Posts tagged career planning

STEM: Create Your Own Career Path

CareerPathIt’s been a busy couple of weeks at my house. It’s hard to say for sure, but I think the biggest thing going on at home has been that my son started kindergarten last week (does that make me old?!?), and my daughter started at a new preschool. As such, there has been much discussion at home about how grown up STEMboy is, and what he thinks the future holds.

If you ask him what he wants to be, his answer alternates almost daily, between:

  1. Paleontologist
  2. Artist

Obviously, LOL. Two professions I would never compare with each other – but the boy loves art projects, and the boy loves dinosaurs. For awhile, his favorite show was Dinosaur Train.

We were driving to visit a relative the other day, and STEMboy wanted to play a guessing game (a common occurrence in our family).

STEMboy: “Mom, I’m thinking of an island. Guess which one!”

Me: “uhhhhhh…..Mackinac Island?”

STEMboy: “No”

Me: “Hawaii?”

STEMboy: “No”

Me: “Seriously?!? I have to guess any island in the whole world? I need a hint.”

STEMboy: “It’s really old.”

Me: (jaw drops to the floor. I know immediately what he’s thinking, but can’t believe he knows what he’s thinking) “Uhhhhh….Pangea?”

STEMboy: “YES!!! That’s it!!! How did you know that, mom?!?”

Me: (over my husband’s laughter) “I’m a scientist, STEMboy. How do YOU know that?!? Do you know what Pangea is?”

STEMboy: “Of course mom – It’s the island that all the land used to be in a long time ago. It was on Dinosaur Train”

Which of course led to the discussion of how continents shifted, and why that’s relevant to finding dinosaur bones.

Ahhh……moments like this send my heart aflutter. I love seeing my four year old independently learning about science (even if it is from TV), and sharing his love of science with us and others. If he grows up to be a paleontologist, I already know that he will genuinely love his job. If he grows up to be an artist, I’m sure he’ll love that too and of course I’ll support him in that endeavor as well. I can’t wait to see what he will become, but as a parent, my biggest concern is that whatever he does make him happy.

Aside from dinosaurs, is there a STEM-related message in here?

Wait for it….

Wait for it….

It’s coming – but another story first….For now, just remember that STEMboy changes his mind daily about what he wants to be when he grows up.


Another reason for all the recent commotion in my house is that my husband, Mr.SciGuy left his job in automotive engineering back in the spring to pursue a new career. The summer has been full of licensing exams, training trips, and adjusting to a completely different schedule for SciGuy.

So what led to the change, and why?

If you haven’t already read all my previous posts, automotive engineering is a very lucrative career. It has great pay, good benefits, and job stability.


It’s also a very high-stress job. The timelines are tight, and a single mistake can cost thousands, millions, or even billions of dollars. SciGuy was in a job where every day, he had to call and yell at people, make threats, and try to fix emergencies he didn’t cause.

Ugh – can you imagine? It’s an important job, but it wears on you.

Over time, SciGuy came to realize that this wasn’t the job he wanted to do the rest of his life. He wanted to be having positive interactions with people every day. He wanted to make peoples’ days better, not worse, and he wanted to make a difference in the community where we live.

After a lot (seriously, a LOT) of research, thinking, and planning, he decided to pursue a dream that’s been rolling around in his head for over a decade. SciGuy submitted his resignation to his high-paying automotive job to pursue a new career in financial advising at Edward Jones.

A lot of family and friends seemed to be completely baffled by the change at first, but it makes perfect sense to me.

SciGuy has always loved money and money management (if you know him, ask about his famous amortization Excel worksheets or the cost of money over time), working with people one-on-one, and helping others.

As a kid, one of his nicknames was “Alex P Keaton”. (If you are young and missed the magic of 1980’s television, I’m sorry for your loss).

Lastly, he has an incredibly strong math and research background thanks to his engineering degree (foreshadowing: can you see where we’re going here??). While he had no direct experience working in finance, the transition so far has been incredibly smooth because he understands that math, and has a lot of experience in learning to learn challenging concepts.


So how does this apply to you?


If you think you know what you want to do for the rest of your life, but aren’t 110% sure, the versatility of a STEM degree can ensure your success, whether you stay in your planned career path, or not. A STEM degree gives you so many options and so many resources. You can go anywhere, and you can do anything.

Even if you decide ten years into your career that you want to do something completely different than what you’ve always done, a STEM background can make the transition simple and quick (and now I can say for sure to trust me and SciGuy on that!).

