When I was a young, seven or eight years old, I was a scientist. I questioned. I was curious. I wanted to know how things worked.
“We don’t need scientists. We need money and security.” – Wrong.
Nought became of it. My parents bought a set of encyclopedia, with the hope it would answer some of my incessant questions. There were no science experiments in our young classrooms. There was definitely no internet. Although I was one of the “lucky ones;” my mother had purchased a Commodore 64 and I was eager to code my own games in BASIC.
Instead, I was constantly reminded, by the adults around me, of the importance of a career “to pay the bills.” Be a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant. Something with prestige and money. My parents and grandparents still carried the wounds of financial hardship in post-war Australia. The greed of the 1980s can be directly related to rationing experienced by the generation before it. In the same way my grandparents would sneak chocolate into my pockets, they also wanted me to have many other things they missed out on when they were younger. In truth, all my family wanted for me was to be financially secure. Leave science to those in government or with more money than I.
The Future is Science
Today I am a mother to three scientists; aged twelve, nine, and five. It is their turn to face the questions I once did, but circumstances have changed. Financial security is still a concern but it is shadowed by a greater fear: environmental security. My kids want to be marine biologists, physicists, engineers, chemists, and astronauts. And even though I watch our politicians and worry for the financial security of any scientist, I know our need for scientists is greater now than ever before.
Last year was not a good year for those working in science-related fields. Many government-funded scientists were unemployed by the end of the year, from all around the world. Thousands took to the streets to shout their support for science. From the United States of America to Australia and even the Brexit-focused troubles of the United Kingdom, governments have been cutting back on their funding for scientific research, especially for anything related to climate change or energy renewables. Side-note sticking your head in the sand or singing “la-la-la” with your hands over your ears, doesn’t make climate change any less of an existential crisis. It costs money to be visionary, and governments are all about the money. Nobody wants to be the next Greece or Turkey. And yet the primary purpose of a government is to represent the people and provide guidance towards the betterment of all citizens. Not just those who can make the money.
The money-making jobs are easy; they are already being replaced by technology. More than 50% of my previous legal positions have been replaced by automation–and that’s before the introduction of Artificial Intelligence. 40% of current existing jobs will be replaced by automation by 2020. We’re not just talking about Amazon drone deliveries. This list includes truck drivers, lawyers, teachers, fast food outlets, accountants. Even this article I am writing could be finished by a robot.
What Are Kids Doing Now?
However, I will not dwell on fear. Instead, I look to the aspirations of our children and their school friends. Our eldest is intent on being a marine biologist (sorry, marine zoologist). In January 2019, he will travel to the Galapagos Islands, completely funded by his own means and determination (you can follow his journey here). He wants to see the wildlife, visiting the research and conservation groups to learn from their efforts. He wants to understand how animals are evolving to adapt to the world humans are forcing on them; because he has given up hope understanding why we would do this to our own environment. He has achieved all of this on his own by busking to pay his own way and some generous donations. Because he is a scientist, driven by something greater than money.
Our second child watches on. At age nine, he too is a scientist. However, he looks up to the stars. He wants to go to Denmark and study how LEGO is more than a toy. It is a path to creative thinking and problem solving; sometimes for problems we didn’t even realize were there to begin with. He is fascinated by how we can use LEGO to build and create, to work out physics, and encourage further exploration of space. The one fighting chance our kids have against the automation of jobs is to nurture their creativity. To feed their curiosity. LEGO does exactly that. Our star-gazer dreams of visiting LEGO HQ and understand how LEGO encourages education in engineering basics. And he too is driven by his scientific curiosity. He too will take himself there with busking and determination.
Our five-year-old daughter is yet to decide where she wants to go. She’s five. She wants to be an astronaut. And we’re encouraging it.
Why? Because we need scientists. We need them more than money. There is no point being financially secure when we are environmentally at risk. And while I have no faith or trust in our governments, who routinely ridicule and summarily dismiss the efforts of our existing scientists, I have faith in the determination of future generations of scientists. Not because they are better and not because they had “better parents” but because they will have a greater need to be scientists.
They will need to save our wildlife. They will need to repair our environment. And, if we leave it too late for them to achieve this, they will need to find the unknown possibilities away from this damaged planet.
Change isn’t Coming. It’s Here.
When I am asked why I encourage our children to careers with such little recognition or support for society, my answer is simple: “there are no better options.” Do not think your children will be restricted to lab coats and pen-protectors. This is not about making every child a scientist. This is about recognizing every child should have the potential to consider the science in their life. There are still parents at the school gate, talking about their children one day being lawyers and accountants because that is the aspiration they were given when they were young. When success was (and still is) measured by the size of your house and the weave of your cloth. It’s just not like that anymore.
The greed of the 1980s is a luxury long gone. No modern job is secure anymore, no matter the industry. Of course, I want our children to be able to pay their bills. Of course, I want them to have the resources to study and travel and learn. But if the kids are showing a genuine interest in science and discovery, there is no way I should be telling them “the bills are more important”. We need to encourage their scientific curiosity. We need to give our kids room to explore every possibility in how they can contribute as citizens. Having a job isn’t just about making money. It is about what you can produce from it as well.
My family had the best intentions and wishes for my future. Now I am in their position, it is my turn to encourage my children. I wish only for our children to have a future, and care less about how much of it they can own.