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

Meet Brian, mechanical engineer (acoustics)

Photo Courtesy of Brian

Photos in this post courtesy of Brian

Drumroll please……here is our first cool job interview, with the amazing and awesome Brian. Thanks to Brian for being my guinea pig!! We had a really great talk after the interview about how he derived his own predictive modelling equations for a tricky problem at work. Great stuff. Hope you guys and gals love Brian’s point of view as much as me!

I am having technical difficulty getting our video transferred to youtube (call me the SEMinista, because technology isn’t my thing today), but here is a link to the google plus post if you prefer to watch the video.

STEMinista: Brian is an acoustic engineer, and he’s going to talk to us a little bit about his job today – it’s really cool! First of all Brian, can you tell everyone about your job?

Brian: I am a noise and vibration engineer. I work for Ford Motor Company and I do noise and vibration on engines. I’m responsible for the development of the noise and vibration package for the engine: making sure the engine is quiet enough, has a good sound quality, and doesn’t have anything that makes it sound broken to the customer. It allows us to develop a way to make the customer happy with the product in the end.

So much awesome and so many brains in this picture!  Brian, my sister, and Brian's  wife (my other sis!) at her grad school commencement.

So much awesome in this picture! Brian, my sister, and Brian’s wife (my other sis!) at her grad school commencement.

STEMinista: So, what defines a “good” sound quality?

Brian: It depends on the product. A Mustang (sports car) and an F-150 (pickup truck) have different expectations. Your mustang can be a little louder and have a little bit more rumbling noise than your truck. If your’re putting an engine in a luxury vehicle, then you have to consider that luxury buyers want silent. They don’t want it to sound good, they want quiet, quiet quiet. So it’s different depending on what you’re putting the engine into. Usually, what we’re going for is an engine that doesn’t make any abnormal noises (ticks, whines, etc) that you can hear over the normal engine noise.

STEMinista: What type of educational background do you need to become an acoustic engineer?

Brian: I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in acoustics. Most people in my field have a master’s degree in acoustics but you don’t need one to pursue this job.

STEMinista: How is the acoustics you do in cars related to the acoustics that everybody thinks about in music?

Brian: Mine is a little different because I work only on engines. I look for structure-born noise, and not air-borne noise. A lot of what I do is structure born transfer functions: noise that transfers through the engine block and then radiates. So we work on improving the radiation noise from those components and trying to produce an engine that makes less noise to begin with.

STEMinista: What is your average day like?

Brian: I try to setup projects. I try to make sure the engines I’m working on are coming in, making sure that everything gets there on time, and that the project continues on time. But that’s just a bookkeeping standard.

What I do from an engineering standpoint is processing data. We collect data in a dyno facility and we get the raw vibrations from the engine and the sound coming off the engine. We process it and compare it to different targets and make sure we’re meeting our targets. If we don’t meet our targets, we try to figure out what the cause is. So if you have some whining noise or a very large noise you want to figure out why at 3000 RPM the engine gets louder, I would spend time analyzing the data and looking for which components of the engine are contributing to that type of noise.

STEMinista: This is cool – so we should talk about it. Can you explain what a dyno is?

Brian: Dyno is short for dynamometer. Basically it’s a big electric motor that can hold an engine at a steady speed or a steady load. So you apply basically what’s a gas pedal and the dyno will hold the engine spinning at a constant speed, and then you can control what RPM and what load you’re at more precisely. NVH dynos are very cool. They have big cones that come off the wall {edit: to absorb sound} so it’s very quiet in those test cells.

Confession, I borrowed this picture from Roush.  See it for yourself here https://www.roush.com/our-capabilities/engineering/thermal-systems-engineering

Confession, I borrowed this picture from Roush. See it for yourself here https://www.roush.com/our-capabilities/engineering/thermal-systems-engineering

STEMinista: What made you decide to pursue this field?

Brian: For engineering – I was in the third grade I decided I wanted to be an inventor. I was told that “an inventor” is not really a career – an inventor is an engineer. I said “ok, then I want to be an engineer”. So in third grade, I decided I wanted to be an engineer and I wanted to be an engineer all through school.

