STUDENTS are constantly being told that they would have a brighter future if they were to do Science. But which disciplne in Science should they opt for?
An Australian academic believes that Life Sciences has tremendous growth potential in the new millennium. Life Sciences encompasses fields like biotechnology, biomedicine, pharmacology and nanotechnology.
“Many companies' needs are related to the Life Sciences like biotechnology and pharmacology,” said Prof George Russell Stewart, the Dean of the Life and Physical Sciences Faculty at the University of Western Australia (UWA)
Prof Stewart was in Kuala Lumpur recently to deliver the opening address at a half-day public seminar on “The Value of a Science Degree in the 21st Century – How Science Makes Money.”
“Science is a discipline that can easily cross cultural boundaries. Training in science teaches you how to think critically, and how to apply existing understanding to problems. More importantly, it provides the tools to develop the new knowledge needed to solve the complex problems of the future.”
He believes that the 21st Century will be the century of science and discovery. “A qualification in science can open many doors, and set you on the road to a diverse range of exciting and rewarding career opportunities.
“There is tremendous growth in life sciences. We’re experiencing a parallel growth interest in training in biomedical sciences, pharmacology, and pharmaceuticals.
“For example, about two years ago the biomedical sciences (at UWA) started with only 10 students, but this year we took in about 150 students. We have seen similar growth in areas such as genetics, molecular biology, and people who are completing these programmes are going into jobs straight away. “
The Life and Physical Sciences Faculty at UWA covers the following disciplines: anatomy and human biology; biomedical and chemical sciences - biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, physiology; human movement and exercise science; psychology and physics.
Prof Stewart joined as dean of the Faculty in 1998 and has more than 35 years of experience in research and teaching, including 18 years in leadership roles as head of various science departments at universities such as the University of Queensland, University College London, the University of London, and the University of Manchester.
The current global situation indicates there is a shortage of manpower trained in Life Sciences, he said. “In the United States research is suffering at the moment because of a lack of graduates going into research programmes. These graduates are going straight into companies. So, we at UWA are doing our level best to implement strong teaching programmes in these areas.”
Being one of the Group of Eight “most prestigious universities” in Australia, UWA was interested in building linkages with Malaysian universities, as a way of attracting science students and building awareness for science programmes.
On the Malaysian government’s policy of having a 60% Science and 40% Arts student ratio in schools, Prof Stewart described it is an “interesting” target.
“It’s always difficult to match the production of graduates to jobs during a transition period. When I went to university, the growth area was chemistry but by the time I finished my PhD, there were no jobs for chemists. The market had become saturated. The next wave that came was computer science.”
UWA, said Prof Stewart, does very well in obtaining industry funding with its close link with the mining industry in Western Australia, and links with a number of small biotechnology companies as well.
“Science plays interesting roles in different companies. A technology company in Australia began by trying to produce and design small particles for materials particularly as a replacement for cement. As it turned out, the particles that they were making were perfect sunscreen material. So now they market a transparent zinc oxide sunscreen, which has become very popular.”
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