This article is part of a series that provides high school students with evidence-based advice for choosing subjects in their senior years.
Studying science will help you understand the world and will open the door to a wide variety of careers for you.
If you have decided to become a doctor or an engineer, you already know that you have to do science. But if you’re one of the 45% of students who don’t know what career they’re going to end up in, you may want to study a number of different subjects to keep your options open. Science could be one of them.
Who takes science?
In Australia, science is compulsory up to 10th grade – after that it’s an option.
The Australian curriculum groups science into four areas:
- Biology – the study of life
- Chemistry – the study of materials and substances
- Earth and environmental sciences – a broad topic about the interactions between the earth and its water, its air and living organism
- Physics – the study of nature and the properties of matter and energy.
The science subjects you can choose will depend on where you live and what your school offers, but they fall into these areas or a combination.
A little more than half of all students choose to continue with science in grade 12. In 2010, 53.1% of girls in Australia were in a 12th grade science subject. This had risen to 56.2% by 2019. In contrast, the proportion of boys taking natural sciences actually fell – from 49.6% to 46.9% in the same period.
Biology was the most popular science subject for both boys and girls – 32.4% of all students taking a science subject in 2016 took biology. This has been compared to 21% chemistry and 15% physics.
But more girls (40%) chose biology than boys (24%). And more boys (21%) chose physics than girls (8%). A similar proportion of girls and boys chose to study chemistry and life and earth sciences (such as geology and agriculture).
There are several theories for this difference. Some research shows that girls consistently have a less positive attitude towards science than boys and do not feel as good about it. This is interesting because girls get grades similar to boys in science.
Girls tend to have better language skills than boys, so another suggestion is that they are more likely to choose subjects that require these skills, such as humanities.
There are no clear-cut answers, but your gender shouldn’t be a factor in your choice of science.
Career in science
In the 1990s, 85% of 12th grade students were studying at least one science subject. Enrollments began to decline around 1992 and settled where they are now. The reason for the decline continues to be debated, but popular theories include a wider range of subject choices and perceptual science is too hard and not worth the effort.
Many experts believe the current school enrollment rate is too low, and this is confusing given the growing demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in general.
A recent government report showed that STEM jobs are growing almost twice as fast as other jobs.
Many roles are available inside and outside the lab. These lie in areas like climate change, materials science (anything related to the way things are made and how things work – from nanoparticles to concrete), health, food technology, drug manufacturing, and education.
Climate science is one of the diverse fields in which science graduates can work. Shutterstock
Of course, you are unlikely to find a science career straight out of school. You would first have to complete a university or another course of study – such as vocational training. It will be a lot easier to take any of these courses if you have studied science in your final years. However, there are still ways to get to them even if you haven’t.
The opposite is also true – you can change your mind about wanting to study science after studying it in school (or college). In fact, around two-thirds of students who take a STEM subject in school or university actually find a job outside of STEM.
What else can science teach?
When I researched their subject choices, most students thought science was only useful for traditional scientific careers like medicine or engineering. That’s not the case.
Studying the natural sciences helps to build scientific competence, which means that you can deal with and reflect on scientific topics in your daily life. Good scientific knowledge gives you the ability to see fake science for what it is and to talk meaningfully about topics like climate change or COVID vaccines.
Studying science also helps students understand their world and become interested in what is happening around them. When you know how science works, you can form your own opinion about evidence. You can decide if it makes sense to buy solar panels or if kale is really a miracle food.
Science education can help you determine if kale is actually a superfood. Shutterstock
Today’s 15-year-olds are predicted to have five different careers and 17 changes of employer over the course of their lives. Therefore, it makes sense to choose a range of subjects that build skills that are transferable to a range of roles.
Including a science subject in the mix, even if you’re not pursuing a science career, can strike a good balance. But of course only if you are interested.
Don’t choose it for the ATAR
You can hear science subjects are great as the grades are upscaled when calculating your ATAR. That is not completely right.
As you probably know, the ATAR is your rank compared to other students and a factor in university student selection.
Historically, science subjects have been valued favorably because the average academic skills of students doing science were higher than those of the average student. Scaling is done after the grades are in place and aims to level the playing field between subjects. You have a much better chance of getting a good grade if you do a subject because you enjoy it or are good at it.
In my research, I found both girls and boys to be the most important factor influencing the decision to choose or reject a subject for 11th grade, marking it as an interesting and fun subject.
You need to weigh this against all of your subject choices, not just science. In the words of a 10th grade student from my research
If you choose everything you love, you may not necessarily do it very well and it might lower your grades, but if you choose things that you are really good at but that you may not necessarily love, you won’t have the motivation to keep doing well.
You don’t have to love science, but you have to like it and think you can get the job done.
Images used with the kind permission of Pexels / Mikhail Nilov
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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