I went to Kettering University for my undergraduate degree, and they have a co-op program. I got my first job and it was in noise and vibration on vehicles. I worked on different vehicles and thought it was interesting. It wasn’t something I was imagining when I was going into engineering. While I was going to school I thought I would get some more education on what causes acoustic behaviors, so I got an acoustics minor with my mechanical engineering degree.

STEMinista: Would you say you’ve always had a love of cars too?

Brian: I love cars, yes. That drove me to be in the automotive industry, but there are many other industries you can be in for this type of work. Everything makes noise, everything vibrates.

STEMinista: That’s a good point – what other fields do NVH?

Brian: If you think of a Harley motorcycle, it has an NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) and a distinct sound. Their NVH team is very large and they are looking for a sound that sounds distinctly like a Harley. When they develop a new engine, it has to sound like a Harley. They work very hard at getting the vibration and the noise that come off of the bike correct so it sounds like a Harley.

But – you can also do venthilation systems. You don’t want them to be too noisy, so you work with acoustic designers to be sure you get a nice flow and you aren’t whistling.

I’ve talked to people who have done work on computer hard drives, which is interesting because sometimes they can be very loud, and then people think their computer is going to break so you want to make sure everything is ok from that standpoint.

Also, you can design rooms. There’s a lot of work that goes into designing a theater so that everyone can hear what’s going on and not have the person on stage getting an echo. So acoustics is important from that standpoint as well.

There are a lot of other fields out there. Caterpillar does a lot of vibration and noise measurements for regulation purposes.

Waterskiing - one of Brian's favorite hobbies

Waterskiing – one of Brian’s favorite hobbies

STEMinista: Wow, that makes sense! So if you like any of those things, acoustics could be a good field for you. What are your long-term career goals?

Brian: I haven’t really thought about it. I really like noise and vibration work and I’ve done it since I graduated from Kettering in 2008. It’s a really interesting field because you’re always finding a new problem and working at trying to figure out what the cause is and working to come up with better ideas to solve it.

STEMinista: Would you say that you use STEM on a daily basis?

Brian: Yes – I definitely do! I use a lot of math in my job. Sometimes I physically do the math because I need to understand how the process is working. Most of the time I have software that will do harder integrations and derivations for me. On a daily basis, though, I do integrations, derivations, pressure summations and things like that.

It’s a lot of math and it gets messy. When it gets too complicated, you start talking to the person sitting next to you, and you might say “Here’s what I did. Does this make sense to you?” They might say “Yeah, that seems like a reasonable calculation” so that you can make the data tell a story that you’re able to hear.

STEMinista: Do you use computer software to solve some of those or do you do it all by hand?

Brian: Some people like to do it by hand, but I personally like to use computer programs because they’re usually better at it than I am, and they’re faster than I am. Most of what I do is with a computer, but it’s nice to know the background of how it works.

STEMinista: What would you say are the best parts of your job?

I like when you finish a product, and it gets out the door, and you start getting feedback from customers. When you’ve worked on a noise problem, and you look at reviews, and there are no comments coming back about concerns that you’ve managed to fix through development.

STEMinista: Do you ever get positive comments?

Brian: Very rarely do you get positive comments. What you’re looking for is if you did a good job, you get no comments, and if you did a bad job you get lots of comments. You have to budget also cost-wise. We’re heavily driven by cost. I can’t fix every problem, but I can fix the ones that are most concerning.

STEMinista: What type of hours do you work?

Brian: I work between 40 and 50 hours a week generally. In order to keep a schedule in automotive there are a lot of hard deadlines. If you’re coming up you can work quite a bit more hours. After that deadline passes and you’ve finished, then your hours will be scaled back down to 40 hours.

STEMinista: Does that leave you time to have a life and hobbies outside your job?

