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How prepared are university students for the jobs of the future?

Caroline Hamilton Smith at the University of Sydney school of aeronautical engineering. Photo: Peter RaeUniversity of Sydney aeronautical engineering student Caroline Hamilton Smith loves measuring rocket trajectories.

It was a similar challenge three African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA faced when they helped bring astronaut John Glenn back into orbit. The Hollywood movie Hidden Figures depicts the true story, which involved using a mathematical theorem known as a Euler equation.

“I did a subject about the rocket equation – it was absolutely amazing,” Ms Hamilton Smith said.

“The whole idea of making something go that fast is exciting.

“I am attracted to things that involve lots of maths.”

The 21-year-old who hopes to one day become an astronaut recently shared her passion for rocket science with female high school students in a bid to get them more interested in studying science-related subjects at university.

A new national survey of 14,000 graduates from 38 universities found 9 per cent of female students wanted to enter STEM careers compared to 28 per cent of males.

Martin Smith, director of graduate career development and employability at the University of Wollongong, said universities were striving to create “real-world experiences for their students”.

“Students and their families and the community in general are interested in the return on investment on their higher education studies.

“We are seeing better resourced university career services, more innovative ways for students to get practical work experience. And we are getting better at engaging with our industry partners.

“But as enrolments increase at all universities it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide those workplace experiences, so we are seeing group-based projects and activities.”

He said greater analysis of the Grad data was needed to determine the proportion of students in generalist arts and science degrees who said they were not properly prepared for the workforce.

“Traditionally the data shows us that people in those kinds of degrees will go on to do further study at honours or post-graduate level to move into research and other career paths,” Mr Smith said.

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