This occasional paper Why do a Science Degree? reviews the findings of the ACDS commissioned report, What did you do with your science degree? In terms of investigating the employment profile of graduates of a discipline three, five and ten years post their first graduation, this report is the first of its kind in Australia.
The first conclusion from this survey is that there is not an oversupply of science graduates. Graduates of science courses have much lower unemployment rate than the national average, in the main are employed using the skills they learned, enjoy their jobs, and have average salaries in the top ten to twenty percent of the workforce for their age group.
This leads to the second conclusion, that a science degree is an attractive start to a worthwhile career. Science graduates do not follow a particular defined career pathway, although there is a gradual shift with time from graduation from technical and science professional jobs towards managerial positions. Like most careers these days, the careers of science graduates can be expected to involve one or more periods of further education, and shifts in position which rest on individual skills and attributes as much as on technical knowledge.
The low percentage of science graduates entering the education sector is of considerable concern for the future attraction of matriculants into science and related areas. Recent work reports a current shortage of qualified science teachers particularly in the physical sciences and mathematics (Goodrum et al, 2001), and an ageing profile for the current cohort of science teachers. Low movement of science graduates into science education now will exacerbate the shortage of teachers in the future. A detailed survey of current and future requirements for science teachers is urgently needed as is action to attract and maintain science graduates into the teaching profession.
Fifty-six percent of the Science graduates surveyed have undertaken further formal study in either science or non-science areas, indicating that a majority realise that completing a first degree does not complete their education. Science Faculties are responding by further enhancing generic skills such as communication and information technology in science courses to further improve the career prospects of future graduates and strengthen their foundation for life long learning.
Why do a Science degree? For graduates currently in the workforce, the answer has been a high level of interest and career pathways that are seen as interesting and providing considerable levels of personal satisfaction if not a high degree of job security. For the future, we expect that graduates in science and technology will be taking a leading place in building Australias Knowledge Economy, with the rewards and recognition that go with that vital role.