I have lots of hobbies and like to do lots of different things. I can get home and go water skiing after work. I go water skiing before work. I go mountain biking on the weekends. I go snow skiing during the week after work and on the weekends. I have enough time and enough of an income that I can enjoy all of those things I like.

Ski trip out west.  Brian (far left) with friends and family.

Ski trip out west. Brian (far left) with friends and family.

STEMinista: Do you get vacation time too where you can go and enjoy those things?

Brian: Yes, you usually start off with two weeks. I have three now. And automotive has lots of paid holidays too.

STEMinsita: For the last question, what advice would you give to someone who’s considering doing acoustic work or acoustic engineering?

Brian: It’s a lot of fun. You get to look at a lot of different problems that most people don’t ever even consider. You get to do a lot of problem solving to figure out what things are, how they work, why they’re making noise, and how to fix them. It’s really hands-on to figure out what’s going on and you get to learn about a lot of things really in depth. It’s very fun!

That’s it for now, all.  Do you have further questions for Brian?  Send them on over to me, and I can make sure they get answered for you!

–the STEMinista

Is THIS what I want to do the rest of my life?

Is this what I want to do the rest of my lifeIf you’re one of those people who’s known since third grade what you want to be when you grow up, you suck! (just kidding, of course – good for you!!) I’d say most of us go through high school, and even a lot of college before we even begin to understand what exactly we want to do when we grow up.

Even if you know you want to be in a STEM job, there are so many different directions you can go. How do you know that where you start is where you want to finish?

You don’t.

And that’s ok. Even if you go in to college absolutely sure of your career path, it’s not unheard of to change your mind. I changed majors entirely between my master’s and PhD. Mr. SciGuy is changing his profession entirely 10 years into his career. It’s all about finding something you really want to do the rest of your life.

So if you’re just starting out, how do you know if you’re doing the right thing?

My best advice for you is to get as much experience in your field as you possibly can – hands-on if possible. You can get experience from lots of places.

The absolute best way to gain experience in your hopeful job field is through a co-op job or internship. With a co-op job, you’ll get to go into the workplace and see what people in your field really do on a day-to-day basis. The job you’re doing will likely be entry-level and more mundane than what an experienced employee would do, but on-the-job experience is so informative. You’ll have access to speak to all the other employees at your company, who can give you their perspectives and advice and see first-hand what the best and worst parts of the job are, what the benefits and pay are like, and what the expectations are for employees in different roles.

An added bonus, if you decided you DO like the job, is you’ll have your foot in the door at a company in the industry you like, PLUS, when you interview for your full-time position, you can talk about your relevant work experience.

After being on the job, if you decide you DON’T like it, you still have time to change up your career goals while you’re still in school, instead of getting all the way to your first real job and realizing you made a huge mistake.

Jobs were tight in the early 2010’s, but from what I’ve heard (at least in the automotive industry), companies can’t find enough co-op students to fill the positions available now. I heard at one job fair in March of 2015, companies were hiring co-op students to fill positions as far in the future as summer 2016. The jobs are there for you, you just have to go out and look for them (more on that in future posts!).

If for whatever reason, you can’t do a co-op, there are still opportunities to get experience. Try joining a club or professional organization in your field. You’ll have the opportunity to interact and share experiences with other students in your field, and possibly get the opportunity for mentorship from professional members of the club or organization. The other members of your club will quickly become your study group, your support network, and likely some of your best friends.

Networking is another good option to learn about your job. Talk to your teachers, professors, parents, and friends about your career goals. Chances are, they may be able to offer you good advice, or put you in contact with someone who can give you great advice. This could even lead to potential job shadowing or internship opportunities down the road. On-line networking through Linked-In can also be a great opportunity to find people in your desired profession (but remember to keep your profile professional!).

So, be brave, get out there, and start trying things. THAT Is the way you’ll figure out what the best fit is for you. If you find that the first job, or two jobs, or three jobs, or more – aren’t perfect for you, don’t worry. It takes time to find your perfect job, but you’ll get there. It just takes some trial and error, and the willingness to try new things.

