Bringing science’s workforce forward

September 25, 2023

Professor Brian Schmidt explores how science changes the world through the efforts of the exceptional people behind it.

Image: Professor Brian P. Schmidt, AC FAA FRS, Vice-Chancellor & President, The Australian National University. Supplied

Australia is home to some of the world’s best universities. The scientific research and teaching that takes place at these universities can change the world and make all of our lives better. 

It can lead to new products, jobs and industries that we couldn’t even have imagined in the early days of the research cycle. 

I know this firsthand. Work in my own area of astro-particle physics has underpinned features of our daily lives like Wi-Fi, digital cameras, GPS, the internet and even iPhone touch screens — world-changing by-products of our quest to understand the universe.

But we need to make sure our universities can continue to deliver on this promise for future generations. It’s important to think about how we fund and translate scientific research in Australia today, so that basic curiosity-driven science can continue to change the world in ways we can’t yet imagine.

We have to create an environment where there is enough stability that our brilliant young scientists can focus on their work, without being constantly stressed about career progression.

Science is constantly moving forward not because of a handful of brilliant individuals, but because we step forward together. That’s the beauty of science — people sharing ideas and discoveries so they can be built upon. 

We need to focus on how we treat young researchers, and how we bring women and a whole diverse range of people from non-traditional backgrounds into science specifically — and also into academia in general. 

I was lucky enough to be part of a Nobel Prize-winning discovery and if we want more of these at Australian institutions, we need to support our young researchers, and provide them with career structures that offer some certainty. 

I’m about to make a big change, heading back to my first love: scientific research and teaching. It will be very different to my time spent running a university. But my love for the university environment is undimmed.

I can’t wait to see what the next chapter in Australian science brings. 

Professor Brian P. Schmidt
AC FAA FRS

Vice-Chancellor & President,
The Australian National University 

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 10 2023

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