Do what you do do well

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Australia’s Chief Scientist borrowed from the lyrics of an old country song when asked at a Year13 summit what advice he had for school leavers unsure of their next step.

“Do what you do do well,” Dr Alan Finkel told the virtual Future of Work Expo last month.

This was the approach Dr Finkel followed himself as a school leaver, when he had no clear career plan. He had planned to study medicine but changed his mind as he was filling out the university application form. After his engineering degree, he still wasn’t ready to make a career decision, so applied to complete a PhD. Still unsure after that, he accepted a job as a research fellow. It was only then that he found what he loved. He devised a sophisticated electronic instrument to amplify the tiny signals in an individual brain cell, then headed for Silicon Valley to commercialise the device.

Dr Finkel has spoken frequently about the need for students to learn a subject deeply and to specialise. He compares it to a musician, who must learn theory but must also “practice, practice, practice”.

“Doors of opportunity open for those people who are very well prepared,” Dr Finkel told the summit.

“If you’re not preparing yourself by investing in the quality of what you’re doing it’s like you’re sitting in a room with no doors and no way out. But if you’re doing things well and building up your expertise, using that effort to also build up your enterprise skills, all of a sudden the room will have doorways and they’ll be ajar, and you’ll find that some of those you can push open and you’ll see something very attractive on the other side.”

Dr Finkel was interviewed by Year13 co-founder Saxon Phipps, who with Will Stubley started the organisation to support the decision-making of young people about what they might do after school.

Dr Finkel, who has worked extensively in activities related to Australia’s energy system during this five years as Australia’s Chief Scientist, urged school leavers to consider opportunities for new careers in energy and environmental technologies emerging as countries rebuild after the pandemic.

He believes Australia is about to enter a significant step-change on the environment. It is imperative to work immediately to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the task cannot be achieved overnight, he told the group.

“It’s not a trivial change - it’s probably the biggest, hardest task of the current generation, it’s not easy,” he said.

“We’ve got find a balance of driving hard towards the new technology approaches that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions whilst maintain a vibrant economy and the jobs that come with that …

“That needs patience from all sides, and it needs vision from all sides, it needs commitment and money and strategy.”


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Last updated: Tuesday, 06 October 2020