So, tell me – do you think you already know what your dream job is? If not, do you know what direction you might want to go in?

–theSTEMinista

Big Accomplishment Friday – May 29, 2015

accomplishment fridayFriends, I’m writing to you in the very early hours of Sunday morning, but I haven’t forgotten about you, I promise!! There have been so many things going on this week that I’m just running a couple days behind schedule everywhere. So much got accomplished this week, but I’m going to leave a few things for future updates.

I only made it in to the office this week two days last week between Memorial Day and sick kids (I’ll get to that in a minute). That put me on a total time crunch, so I spent a lot of time at home working too. There were so many deadlines to meet! I had a proposal due Friday, and two paper revisions were submitted this week. I have a few other papers in various forms of submission, and three more grants due in the next three weeks, plus the rest of my job to keep up with! It’s a lot to juggle, but I get so much accomplished when I’m under the gun!

I finally finished something else I’ve been promising you for a few weeks now. I did my first “cool job” interview. Boom! It was harder than I expected to accomplish. I posted a few weeks ago about getting the webcam setup, but I didn’t realize it would be hard to logistically figure out when to actually interview people. Apparently I keep odd hours? I work all day, spend the evening with my kids, take care of chores, and then blog after that. Between the hours of 11 pm and 1 am isn’t the most opportune time to coordinate with other professionals – who knew?? Now that I’m over the hump of getting the first interview done, hopefully it’ll be easier to get going more regularly. I’ll try to post it in the next week. I have some more really interesting people in the pipeline with really neat STEM careers that I can’t wait to introduce you to!

OK – so getting back to the sick kids and missing work. My kids were sick on Thursday due to a bug that was going around daycare. Pretty normal sick kid stuff – no big deal.

Wednesday, however, was a different story. Back in March, my daughter got really sick and had to be hospitalized overnight. She took several days recovering at home to get better. About a week later, she got very sick again, and had to go back to the ER. She got a course of antibiotics for that, and was feeling better several days later. A few days after the end of the antibiotics, she was sick (again!). She took antibiotics again, and felt better after several days. Good. We were in the clear.

For like 2 days.

Then, she got sick….again. If you’re not counting, this is four pretty major sicknesses in about 6 weeks.

I’m normally pretty laid back, but by then my nerves were frazzled, I was really behind at work, and the poor girl was miserable. I had to do something. So, I called a favor in to one of the doctors I work with, and got her an appointment to see a specialist. We spent Wednesday morning getting tests done, and met with the specialist in the afternoon.

The results were a little mixed. We know for sure what caused her to get sick so many times now (yay!). It is serious (boo!), but it’s not life threatening (yay yay yay!). We have to be really vigilant about her health for the next few years, but she should go on to live a normal, healthy life as an adult, and I’m very grateful about that.

She will have to go back in at least two more times (but probably more) to see the specialist and get repeat testing done, which is kind of a bummer. One of the tests she had to have done was an imaging test. The patient has to hold really still during the test to ensure a good quality picture. In adults, it isn’t a huge deal because adults can lay still. But she is two, and two year olds don’t lay still. They wiggle and squirm and cry. So, the standard solution in the medical community seems to be either sedating or restraining children. For the test Wednesday, she was restrained.

Coming from a medical technology background, I 100% understand the need. You can’t diagnose a problem if you don’t have a good picture. But as a parent, it is terrible to see something traumatic happen to your child. I am really glad I knew what to expect with the test in advance.

I watched the whole process, and wondered why we haven’t come up with a better way to do these tests in kids. The crappy thing is, that this IS the latest and greatest. Before the imaging existed, I don’t know if there even was a way to confirm the problem – and that’s even worse! This is the reason I went into biomedical engineering, however. Seeing the way that the tests are done now made me remember how important it is to keep pushing innovation to improve healthcare technology.

Kids bounce back really quick, and my little STEMinista was pretty much back to herself by the time we left the imaging room. The ladies who worked with her were incredibly sweet, and showered her with gifts after the test for being such a brave girl. A coloring book, box of crayons, and teddy bear will fix anything, right?

