The skills future scientists will need

Published 15 August 2018

That is the advice of four UNE scientists to young people considering science as a vocation in a rapidly evolving technological world.

The good news is that all agreed that science will play a crucial part in shaping future societies, but scientists themselves will need to be agile, adaptable, and have a range of diverse skills not always associated with the role of a scientist.

“I think graduates that have mathematical modelling experience, but also have knowledge of natural history will have an edge,” insect ecologist Associate Professor Nigel Andrew said.

“Why? Because so few people have these dual skills.

“If you have a unique skill set you will have an advantage.”

Kirsti Abbott, who runs UNE’s science outreach and education program, Discovery, believes agility will be key for future scientists.

“I think the jobs of the future will be more fluid and agile than today,” she said.

“The skills people will need to solve problems, run businesses and manage large organisations will range from specific technical knowledge in optics, genetics, chemistry, and food production, for example, to emotional intelligence and effective written and verbal communication competencies.”

Molecular biologist and geneticist Dr Mary McMillan believes that while there will be jobs for scientists developing technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics, there will also be roles in areas crucial to society’s survival such as developing alternative energy sources.

“I think there is a growing need to develop cleaner energy sources, and I can see there will be jobs there in the future where things like engineering and problem solving skills will be really important,” she said.

“But the major roles of scientists won’t change – scientists will still be identifying problems and trying to create solutions – but the tools we have to do that are always changing.”

Associate Professor Andrew Robson, a remote sensing expert in UNE’s Precision Agriculture Research Group, works with technology on a daily basis.

He agrees that highly tuned communication skills will be vital to enable young scientists to effectively apply their core science knowledge in a professional role.

“While new graduates have unbelievably good knowledge of modern technologies, it will only be those that communicate, listen and engage with the more experienced scientists and end users that will be truly brilliant,” he said.

The final piece of advice to students considering a future in science comes from A/Prof Andrew.

“If I may be a little controversial – don’t necessarily follow your dream – find areas where there are few people with expertise and follow that route,” he said.

“If you gain experience and expertise in an area that is ‘hard’ you will more likely get a great job. It may be difficult at first, but practice and effort is key.

“Keep at it – long, winding roads may lead to great places.”

In this story: