In a changing world with increasingly growing technological advances, pursuing a career in Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is the dream of many young people. But what is it? And how can I prepare myself for a career in STEM?
Have you ever thought that, in the future, certain careers as we currently know them, might evolve, or even disappear? Just as globalization and research findings advance over time, disciplines also evolve. Many of the highest-paying careers — and the ones that directly frontline the newest scientific and technological findings — fall into the STEM disciplines. This article will explore what STEM is, which barriers and opportunities people face while pursuing one of its careers, and how to prepare for any of them.
What Is STEM and Why Is It Interesting?
The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This word refers to an interdisciplinary approach to applying different technical knowledge to problem-solving and real-life situations. Careers in STEM fields have been increasing over time, and are typically ranked among the current highest-paid professions in the United States and other developed countries.
At the macro level, STEM careers are relevant to the technological and scientific progress of society. STEM professionals work in a wide range of professions: biomedical engineering and health, aeronautics, biotechnology, physics, nuclear research, wildlife conservation, IT sector, construction, and infrastructure development, among others. Through research and innovation, each of these fields is advancing at huge steps, resulting in a very competitive career path where every professional is challenged to keep updated on their state-of-the-art.
This growing tendency in STEM careers also makes them an attractive, but very competitive, professional pathway. Only in the US, it is expected that about 830.000 STEM job openings will launch in the next ten years, with different growth rates. Even though this sounds like good news, there are important barriers to pursuing a STEM career.
Barriers and Opportunities to Pursue a STEM Career
STEM careers can open many doors, but there are also barriers for new students seeking to pursue them. One of them is a gender disparity in STEM careers. Women are considered to be underrepresented in STEM careers. UNICEF and UNESCO estimated that these disparities go from unequal continuity of secondary and tertiary education between males and females to gender-related experiences in the workplace lived by women in STEM careers. However, important efforts are being pursued in this regard, and bit by bit, more women are becoming STEM professionals every year.
And another challenge is how to navigate into the competitive world of STEM careers. It is very easy to hear different stereotypes about it, such as considering that only people from certain countries can succeed in STEM fields. As with every competitive environment, preparing our own profile is important and strategic in order to pursue a career in one of the most fast-growing fields of knowledge.
Profiling towards a Career in STEM
To support students in pursuing a career in STEM, this article compiles some useful tips and suggestions that might be helpful.
- Read, study and experience. The first suggestion is, of course, to go beyond in your learning process. Take advantage of your studies and become an active learner, falling in love with curiosity for knowledge. The more you learn about different disciplines, the more questions and interests you will be able to embrace.
- Work on your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Learning about STEM subjects is not enough. A student can also boost their profile by working on their own soft-skills, and critical thinking is of particular relevance. Work on your own metacognition skills and on your learning habits and styles.
- Think of the big picture. STEM is about interdisciplinarity, and as such, it requires systemic thinking. Regardless of your favorite field of knowledge, STEM challenges students and professionals to think of how different disciplines can provide us with different insights to solve problems. Therefore, working in your systemic thinking skills can help you understand how different elements of a problem can be interconnected.
- Develop a network. Building a network of STEM professionals is also an important strategy, because you can learn from their experience and knowledge, participate in events, and gain a deeper insight into different disciplines if there is a possibility to collaborate in an internship or project. For this, it is important to work in your interpersonal skills and be genuinely interested in building healthy relations with STEM professionals. Try to gain positive references from your teachers and professors, and find opportunities to gain immersive experiences in these fields.
Given the importance of STEM fields in global scientific and technological progress, it is totally possible and realistic to pursue a career within this interdisciplinary focus. By cultivating your knowledge, your curiosity, your critical thinking, and other soft skills, and by building a healthy network of like-minded professionals, you can gain a deeper insight into these fields and work on your own profile to succeed in any of them.
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