Graduates in demand
Maths and science graduates who think outside the box can have an exciting career in unusual fields. Lauren Ahwan reports.
MATHS and science graduates are needed to fill vacancies in a host of occupations not normally associated as possible career paths. Fields including conservation, health, banking and film need more workers with science and maths backgrounds to take up highly paid positions.
High school students are being urged to look at their future options before dropping maths and science subjects.
GRADUATES in maths and science are being urged to consider a broad range of career options outside the traditional vocations of engineering and physics.
Air traffic controller, population researcher, intelligence analyst and weather forecaster are just some of the varied options available.
The social sciences sector is particularly keen to get maths graduates to consider other career options.
Professor Ross Homel, a criminologist, statistician and board member of the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, says Australia is facing a shortage of statisticians and researchers to model major policy and industry innovation.
‘‘Mathematical ability is embedded in the statistical and quantitative analysis at the heart of many social science disciplines,’’ he says.
A recent review by eight of the nation’s leading universities, including the University of Adelaide, found the number of students taking maths and science is falling to dangerous levels, prompting warnings of a shortage of skilled workers.
The Group of Eight Review shows industry demand for mathematics and statistics graduates is predicted to grow by 3.5 per cent a year until 2013, prompting Professor Homel to call for ‘‘enabling’’ maths courses at tertiary level as a stop-gap measure.
He says economists, finance sector professionals, demographers, criminologists, sociologists, geographers and designers all have a role to play in raising awareness about the importance of maths and science to their disciplines. ‘‘There is no time to lose,’’ he says. ‘‘Enabling programs designed for budding social scientists may help the situation in the short-term.’’
The CSIRO is also talking up the importance of maths and science to its research.
Dr Louise Ryan, chief of CSIRO mathematics, informatics and statistics and a contributor to the Go8 review, says CSIRO has long struggled to find enough maths graduates to fill positions left by retiring staff, let alone the predicted 3.5 per cent annual growth in demand.
Dr Ryan says few maths and statistics graduates pursue a research career, to the detriment of employers such as the CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
‘‘Quality maths graduates are crucial to CSIRO research,’’ she says.
‘‘Our mathematicians and statisticians are the foundation for our science, delivering results for mining and manufacturing, health, human services and the environment.’’
Australian Science and Mathematics School principal Jim Davies says an international shortage exists for mathematics teachers, providing another career option for graduates and the opportunity to combine work and travel.
Mr Davies advises students not to rule themselves out of jobs by dropping maths and science subjects.
‘‘The usefulness of studying science and maths is not restricted to
just one career pathway. There are not only those requiring university (qualifications) – there ares the technical trades like electricians. There are chefs, with all the talk about food science,’’ he says.
Gina Chuang completed amaster’s degree in computer science – which included components in maths and science – at Adelaide’s Carnegie Mellon in 2007 and is now a software developer at Rising Sun Pictures, designing programs to create special effects for film.
Her work has been used to create the effects used in films including Terminator 4, Australia and the
Harry Potter chronicles. ‘‘ It’s pretty rewarding,’’ Ms Chuang says. ‘‘It’s definitely one of the cooler careers.
‘‘Originally I wanted to do all the animation and modelling, but then I found developing (special effects software) was a lot more satisfying.’’
Ms Chuang, 25, says maths and science often comes into play in her work. ‘‘Maybe I could have got here without all that (maths and science study) but it would have been a bit more of a struggle,’’ she says.
‘‘A maths-science background enables you to get more creative and deal with tougher problems where you need to have a bit of knowledge.
‘‘If you didn’t have a strong background – or even some background – in maths and science, you could still develop software, but you wouldn’t necessarily be developing software that dealt with water or fur or dynamics.’’