Ours truly is the great age of technology. And if you’re interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), it might feel like you’re on a certain path to financial prosperity and limitless job security.
But a career in STEM can look significantly different on the inside than it did on the outside. Here are some things you should know before embarking on your STEM career.
1. No, It’s not just about acing your courses
If you want to translate your STEM studies into a meaningful career, you’re going to need to do more than just take the right courses and do well in them. In these highly competitive fields, prospective employers are going to want to know what you’re doing in your spare time. They need to see you’re really passionate about applying what you’re learning to the real world, whether you’re at home building computers or designing the next must-have app. In other words, it’s not just about what you know but also how you use it.
2. No, you won’t be stuck in a Lab
When you imagine your life working in STEM, you might picture yourself in a research lab or a classroom. But the fact is, a lot of STEM professionals end up traveling the world, applying their unique skills to communities that need them most. Engineers and scientists are especially needed in developing countries to solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems by creating stronger infrastructures.
3. No, It’s not just a (white) boy’s club
Gender and racial disparities in STEM have received a lot of press lately, and for the most part, the stories are right. Women and minorities are significantly underrepresented in the field right now. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not there and they’re not making a difference. Some of the finest scientists of contemporary history have been women of color, and their legacies are paving the way for future generations of Black and Brown women in STEM.
4. Yes, you can have it all
STEM fields are, by their nature, highly demanding. They require immense time, effort, and dedication. But now more than ever, STEM professionals are finding creative ways to build a thriving career and a happy family life, especially with the help of flexible work hours and telecommuting options for young Ph.D. candidates and post-docs.
5. Yes, you’ll need to talk to people
A career in STEM might feel like it’s going to consist of a lot of time spent alone grappling with important projects or working to resolve some of the field’s most significant questions. But you’ll actually be spending a lot more time with people than you might think. For instance, you’re probably going to do a lot of collaborating with others in the field. And you’re also going to do your fair share of customer service. So that means you’ll need to focus not only on your STEM skills but on your people skills too!
6. Yes, you’ll need a Cover Letter
You might have more degrees than a thermometer and your CV might be enough to make a Rhodes Scholar swoon, but competition for STEM positions is fierce and only getting fiercer. That means you’re probably going to need a strong cover letter just to get your application noticed and your resume read at all.
7. Yes, you’ll need funding
You might be working on finding a cure for cancer. You might even be on the verge of time travel or teleportation. But no matter how important, or simply how cool, your research might be, you’re still going to need to hustle for funding. And in today’s hyper-competitive environment, that means learning how to pitch yourself and your work to keep those grants flowing!
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