Enthusiasm for careers in science has taken a beating this year, with reports of cutbacks in funding, lack of promotional prospects or even continuity of employment, declining enrolments in science courses at high school and university (the latter at least partly related to higher HECS fees), and so on. It’s enough to make you wonder whether you’re doing young people a disservice in encouraging them to consider a science career.
At the same time, studies indicate that people are interested in science and technology. Why the big discrepancy between interests and career aspirations?
I think one major problem is the widespread view that if you study science, you’re preparing yourself for a career in research and you need to get a PhD. Many people see this as too hard or taking too long, especially when they look around at the lack of opportunities in academic and government-funding research.
I’m sure readers of this Journal would agree that an understanding of the principles of science (at the very least) is a vital component of the education of an informed citizen, and that the nation (indeed, the world) could benefit from a better grasp of science by businesspeople, lawyers, politicians, and others in highly-paid, influential positions — as well as teachers and others who may be vitally important, though less well-paid, members of society.
In addition, we know that a background in science provides knowledge and skills that can be transferred into a wide variety of careers; that many science-related careers can arise from studies at TAFE as well as university; and that a PhD is not required as preparation for many interesting jobs.
Our challenge, I think, is to get across these messages to young people. As part of the effort to meet this challenge, WISENET successfully applied to the Science and Technology Unit of the then Department of Industry, Science and Technology, for a grant to produce a special issue of the Journal aimed at school children in years 8–11, describing young scientists and their work. The special issue will be distributed to all secondary schools in Australia, for use during Science Education Week in 1998 (around April in most States). WISENET members will also receive a copy.
This project is well under way. The steering committee comprises Diana Temple, Sarah Miller, Margaret Hartley and Julie Crowley, all of Sydney. I am the project coordinator. Nancy Mills, a former member of the Journal’s editorial committee now living in Melbourne, has been chosen to compile and write the contents: profiles of 16 young people and 4 projects. The profiles, selected from suggestions by WISENET members in all States, will include both sexes, from diverse geographic and ethnic groups and various educational levels, doing a variety of exciting work that young readers can relate to. The issue will be designed by a final-year design student. It will be 24 pages long, with many illustrations, and will be designed so teachers can easily photocopy pages to use in class.
We’re excited about this project and we hope you will be too. As always, we encourage you to write to us with your views or any suggestions on people, projects or issues to cover in the Journal.
—Jean Hollis Weber