Posted by: calumkirk | March 1, 2014

STEM – Worries, Myths and the Future

Are you using LinkedIn? You should, it’s still a brilliant tool for career networking and is actively geared towards helping you present a more professional digital presence than Facebook or Twitter. I’ve been using it for a while and I can see the potential but honestly my use of it could be considerably better (so I’ll probably end up talking about it in a future blog entry). The only use I really get out of it at the moment are the weekly emails with links to career based articles on other websites. Most seem to be very US centric but some articles are useful, and most are at least interesting in the sense that they give a wider understanding of the current or predicted job market. One article I came across last year really peaked my interest though. Entitled The STEM Staffing Crisis is a Myth it highlighted several interesting discussion points on a topic that I knew next to nothing about but, given my career path, really should know everything about. I’ve wanted to write something highlighting this article for a while and I realised not long after my first post that this blog would be a perfect place to bring it to everyone’s attention. Even if you don’t study a STEM degree it brings up topics that are relevant to everyone. So this blog entry is aimed at getting the gears turning so to speak and getting you wonderful readers to think and talk more about the topic.

Despite having studied science at various academic levels for the better part of a decade, ‘STEM’ wasn’t an acronym I had come across before I came to Newcastle University. It stands for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’ and is an umbrella term used to cover all the associated degrees. The staffing crisis of the article title is referring to the concern companies and governments are currently showing about the lack of science graduates. According to sources stated in the article there aren’t enough students currently in education to fulfil the demand for the science roles that need filling. So far so good for current science students. Jobs aplenty upon graduation it would seem. Except that the article swiftly moves onto explain that “myth” of its title is that quite the opposite is true. There are fewer STEM jobs available to even the current undergraduate students, let alone the current post graduate students and those students from previous years. The article goes into greater detail and to begin with is quite worrying for those of us currently in STEM degrees.

But further on it becomes clear that in reality, predicting future STEM recruitment needs or an individual’s career path, are in fact far from easy. Variation plays a big role in this and that what you trained and studied for may not necessarily be what you end up doing. The author points out that STEM jobs may not be filled by STEM graduates, rather by people who have transitioned from non-STEM jobs. But the converse is also true, which is honestly not surprising. STEM graduates unable to find relevant job roles or deciding on a change also fill non-STEM job positions. The discussion surrounding the reasons for this, hinted at in the article, is fascinating while potentially a little dis-heartening. The negative effect this may have on the economy due to unemployment and stagnant wages for STEM employees, the difficulty in even attempting to predict STEM staffing needs and the occurrence of natural cycles of “alarm, boom, bust” on the STEM job market all make it seem like studying a STEM degree is a bad idea. But I actually found it all to be quite positive. Madness I hear you cry! But honestly, read the article and you’ll probably end up feeling the same.

This is because the author ends on a fantastic point. That if there is a shortage of any kind it is on STEM knowledge, in both STEM and non-STEM graduates. STEM graduates tend to be too blinkered in their world view, missing out on the benefits gained from a greater understanding of the arts and humanities. This is probably less true at the undergraduate level, but the higher up you get and the more time you have to devote to your research, it certainly seems harder to make time for such topics. But also there is a lack of a proper STEM grounding in education in general. A proper basis would among other things, make everyone more informed about the advances made in the rapidly growing fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. A better public understanding of these advancements then leads to reduced fear surrounding new discoveries and the implementation of clearer policies guiding these discoveries, with greater public approval. In other words, at the very least a good understanding of STEM topics gives you more topics to debate over a drink at the pub!

Ultimately it seems that times have changed quickly in recent decades and that having a STEM degree doesn’t guarantee a STEM job. But that doesn’t mean that your choices are limited but such a degree and that in fact STEM subjects are ones that we should all aim to learn more about.

Co-incidentally, several parts of the university will be taking part in the National Science and Engineering week between March 14th- 23rd. In the wake of the hugely successful British Science Festival held at the university last summer, these events aims to continue showcasing the STEM work being conducted across the university and generally increase the discussion surrounding STEM topics. So it’s a great chance to build from this article, learn more about new discoveries, understand STEM topics a little better and better inform your debates over those drinks! More information on the week and the events can be found here.

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Responses

  1. Interesting article Calum – and good point about using LinkedIn, for research as well as making connections.
    I think it is important to highlight that taking a particular degree course, at any level, and STEM or non STEM, doesn’t guarantee a (related or non -related) job at the end of it automatically, particularly in the ‘current economic climate’, to coin a well worn phrase!
    What we are increasingly finding from employers is that they are looking for the ‘added value’ you have on top of your education, whether this is work experience, part time jobs, business start up, conferences/events you’ve attended (such as National Science and Engineering week) project work, or other extra curricular activity.
    Additionally, it’s not only about just doing this ‘added value’ stuff, but how you present this to an employer and show how this experience is relevant and valuable not only to you, but also to them!
    To give a shameless plug to the Careers Service – if any of you are unsure about any of this, or what options are open to you after your degree – please pop in and see us. We are here to help!


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