Grad­u­ates in de­mand

Maths and sci­ence grad­u­ates who think out­side the box can have an ex­cit­ing ca­reer in un­usual fields. Lau­ren Ah­wan re­ports.

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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.’’

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