That’s HUGE – I can’t emphasize enough how important it is. A lot can change over the course of a decade or even over the time it takes to get your degree. As you gain more educational experience, work experience, and life experience, you’ll better appreciate what you want, what you don’t want, and what really makes you happy. In the big picture, being happy is what matters.

You can find a career that works perfectly for you, or you can write your own job description. Having a job that you find fulfilling will make waking up and going to work every day tolerable – even fun! With a STEM education, you can do anything, chase any dream, and create your own path in life!

Where do you think your path will take you?


Dream Beyond STEM (really!)

dream beyond stemHold on, hold on friends, before you send me hate mail – I know that this sounds totally counterintuitive, but follow my logic on this before you judge me.

Remember last week, we talked about the stereotypical ‘scientist’, ‘engineer’, and ‘mathematician’? I told you that you could succeed even if you don’t meet that stereotype. But – when I was younger, I didn’t necessarily want to fight my way into a ‘geeky’ profession, either. I admit – I’m pretty high on the ‘nerd’ scale, but I didn’t want to confine myself to a (real or perceived) life of pocket protectors, safety glasses, and social awkwardness either.

Because that was basically my perception of technical careers. Maybe you have the same worries when you think about pursuing science and math? You like that material, but you don’t want everyone to label you as a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ or ‘bookworm’.

What I didn’t know then, but what I know now is that there are really, really neat career options in STEM, and some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet are in STEM careers. Scientists, mathematicians, and engineers as a whole are far more interesting than society gives us credit for.

STEM isn’t necessarily your single defining feature – it is just one part of you as a whole. If you want to build your life around science or math, you can. But you can also have a highly technical career, and be a ‘real’ or ‘normal’ person outside of – and within your career.

Let me tell you about my ‘a-ha!’ moment:

One day in graduate school, my dear and brilliant friend (she has a master’s degree in math!) told me a great story about her seven year old daughter. She asked her daughter what she wanted to be when she grows up. And her daughter – always an original – said, “I want to be a doctor-scientist-princess”.

‘OF COURSE!!!’ I thought (yes – really, yelling at myself in all caps, like in Charlie Brown)

‘THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP TOO!!!’ Why pigeon-hole yourself into just fitting into one role? Isn’t that holding yourself back?

This is me - the day I defended my PhD dissertation - tiara and all!

This is me – the day I defended my PhD dissertation – tiara and all!

Instead, pursue what makes you YOU, and what makes you happy. Even if it’s unexpected. Even if other people don’t quite understand it. Think about what will make you happy going to work every day for the rest of your career, and go for it.

Let’s say you love science and engineering and the environment and golf? Why not go for all of those things? What’s holding you back?  You could go into golf course design (my grandparents had a friend who did this), or you could be an engineer for a few years, save up some money, and then put your career on hold to try out a career in professional golf (Mr. SciGuy has a friend actually doing this – right now).

What if you like videogames, and coding, and you also love fashion and design? I bet you could figure out a really cool way to integrate all those things into a career. Or why not pursue a career in game development, and look adorable doing it? Who’s going to tell you no?

Let’s say you like math and you love cars, but you also love the outdoors. The auto industry is dyyying to hire you. Now. They literally can’t hire enough qualified professionals right now. And guess what – many automotive jobs start with 4-6 weeks of paid vacation time a year, on top of flexible hours that would allow you to get out and enjoy nature early in the morning or in the afternoon on a regular basis.  You CAN have more than just a STEM job.

Don’t let other people’s stereotypes of science and engineering make you feel forced to choose between your interest in schoolwork versus the rest of your other interests. You can still maintain your personality while also being a smart (brilliant!) cookie.

Ask anybody who works with me – they’ll all agree that I fit the “doctor-scientist-princess” mold pretty well. It’s perfect – for me.  That little 7 year old’s insight has stuck with me for years, and I’ve added onto it. I’m a doctor-scientist-princess-runner-swimmer-foodie-traveler-wife-mother-sister-daughter-friend-mentor and so much more.

How is it that a 7 year old had the insight to see that you can be more than ‘just’ STEM, when I couldn’t come up with that myself in 26 years?  It was so freeing to me to be able to look at my career as just a part of the person I am instead of defining who I am.

Now, when people get to know me, and ask about my job, I’m proud to tell them what I do (I do love it, after all). If it happens that they’re surprised (more often than not, people are), I smile a little on the inside, happy that I’m doing my part to break people’s stereotypes of what exactly a STEM ‘geek’ is.

So – what about you – what do you aspire to become?  in STEM and outside of STEM?



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