STEMpowerment

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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.

photo-1439003511744-2a0490ea0a88

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.

BUT

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?

–theSTEMinista

Am I really going to need this when I grow up?

Grow UpFor some of you, the first day of school has already arrived, while others are going back in the next week or two. As you get back into the routine of waking up early, going to class, and (ugh!) homework, you may be thinking about the meaning and importance of everything you’re doing.

When you grow up, will you ever need to figure out how much force is needed to push a car up a hill if the coefficient of friction is 0.8? Will you need to know the 12 cranial nerves and what they do, or how to titrate an unknown acid, or how to use calculus to find the volume of a solid object?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

I use a lot more STEM skills in my job than I ever expected to as a student, but I’m also a scientist for a living. Even still, I would never consider doing many things I learned as a student by hand.

Doing math the old-school way

Doing math the old-school way

If I need to calculate an integral, I can do it on a computer. If I need to check an anatomy concept, I can look it up in a book, and if I want to move a car up a hill, I generally either step on the gas if the car is running, or call a tow truck if it’s not (right? You know what I’m saying here!). If I needed to titrate an unknown acid, I suppose I would have to do that by hand, but honestly, how often does one come across unknown acids?

Doing math the new-school way

Doing math the new-school way

I know if you’re a student, you totally feel me on that, but let’s take a step back and look at the overall principal instead.

Part of the importance of school work is to make sure you understand the underlying big concepts. You don’t necessarily need to do the math or the science every time, but once you have done the work yourself once or twice, there’s a lot better chance that you comprehend the basic theory behind the concept.

That way, when we know it’s easier to push something up a slippery hill than a rough hill, and that a cube has a bigger volume than a sphere of the same width, and that adding a base to a solid makes it more neutral, we can explain at least a little bit of the ‘why’ that goes along with the answer.

In STEM, there’s even a little bit more to school and learning than just the big concepts.

Part of school is learning HOW to learn.

Chances are, you’ll go into your first job (and second job, and third job, and so on), and you’ll need to learn a lot of things they never taught you in school. If you’re a student, trust me on this. If you’re a professional, I know you’re nodding your head in agreement.

For instance, if you move to Detroit and work for one of the big 3 automakers (that’s GM, Ford or Fiat-Chrysler for you out-of-towners), you might start out working on transmissions. You’ll need to learn about gear ratios, material properties of metal, linkages, and how to assemble all the parts. No college degree program will teach you all the intricacies of the job without you getting some hands-on experience. But don’t worry – if you have a STEM degree, you’re used to working hard, studying, and using your analytical thinking skills to solve problems.

If you work really hard, and become a walking encyclopedia of transmissions, you might get a promotion to managing a team that does exhaust design. In exhausts, there are a million new things to learn. You need to understand the chemistry of volatile gases coming out of the engine, how they combust, and how the exhaust system removes the chemicals so the car isn’t polluting the air. Plus, another function of exhausts is to quiet the sound of the engine, so you’ll need to learn some basic acoustic concepts as well. By now, you’re probably also doing a little bit of work of planning the production in a remote factory, and trying to optimize the costs as well. And you’re managing a team as well. Good thing you did lots of team work in your STEM education!

Go you - lead that team!

Go you – lead that team!

Luckily, if you have a STEM degree, you’ll have a basic understanding of many of the foundational principals you’ll need to use in the job, and by now, you have YEARS of experience at quickly learning new material. Your STEM background makes you pretty much the best employee ever (but we knew that would happen anyway, right?!?).

Do you see where I’m going with this?

The details of all the work you’re doing may be tedious, and we each have an area (or two) that we find to be even more tedious or more challenging than the rest of the curriculum. But, all that hard work does have a purpose.

Doing all that work in detail ensures you understand the fundamentals of “why”, and it teaches you how to learn. So, grab a water or a coffee, sit down at your desk, and get to work. Do those integrals. Memorize your flash cards, and look forward to those lab experiments. Read your textbooks, and ask lots of questions. Put your heart and soul into learning the fundamentals, and learning how to learn, and you’ll be giving yourself the best possible foundation for a successful career.

Have a great school year!

–theSTEMinista

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