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How Young People View Science Careers (from Canada)

Saturday’s Globe and Mail, from Montreal, included an article that while it was putatively about the poor state of science’s reputation in Canada, might as well have been focused on the United States and the rest of the West.

Is Canada Losing the Lab Rat Race?, by Erin Anderssen and Anne McIlroy, describes the attitudes towards scientific careers of students in the International Baccalaureate Program, an elite, science-focused program for high school students. “These are students who spend half of their time in labs,” the authors write, “working
through experiments, not dozing off during lectures – the kind of
education most scientists wish they had had. If any group should be
producing lab-coat keeners, it should be this one.” The students their love science, but few of them plan to pursue a scientific career:

Julia Dutaud, 16, sitting in the back in her school-rugby T-shirt,
would like to study environmental science – a field growing as rapidly
as any – but she wonders if she could make a good living at it: “Going
into science would be a nice thing to do,” she says. “But we aren’t
sure how much opportunity we would get after university.”


A study released this week found that in Canada and many other Western
countries, few of the best high-school science students are interested
in trading their A’s for electron microscopes and brain scanners. The
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that on
average 60 per cent of the highest-achieving, 15-year-old science
students were uninterested in careers in advanced research.

Our educational systems often gets the blame for the lack of interest in scientific careers among young people, but this shows that that’s not the only, and probably not the main, problem. Clearly, science is not an attractive career option. It’s pretty obvious what the problem is–too few good jobs for far too many bright young people. It’s far less obvious what the answer is. The more science we do, of course, the more scientists we’ll need. And the more scientists we need, the more opportunities there will be for scientists. But right now, young, smart Americans–on both sides of the border–know that there are more dependable career options: clinical medicine, say, or law, or business.

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