a shortage of good engineers, so it might be a good way to go.

  Q76  Dr Turner: This makes you all fairly unusual, although you are clearly not sure, Amy, because you are all obviously envisaging careers which are directly going to use some of the content of your undergraduate degrees. Do you feel that this makes you very unusual in your student body? Do other students feel the same?

  Ms Miles: I have been asking a couple of my friends about that and a lot of my friends are actually thinking about going into teaching. Some of them are looking to go into chemistry teaching, sort of lecturing. I have one friend who is looking to doing special needs teaching, but she wanted to get a good degree behind her—not just any degree—to get into it. She wanted a good one, that if she came out of university and she had been inspired by lecturers and research that had been going on, that she could then carry on with the degree that she had done and it was something that interested her, rather than just doing any old degree and to get into a teaching college.

  Q77  Dr Turner: Most scientific careers also involve some postgraduate education. Are any of you thinking of following your undergraduate degree with a postgraduate course?

  Mr Hutton: I am currently toying with whether to or not really, I guess.

  Q78  Chairman: Why are you toying with it and not being determined with it at this stage? Are you not good enough, do you think? Or bad enough!

  Mr Hutton: I think it is that I have spoken to a lot of my lecturers and being in the third year you come into a lot more contact with contract research staff, and I have considered the career prospects and the job prospects after having done, say, a PhD and then several post-docs, a lot of them seem to bounce around from contract to contract with no real security, and if I had worked that hard to get that qualified and have a PhD then I would want to find myself in a more stable environment than that. Whereas if I went, say, into industry and got recruited by a company now then I would have a set career path and a clear-ish future.

  Dr Turner: So have any of you been deterred in your future choices—

  Chairman: Amy is doing a PhD.

  Q79  Dr Turner: . . . by the very problem that you have just raised, of the insecurity of post-docs—and I know all about that, I have been there and it is very uncomfortable. It has worried you, Ian, has it worried the rest of you?

  Ms Miles: To be honest with you, I have only just started and so I have not really thought that much into it, so I would not be able to say on that.


 
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