Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has shared some warm-hearted career advice with a teenager worried about what subjects to study in Year 11 and 12.

The student had written to him asking for some direction.

In his response, published in Cosmos Magazine, Dr Finkel reassured her she was not alone in feeling anxious.

“These are important decisions and there’s lots of confusing advice around,” Dr Finkel wrote.

His first advice was to “build a solid foundation to keep the doors of opportunity open”.

“This means building your expertise in two fundamental subjects: English and mathematics. Neither can be picked up easily later in life. They are best learned layer upon layer, from prep school through to Year 12,” he wrote.

Challenge yourself

Once the basics are in place, he advised choosing subjects that will “stretch you”.

“I don’t know why, but some well-meaning advisors will suggest that you pick easy subjects so that you will achieve a higher raw score. Don’t do that! You won’t be doing yourself a favour, you’ll be diminishing your long-term prospects.

“Instead, choose the enabling subjects, the ones that will keep the doors of opportunity open. Every time you drop an enabling subject – bang! a door of opportunity slams shut.”

21st century skills not a new concept

The “21st Century skills” like resilience, clear thinking and collaboration that are often mentioned as being crucial for today’s students were just as important last century too.

“I learned them, a long time ago,” Dr Finkel wrote.

“They are important but they are useless unless you study demanding subjects through which you can practice these skills.

“Another way to build these 21st Century skills is by volunteering to do some community service or taking a casual job, perhaps at McDonald’s or a local cafe.”

Read the letter in full

The letter is published in full on the Chief Scientist’s website | READ MORE

Our recent story explains Queensland’s new senior subject selection process and contains links to lots of useful resources. | READ IT HERE

The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) website also contains a lot of useful information about subject selections for Year 10 students. | VISIT THEM HERE