Report shows teens aren’t pursuing science careers

Let’s Talk Science report says teens find science fun, but not enough for a job.

Dal student Greg Gill says he wants a scientific career when he graduates, but understands why others don’t. Photo: Matt Jamieson

Teens may think science is fun, but they don’t see it as a career option, according to a report published earlier this week.

The 2014 Spotlight on Science Learning report published on Tuesday by Let’s Talk Science surveyed more than 800 randomly selected Canadian teens aged 13 to 17.

The researchers from the Ontario-based charity found 72 per cent of teens think science is fun and offers many career opportunities.

While 86 per cent say their interests drive their education and career decisions, the report says there’s a gap between those interested in science and those who actually want to pursue a science-based career. Only 12 per cent of teens say they want to work in science.

Let’s Talk Science president and founder Bonnie Schmidt says bridging this gap will be tough.

“If we knew a simple answer there wouldn’t be a gap,” she says. “There’s quite a number of complexities.”

Schmidt says there’s a lack of perceived relevance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning. She says students might have fun doing science experiments in class, but they’re not yet making the connection that science can turn into a viable career. While she’s happy to see more students taking an interest in science, she says there’s many misconceptions about science-related careers.

For example, she says 60 per cent of students believe you need a university degree to work in a STEM-based career. While this is true in many cases, Schmidt says a lot of teens will avoid careers in science because of this perception.

Schmidt says parents can play an important role in educating teens on the opportunities in science careers and programs. Parents are sometimes shy to talk to their kids about science if they’re not comfortable with their own knowledge, she says, but support from parents is extremely valuable to teens choosing university programs and careers.

Careers in scientific fields are only getting easier to find in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, scientific and technical services careers have been on the rise since 2009. In 2013, the industry employed more than 1.3 million Canadians. That is 150,000 more jobs than 2009 — a 13 per cent increase from four years ago.

High barrier of entry

Greg Gill, a fourth-year neuroscience major at Dalhousie, says science can have a high barrier of entry to a lot of young students.

“I imagine a lot of high school kids see scientific jobs as really difficult to get into,” he says. “I feel like people think you need like five university degrees to do something with science or technology… but there’s a lot more opportunities than just being a researcher.”

Gill, who mentors others students as part of one his courses, says he chose to pursue a science degree in high school because science was “fulfilling” for him. He says he wanted to be a doctor when he was in high school, but is now leaning towards a medical sales career.

“Either way, I guess I’ve always wanted a STEM career,” he says.

Gill says the percentage of teens who think science is fun was surprisingly high, but he’s says that’s good news.

“I just know a lot of people who were intimidated by science,” he says. “They never disliked it or found it boring, they just found it hard. So I think that probably scares people off.”