A STEM Degree is not a GOLDEN TICKET

There is a lot of push for a degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  In September 2017, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Education which included “a goal of devoting at least $200 million in grant funds per year to the promotion of high‑quality STEM education, including Computer Science in particular.

There are countless organizations devoted to increasing the number of people, women and minorities in particular, in STEM careers.  With an expectation of employment in STEM occupations projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022, it’s no wonder everyone wants to get in the STEM game.

Many people believe that with a degree in a STEM field, the career possibilities are endless.  After all, who wouldn’t want someone who is smart enough to obtain a STEM degree to work for them? This is an extremely common misconception, and it makes me cringe every time I hear a parent say, “I tell my kid to major in engineering, because with a degree in engineering, she can do anything!”

A degree in a STEM field is great if your child is interested in a STEM career, but just isn’t sure what path to take.  It’s a lot easier to switch from a major in engineering to one in marketing than vice versa.  However, if your child has absolutely zero interest in a STEM career, majoring in STEM could be detrimental to her job prospects.  Let’s take a look at how a major in STEM can affect your child’s job prospects throughout her career.

Straight out of college, your child is going to be competing against many other outstanding graduates for jobs.  There are three reasons why a STEM degree may be a negative thing if your daughter is trying to get a job in a non-STEM field:

Personality – A lot of employers base entry-level personnel decisions on personality as much as, if not more so than, credentials. Most employers expect that entry level employee is going to need some training, so the degree isn’t that important for an entry level position. However, people who major in STEM are often viewed as rigid, overly analytical, cold, and introverted.  If an employer is looking for someone who is flexible or can get the job done without overthinking, they may prefer to hire based on personality versus credentials.

  • Salary – Many employers pay pretty well for STEM professionals, even for an entry-level position. Many hiring managers fear they won’t be able to match the salary expectations of someone with a STEM degree.  Even if your daughter lists her salary expectations on an application within a reasonable range, there is still a good chance she won’t hear back.
  • Boredom – Your daughter majored in STEM, and yet she wants a career that doesn’t require much critical thinking or data analysis? Hiring managers will fear she will get bored quickly, and move on to a career that is more challenging.  They may fear the only reason she’s even applying for this type of position is because she hasn’t been able to find an entry-level position in STEM.  Hiring managers often think that since this non-STEM position will likely lead to boredom, she’ll quickly leave the job once she finds a STEM career, and then they will be attempting to fill the position with a new hire after they just filled the position and invested in training.

I’m not saying any of the above bullet points are true about your daughter, nor should someone be dismissed just because she is “overqualified.” Unfortunately, that’s how the hiring process works a lot of the time, and your daughter (and you) should be prepared for this difficult reality.

If your daughter gets an entry-level position, but 5 years later she decides she’s really unhappy and just not that interested in STEM, she may have a hard time finding a new position without going back for a second degree or certificate of some sort.  She’ll be facing the same issues as entry-level person: the stereotype that her personality won’t fit, her salary expectations will be too high, and she will get bored easily.  However, now instead of just having a STEM degree, she’ll have a STEM degree AND 5 years of experience, which will make prospective employers even more nervous about even giving her an interview.  Additionally, she likely won’t have experience in the type of work that will now be required.  She won’t know certain programs or regulations.

If your daughter becomes a senior level STEM professional with project management experience, she may have an easier time moving into a management position in a different career field.  Project management for STEM professionals isn’t much different than project management for other careers.  However, this assumes your daughter really wants to go into project management.  The business side of things isn’t for everyone, and if your daughter has zero ambition to be a business leader, her hopes to transition to another career will face the same obstacles as an entry level person.

So, your daughter is good at math or science, or is interested in STEM, but she isn’t really sure about a career STEM – what can you do???  In this case, I suggest your daughter do as much research as possible throughout high school and college to determine if a STEM career is right for her.

She should sit down and decide what is most important to her in a career.  Does she want to be in an office, or work with her hands? Does she want to be creative, or follow set standards and requirements?  Is she willing to move for her ideal career, or does she want to stay in the area? If she wants to stay in the area, then she needs to do research on what opportunities are available where she is. She should shadow professionals and intern as much as possible.  In college, she should join college sections of professional organizations so she has more resources to learn about STEM, and possibly double major in a STEM field or get a minor.  These suggestions will likely even help her decide which STEM career is right for her if that’s the way she wants to go.

No matter what, help your daughter be an advocate for herself.  Help her learn to research careers online.  Show her resources she can use to get in touch with professionals in her chosen field of interest.  Above all, encourage your daughter to do more than blindly accept the career advice of her counselors based solely on her grades and academic achievements. STEM careers are not for everyone, and that is okay.

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