So, I have a little weight lifted off my shoulders, now that we know why she was sick. We have specific strategies to keep her healthy, and if she does get sick again, I know exactly who to call, what to say, what to expect, and how to help her get better. It’s reassuring (and that’s an accomplishment!), even though it means doing more on a daily basis to keep her healthy.

What about you? What did you accomplish this week?

–theSTEMinista

STEMinista, do you even do STEM?

Do you even DO STEM?Yay! I thought you’d never ask! Since you asked, I’d love to take a few minutes to talk about my job tonight. I work in the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Laboratories at Wayne State University.

Want to guess what we do?

I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with sensors and microsystems – but I presume you used your context clues to figure that one out on your own already. So beyond that, what do we do? Most of the work we do is biomedical, and ALL of the work I do is biomedical. If you aren’t into biomedical problems, don’t worry – we use lots of other areas of science and engineering to solve biomedical problems, so this may be of interest to you, too.

We start with a problem. Sometimes our partners approach us with a specific problem in mind. Sometimes, we immerse ourselves in a clinical environment to identify problems ourselves, and sometimes, we come up with our own problems. I think it’s safe to say – in all areas of STEM – if you don’t have a really good understanding of your problem, you can’t come up with a viable solution.

Learning about surgical problems - by spending serious time in the operating room

Learning about surgical problems – by spending serious time in the operating room

I bet you can guess our next step….

Next, we brainstorm potential solutions. My boss (he’s kind of a big deal) likes to say we take an ‘atoms-to-man’ approach, meaning that we look at solutions at all scales – from the atomic or molecular level, to organs or parts of organs, to whole-person or process based solutions, and everything in between.

We’re stepping through the scientific process here, so I bet you can guess what happens next….

We evaluate the potential solutions to see what’s been tried before, what is viable and what isn’t. We have some traditional tools to do this (like libraries for research), but we also have a really cool and pretty unique design and simulation laboratory with teleconferencing capability to include all the key players (doctors, funders, scientists, engineers, etc) and all the latest and greatest design and simulation software (more on that in a future post, maybe?). A lot of times, we’ll also do some preliminary clinical or laboratory studies to test out our hypotheses before we proceed with a solution.

This is where things start to get cool, my friends.

Once we have an idea, and a simulated design, we have a whole series of micro- and nano-fabrication facilities to build solutions (usually sensors are involved in some way, hence the name smart “sensors”).

What is microfabrication? It’s basically the process of making really small-scale things (like sensors!). Again, this is an overview – we’ll probably talk more about this in future posts. For those of you not used to the names, micro is 10-6 meters, and nano is 10-9 meters. The features on the sensors and devices we’re making can be as small as ~0.000000003 m. For reference, a human hair is typically 20 – 200 micrometers (0.000020 – 0.000200 m). So the patterns we’re designing are much, much, much smaller than a human hair – cool, huh? Fabrication is done in a ‘clean room’, which is a room with specialized ventilation to prevent contamination from dust or other particles that may interfere with the device you’re building. Clean room ventilation is also designed to keep users safe, by preventing them from being exposed to chemicals or biological contaminants that are being used in the room.

Suited up to work in a clean room - no contamination is coming off of us!

Suited up to work in a clean room – no contamination is coming off of us!

We also have the equipment necessary to take a sensor and build it into an “integrated” (there we are with the creative naming system again!) circuit board, so that it can be placed into an actual electronic device.

How do we make sure that the sensors we make turn out correctly if they’re so small? Good question! We have another entire laboratory dedicated to characterization. For now, you should know that means we have a bunch of REALLY powerful microscopes, to look at things up close, as well as a whole bunch of other materials science tools to study the various properties of our sensors (or anything else whose properties we might find interesting).

Big microscopes come in big boxes - I couldn't resist!

Big microscopes come in big boxes – I couldn’t resist!

