Q. I am at the end of the first year of an architecture degree. Judgement of grades seems to vary from tutor to tutor. I enjoy problem-solving and thought architecture would be a good blend of art and science, but the art side seems to matter most. Will this change in employment? I am considering changing to physics.
A. Your letter says you have A-levels in maths, computing and economics. It could be that you are finding it hard to adjust to a discipline where hard and fast answers are less easy to come by. There are no absolutes in design – it's a very different intellectual discipline to maths and the sciences.
David Gloster, director of education at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), says much of the discourse at architecture-school level is about ideas and how they influence design; anyone who didn't gather ideas about art, sculpture, photography or design at GCSE, AS- or A-levels might find this tricky to negotiate. Architecture is about visual, aesthetic and spatial qualities.
Shifting to physics is a big leap. Can you negotiate yourself a niche in something more appealing to you but closer – architectural technology, perhaps, or civil or structural engineering?
Gloster adds that as you move from school to practice, emphasis does shift away from design to more mundane but equally important imperatives – how to deal with construction and planning inspectors, and how a building performs environmentally. In other words, the science and more objective aspects do kick back in to some degree.
Talk to third- or fourth-year students and see if they recognise your problem before you do anything radical. Concerns about degree subject at the end of a first year are not uncommon.
A career that adds up
Q. I am considering applying to study maths and statistics at university. Can I find advice about jobs available in this area, and work experience?
A. The Royal Statistical Society (www.rss.org.uk) should be your first port of call; its careers pages include job descriptions for the wide range of opportunities for the statistically minded. If you have a particular interest, the RSS says you can almost certainly find a job as a statistician in that area once you have graduated. If you don't have a special interest, they advise that later on you can get involved with a wide range of problems as a consultant statistician. So the choice is wide – the RSS lists job descriptions for a biometrician (where you might support research projects), business analyst, environmental statistician, forensic statistician and health services statistician, and others that seem more obvious, such as economist, teacher and lecturer.
Statisticians often work in posts that don't carry that label; look for vacancies for "analysts" or "researchers" as well. The RSS says biometricians in genetics are set to be leading players in interpreting the huge quantities of molecular data now being generated.
There's useful information on the downloadable booklet "An Ethical Career in Science and Technology" (www.sgr.org.uk/ethics.html), covering issues such as genetics and climate change. Find out about the Government Economic Service (GES) on www.ges.gov.uk/careers.htm. For work experience, your university careers service should be able to help find local placements, or you can approach employers yourself; look up the RSS webpages for useful links.
Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2143; or email to email@example.com