DIYbio in Australia: Getting Educated About the Life Sciences

July 18, 2016

 

Thinking about studying the life sciences at university? Then you probably have some questions about what the future holds for you. 


Here's a quick primer on what to expect in terms of Australia's quality of education, job prospects and some of the future issues you might face.

 

Quality of Education in Australia 


Let's start at the beginning - what quality of education will you receive pursuing the life sciences in Australian universities? The answer is a fairly well-respected one. 


7 Australian institutions rank amongst the top 100 worldwide when it comes to the life sciences. What's more, Australia's international reputation for university degrees is highly regarded, especially when it comes to scientific research, technology and innovation. 


But does this mean a university degree will prepare you for entering the job market? Unfortunately, many recent grads say it didn't prepare them. 


Only 57% of science graduates indicated that their academic credentials mattered to their jobs. One of their biggest complaints is that a university education focuses too much on book learning and too little on real-life work experience - something hiring managers want. That's left some new grads unable to get hired, even for entry level positions. 


Because of this, some are calling for the entire system to be overhauled, saying universities need to collaborate with industry to better prepare students for the workplace.


While an Australian degree will look great on your resume, you'll also need real-life experience to succeed. Look for student internships, work placements and other opportunities that will complement your education. 

 

Outcomes for Undergrads 


Understanding the job market for the life sciences is a bit tricky. Some sources say that job growth is expected to be below average in the next few years, while others predict the sciences will be amongst the fastest growing


Despite these conflicting views, the job prospects for new science grads are currently amongst the lowest levels across any field of study. Last year's Australian Graduate Survey reported that only half of those with a life sciences degree found full-time employment four months after graduating.

 
To be fair, this isn't the only field where the job market is tough. Some reports shows that it can take up to 5 years before the average grad in any field finds full-time work. Those that do often can't shake the fear that their job may cease to exist in a few years.


All of this has even driven some young grads back to university to obtain yet another degree - which also carries the risk of being overqualified yet under-experienced.


While the situation might sound dire here at home, keep in mind that Australia is not the only developed country to face these challenges. 

 

A Global Challenge 


Unfortunately, the situation isn't much better overseas. For example, the struggle to get more students into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields of study - especially women - is an issue many countries face. They also fear a future shortage of STEM workers - although not everyone is convinced this crisis is real. 


Overall, Australia might have been a bit slower than some other countries in addressing these issues. For example, recent statistics show that as little as 16% of Australia's university students are actually graduating with a degree in a STEM field. 


On the economic stage, some say Australia is underperforming in science and innovation when compared to other developed countries. On top of that, the federal government's investment in research and development dropped to the lowest level in 30 years not too long ago.

 

Making Your Decision 


The important thing to know is that Australia is currently at a crossroads when it comes to the life sciences, but there are significant signs that things will improve. 


For example, the government is working to steer the economy towards more innovation in science and technology. And Australia's former Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, is confident that the STEM fields will increasingly see more jobs created. 


What Professor Chubb does urge is a shift in the way we think about the sciences, including student perceptions, teaching methods, biases of hiring managers and career expectations. For instance, will it be more common to pursue several career paths in the future instead of just one? The point is, the world is rapidly changing. Industry and education need to change with it.


Overall, what's most important is that you should follow your passions and interests. If you enjoy the life sciences, know that's it's still a great field of study to pursue. Look for your nearest DIYbio space or community science group, get in touch, and see how you can pursue your interests today with like minded individuals.

 

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