Lastly, we have a number of ‘translational’ labs, where we can test out the final or near-final devices. Within our clean room fabrication area, we have a dedicated lab for doing biology work. Then, a sensor can be built, packaged into a device, and tested in a biological laboratory without ever leaving the ‘clean’ environment.

Working in a biology tissue culture laboratory - and perfecting the foot pop!

Working in a biology tissue culture laboratory – and perfecting the foot pop!

So, that was a quick, broad overview of what my lab does, without any actual mention of any of the projects I work on – do you feel cheated??? I feel a little like a cheated you….

Before we go into detail about the projects I work on, let’s talk a little about my role, and the other types needed to make the lab a success.

One of my primary jobs is to serve as a ‘clinical interface’. What does that even mean? I have a pretty good understanding of the science and engineering work we do, but I also have a pretty good understanding of the medical side of what we do, so I spend a lot of time meeting with doctors and researchers making sure the science matches the medicine and the medicine matches the science. This is important to make sure experiments are setup correctly, and to make sure the experiments we do in the laboratory will be relevant to the doctors who will use the final product we develop.

Another part of ‘clinical interface’ is managing administrative paperwork – a lot of it. It is tedious, and it’s not science-y at all (at least not the kind I want to spend my time with), but it is absolutely required anytime research is performed on humans or animals. In the past, there have been a LOT of really unethical experiments done on both people and animals, so the government-mandated regulations to make sure that people and animals aren’t unfairly exploited. Even if it isn’t fun, it’s important, and the systems are in place for a reason. Unfortunately for me, I really understand the system and processes, so I’ve become the go-to girl for managing all that paperwork.

I’m also expected to write peer-reviewed research papers and grants, so I spend a lot of time analyzing experimental data, formatting it for presentations, papers, and grants, and writing the accompanying documents to go with the data. Since I work in a big laboratory, I also get to mentor a constantly-rotating group of students (ranging from high school students, to graduate students, to medical students, to post-medical or graduate-school researchers) to help them on their various research projects. This is fun because a lot of the projects are outside of my specific areas of expertise, so I’m constantly researching new topics to help out students.

Oh, and on my lucky days between everything else, I get to go in the laboratory and do science too. Those are my favorite!

As you may have guessed, it takes a big, diverse STEM team to go from identifying a problem, to designing, building, and evaluating a solution.  The types of STEM jobs we need in the lab where I work aren’t unique to biomedical problems. They are universal to problem solving. The team I work with includes scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, etc), mathematicians and statisticians, engineers (of all disciplines), medical professionals (doctors, nurses, veterinarians, etc), artists and designers (you have to make the device look good AND be easy to use), and business people (to commercialize final products). I love working in a job where I can clearly see the importance of each of those specialties. In a lot of big companies, you can lose sight of exactly how diverse a STEM team is needed to solve problems.

Thanks for sticking around to read this far. I think we’ll stop here for now. I didn’t mean to type nearly this much, and I still didn’t tell you about all the cool projects we’re doing at my job. I’ll save that for a series of future posts – promise! For now, I hope all of my on-the-job pictures give you a little peak into what my daily job is like and you’re looking forward to hearing more.

–theSTEMinista

7 Career Options in STEM

(or, what can I do in STEM?)

7career options in stem

Since this blog is STEMpowerment.com, let’s start getting into the nitty-gritty. If you found this website, you probably have at least a little bit of interest in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math. And if you’ve read this far, you may be wondering about specific career options in the field.

Here are four suggestions: 1) science, 2) technology, 3) engineering, and 4) math. Done.

Just kidding!! I wouldn’t do that to you!

