Do High School Student Want to Become Scientists? the answer is, no [Is Canada losing the lab-rat race?].
"Look up 'scientist' on Google," the 16-year-old says, "and you will see someone in a lab coat." At the moment, she is considering something with more immediate results, such as physiotherapy.I don't think this is a new problem. Back in the olden days, there also weren't a huge number of high school students who wanted to be scientists. Why should there be a significant number in a typical high school class? At my university there are about 8,000 students entering first year and about 400 or so want to pursue a career in science. That's about right—half of them (200) will be able to enter graduate school when they graduate and that's also about right. It means that a typical high school science class of 25 students will likely have only two or three who want to be scientists.
Ask her biology classmates at Colonel By Secondary School in Ottawa if any of them want to be scientists and only a few tentative hands flicker up. What's worrying is that this is no average high-school science class. It is part of the International Baccalaureate program, chosen from a large pool of applicants. These are students who spend half of their time in labs, 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.
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."
Half the students are planning to be doctors instead, a profession they and their parents consider more stable.
It would be a disaster if half of every high school science class wanted to become scientists because the vast majority would be disappointed.
There's another problem not covered in the Globe and Mail article. In my experience, many students don't begin to understand what a scientist is until they get to university and start seeing them in their natural environment. A surprising number of high school students think you have to be a physician in order to do the cool research on genes and diseases. It's only after they get to university that they learn the difference between a physician and a scientist.
When did you, dear reader, first develop a serious interest in science? Was it in high school or university? Is it a problem that there aren't more high school students who want to become scientists?