The Rise of STEM

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I could use some guidance. I’m a recent college graduate with a degree in computer science, but I’m struggling with my career options. Most of the recruiters that came to our campus clearly preferred hiring skilled developers.


I learned to write Microsoft SQL code while taking my core classes, but I’m not all that thrilled about starting a career exclusively working with databases. I’d much rather collaborate with people and solve difficult technical problems.


Since the career center hasn’t been as helpful as expected, I’m hoping someone can share some insight on different career paths for someone with a STEM degree. Any relevant help would be much appreciated.  



Congratulations on your recent graduation. You should certainly be proud of yourself, because earning your bachelor’s degree is often the first step toward any fulfilling career. Perhaps even more fortunate is the fact that you obtained a degree in computer science. It’s often assumed that graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will typically see higher starting salaries and also have greater negotiating power when it comes to job hunting.


Marivi Stuchinsky, the Chief Technology Officer of Farmers Insurance, published a salient article about the promise of STEM on Inc. According to him, there are four primary reasons people should be considering a STEM degree. One immediate takeaway is that a STEM education can be applied to virtually any industry. Added emphasis comes from the 2014 Census report describing how 74% of college graduates with STEM degrees aren’t employed in STEM-specific fields. That proportion is much higher than expected for those unaware of how rapidly technology is changing the global landscape.


Marivi’s remaining pointers shed some light on why STEM graduates find themselves in a variety of industries. He explains that they tend to make excellent problem-solvers who rely almost exclusively on logical rigor and data analysis. Another major advantage is that those individuals with STEM degrees also tend to be capable leaders. His final takeaway has to do with the growing diversity within the available STEM talent pool.


Forbes contributor Kate Ashford wrote a compelling piece explaining how those with STEM majors are likely to find the best possible career prospects. She highlighted a published study that analyzed the median incomes and the unemployment rates for adults with bachelor’s degrees across 173 different majors. The study found that the top five most valuable majors were all within STEM. The results went further to declare that almost all of the top thirty majors were within STEM.


You should know that some of the largest career growth is related to software development. A few decades ago, software engineers primarily worked for major technology companies (e.g., IBM, Microsoft, Intel, etc.). Things are now much different. Companies in almost every industry vertical have now begun to recruit technologists and other STEM professionals.


Even some of the most obscure businesses are utilizing technology in bold new ways. For instance, there is software for managing truck repair shops. Let’s use this an example. Working for a business like truck repair would likely demand more than coding skills. While truck repair doesn’t seem to scream STEM right off the bat, managing maintenance of heavy-duty equipment in the 21st century requires just as much awareness of current technological trends as any other industry. Technological advances have created platforms to streamline repair services and make things more convenient for vendors, service providers, and drivers. In short, STEM can be applied in virtually any industry.


While those trends are certainly worthy of careful attention, you should also remember the limitations of the study itself before you begin to extrapolate more broadly. One such limitation is the fact that it exclusively evaluated bachelors degrees. Omitting advanced degrees is a serious flaw, especially because many of the most competitive positions in the marketplace can require a master’s degree or higher. You should also explore outcomes separate from earning potential and the current employment rate for related degree majors. For instance, how fulfilling are the related career paths? What is the annual expected turnover? What’s the average timeline for advancement to senior positions? Having answers to all of those questions should be equally as important when it comes to your career.


You should avoid being lured into a false sense of security. There are plenty of convincing skeptics who debate the implicit value of a STEM degree. Researchers at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a fairly comprehensive report highlighting the dilemma facing STEM. According to them, the US is currently experiencing both a STEM surplus and a STEM shortage. How? The economics of distributed markets. They explain that job hunters with STEM degrees could have more or less prospects depending on a host of variables (e.g., location, degree type, degree discipline, etc.). In other words, while there might be a shortage of aerospace engineers with doctorate degrees, there’s no such shortage for postdocs in biology.


Putting the STEM debate aside, there’s also considerable promise in the arts and humanities. Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post highlighted why that’s the case. She explains how over a decade of promoting STEM has resulted in fewer and fewer graduates with liberal arts degrees. Only more recently are employers beginning to recognize how important it is to have critical-thinking skills right alongside technical aptitudes. You shouldn’t trade one for the other yet that’s exactly what graduates have been doing. You can avoid neglecting the liberal arts by embracing a growth mindset–something that should compel you to become a perpetual student.


“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” — Confucius