The goal of this post is to introduce a number of broad career fields. This is the first in a multi-part series which will broadly introduce types of STEM careers, and then cover specific fields within math, science, and engineering. So, without further ado, here are 7 career options in STEM:

  1. Engineering: This one is pretty obvious – it’s in STEM, right? To me, engineering is problem solving. Engineering is designing, building, testing, and problem solving. It ranges from mechanical engineering, to electrical and computer engineering and computer science, to industrial and manufacturing engineering, and even aerospace engineering and materials science. I would also lump architecture into this group.
  2. Science: OK, so this one is obvious too – but I promise I’ll give you more than just the acronym for STEM in this list. There are a lot of careers which allow you to pursue science full time. This includes everything from traditional sciences like biology and chemistry, to meteorology zoology, ecology, geology, and astronomy.
  3. Medical: When I say medical, the first thing you probably think of is doctor, which is very common. However, there are a lot of other medical pathways you can consider as well, including nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, pharmacy, optometry, nursing, and veterinary medicine. All of these are incredible careers. This would be a great option for you if you love STEM, and you also love interacting with people (or animals!)
  4. Business: You can go directly from a STEM education to business, or you can spend time doing a different job and then go in to business. STEMies are great at business because they are good at problem solving, they understand the processes involved in design, building, and testing, and STEMies are creative and hard-working. Harvard Business School loves accepting engineers into their Master of Business Administration (MBA) program because of all of those characteristics. Business careers include everything from accounting (lots of math!), to supply chain management and logistics, to program management, to entrepreneurship (can we call it STEMpreneurship?).
  5. Government: there are lots of STEM jobs through the government, ranging from the military, to the IRS (taxes, anyone?), to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the CIA.
  6. Teaching: This one is so important! One of the most important places to inspire others to pursue STEM is in the classroom. This can happen all the way from elementary school, to high school, to college. If you love math and / or science, and you love sharing your knowledge with others, you should definitely consider teaching!
  7. Unconventional: Everything so far on the list probably made sense, but what on Earth does ‘unconventional’ mean? There are lots of people in STEM who do unexpected things in their careers. Did you know The Big Bang Theory has a scientific consultant? How do I get a job like that? Others work for non-profit industries or do outreach work, or work as translators between the technical world and general audience. Examples are expert witnesses, who explain forensic evidence to juries, medical writers, and science writers.

Do you notice anything about this list? It covers almost everything you could ever possibly want to do. One of the cool things about STEM is that it is everywhere, and it is used for everything.

Let’s talk about a specific example. As theSTEMinista, you should all know something – I really like shoes. Not just dressy shoes, though. I have much love for a good pair of running shoes too! So, taking running shoes as our example, let’s think about the ways STEM might be used before those shoes ever get to our feet.

Now days, running companies are engineering shoes to do more and be more. They are designed and engineered to weigh less, provide more support, and last longer. That’s a feat of engineering in itself. One of the ways to provide all of those enhanced features is through engineered materials. Once there’s a design and materials, another team of STEMgeniuses has to figure out a way to manufacture the shoes, and test them out to make sure they’re everything they’re designed to be. Plus, there has to be a STEMteam coordinating the shipment of all the proper materials to get to the shoe factory at the correct time, and another TEAM coordinating where all the shoes get shipped after they’re made. And did you know there are even packaging engineers now, who can make sure the packaging is efficient and environmentally friendly. I’m pretty busy, and I have a specific favorite pair of shoes, so I sometimes buy my shoes online, which requires the expertise of all sorts of software and hardware STEM men and women. If I go to a store in person, a team of architects must have first designed the building. Once I finally get my paws on those new shoes, before I ever go on my first run, I check the weather to make sure I dress for the conditions. Can you believe all the brilliant people it takes just so we can lace up our running shoes? It’s absolutely incredible, and we’re only talking about shoes!

We can come up with a million other examples, for a million other products, which leads me to my great, big take-home message.

STEM is needed for any type of product in any type of industry – you can go anywhere with STEM!

That is why it is so critical for young people to pursue STEM educations, and to retain professionals in STEM careers. I am so excited to continue on this STEM journey with you, readers! STEM opens up so many doors and it is so exciting to share some of this information with you!

Keep an eye out on the Cool Jobs section of the website. In that section, I will be highlighting real people, in real STEM careers – together, we can find out more about the exciting world of STEM. When we look at specific individuals, what type of information about the individual and the career are you most interested in learning about? Leave me a note in the comments!

–theSTEMinista

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