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STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It’s a broad employment and academic category that includes any field that is primarily concerned with technology or quantitative analysis. The careers available in STEM fall along a broad spectrum. On the one hand, nuclear engineers are certainly in the STEM arena, but so are market researchers who rely on statistical analysis to build revenue for their firms.
In recent years, schools have been pressing for more STEM-related courses and departments. At the secondary and pre-secondary levels, school systems are hungry for more science and math teachers. These STEM expansions are welcomed in the employment markets, which seem to have a never-ending desire for so-called left-brained workers.
Keep reading to learn more about STEM careers and their status in the employment markets. This page includes vital statistics that may help students choose a major or alter their academic careers towards more marketable fields.
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STEM Career Paths
What Fields are Included in STEM?
Step 1: Biology
Step 2: Chemistry
Step 3: Computer Sciences
Step 4: Engineering
Step 5: Earth Sciences
Step 6: Health Sciences
Step 7: Information Technology
Step 8: Mathematics
Step 9: Physics
Step 1: Biology
This is the study of life. Biology students can thus choose to focus on subjects such as microbiology, organic chemistry, botany, genetics, and many more.
Step 2: Chemistry
Everything is composed of chemicals and results from chemical reactions, including our ideas. Chemistry students can focus on chemicals that are used for fuel, food, involved in computers, and lots more.
Step 5: Earth Sciences
If it deals with our planet, then it's an Earth Science. This umbrella includes topics such as meteorology, geology, oceanography, and more.
Step 8: Mathematics
This is perhaps the very core of STEM. Mathematics students delve deep into fundamental problems that plague physics, engineering, and more. Many math majors migrate to computer science later in their careers.
Step 9: Physics
This is the study of matter, energy, and their interactions. Physics professionals work on topics as varied as star formation in deep space, nuclear reactors, and quantum physics.
Women in STEM
While history is chock-full of women pioneers, contemporary laboratories, high-tech industries, and engineering departments are woefully bereft of women. The reasons for this are many, but it's often thought that women are not as well suited to the strict analytical nature of STEM fields. However, this is an untenable position when we consider that women were pioneers in computer programming, physics, and more.
Nevertheless, while young women might begin making strides in math or science, when the reach a certain age they are often either bullied or excluded from participating in fields they love. In fact, studies show that young girls begin to lose their confidence in math around age eight, or third grade. This might be due to subtle or overt cues from adults and peers that dissuade them from progressing in math.
These days, many are making a concerted effort to include women in STEM fields. Young girls are finding more encouragement than in previous decades, and it's hoped that STEM will soon see more parity among the sexes.
Education in STEM
Can You Earn a STEM Degree Online?
If you aren't able to move for college, or if you still need to work full-time, an online STEM degree is a fantastic option. You will find a wide range of options to earn STEM degrees online from a variety of traditional and online-only universities. In fact, after the COVID pandemic has passed, it's likely that even more traditional programs will increase their online offerings.
You might be concerned as to how your degree will be accepted by employers. However, since an online diploma can come from nearly any university, there's no reason that an employer will even know how your coursework was delivered. Further, your future employers will be more interested in your knowledge and skill set than how you acquired them. Thus, if you find that an online (or even hybrid) STEM degree best suits your learning style or lifestyle, you need only find one from an accredited program before you enroll.
After all, once you land your first job, you will find that your co-workers and supervisors only care that you are able to do the work. In the meantime, it's worthwhile to know that online education produces the same results as traditional classroom work. By the time that you are ready to move on to your next position, it won't matter much at all whether you studied online at your kitchen table or in a cramped university desk. All that will matter are your abilities.
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Most Popular Bachelor’s Degrees
While it's a great idea to follow your own passions, it can also be valuable to know what are the most popular bachelor's degrees, especially if you're having trouble deciding on a major. These days, STEM subject dominate the top ten lists of most popular degrees. Health professions are by far the most popular, and that comprises a wide range of occupations. For instance, healthcare informatics is a subset of IT, but it would count as a healthcare profession much like radiology or nursing. The second and third most popular subjects might not be typically considered STEM, but social sciences and psychology both rely heavily on statistical analysis.
Here is a list of the top 10 undergraduate degrees as per the National Center Education Statistics.
- Health Professions and Related Programs (229,000)
- Social Sciences and History (161,000)
- Psychology (117,000)
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences (114,000)
- Engineering (107,000)
- Visual and Performing Arts (93,000)
- Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs (93,000)
- Education (85,118)
- Computer and Information Sciences (71,420)
- Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, and Firefighting (59,581)
Statistics on STEM Education
A person with any sort of academic background can find a job in a STEM field. Even those with only a high school diploma or less are found working alongside scientists and engineers. However, the broad category of STEM fields are mostly full of degreed individuals. Statistics also show that those STEM workers are always better paid than similarly degreed workers in other industries or careers. To top it all off, STEM boasts not only more workers with college degrees but also more with post-graduate degrees than non-STEM positions.
However, as a general rule those who have limited STEM degrees, such as an associate degree, find that their careers are stalled more than a worker in a non-STEM field who can leverage experience for greater responsibilities and salary. To get ahead in STEM fields, workers usually need greater academic credentials, though there are exceptions such as computer programming.
Employment in STEM
Fastest Growing STEM Careers
STEM fields grow and contract in response to the needs of society, but their numbers always remain strong as society tends to always demand new innovations in its technology. Sometimes technological advances drive the expansion in certain areas, other times the demand arises from purely economic forces. These days, many STEM jobs are created as a response to our ever-increasing computer power. We can use these tools to delve deeper into statistics and we can use computer modeling to design new products and processes.
In fact, STEM fields dominate the employment landscape to such a huge extent that even humanities students should consider taking courses that teach STEM skills, such as statistics. In fact, there is a minor movement among STEM faculties to include more ideas from the humanities along with the strict analytics of STEM. Thought leaders have seen that quantitative analysis often omits ethics and humanitarian concerns. Nevertheless, for the best job prospects, you should definitely consider STEM.
This field is fundamental to many in STEM. After all, almost every scientific study hinges on statistical analysis. Given that we are now collecting so much data on the internet (creating the advent of big data), it's vital to have professionals who can make sense of the numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that this field is slated to grow by over 33% through 2024.
- Operations Research Analysts
This field had an average pay of over $84,000 in 2019 and should grow by 26% through 2024. These professionals are able to take large volumes of data and apply modeling and analytical tools to create solutions for their employers. They might be called upon to solve supply chain issues or to determine the best methods for delivering healthcare solutions.
- Cartographers and Photogrammetrists
It might come as a surprise to see that mapmakers are still in high demand. These days cartographers and photogrammetrists have even more geographical data to work with. Satellites and other technologies can now track continental shift with such precision that maps must be constantly updated so that they maintain accuracy. After all, the military requires precise topographical information to help guide missile and reconnaissance drones. Industries such as oil and gas, mineral extraction, GPS tech, and shipping also rely on current maps to conduct their business. The BLS shows that this field is slated to grow by over 15% through 2024.
- Forensic Science Technicians
Crime-solving methodologies have evolved far beyond Sherlock Holmes' deductive reasoning. These days, technicians use microscopes and high-tech solutions to analyze fibers, fingerprints, and biological evidence left at crime scenes. There is a growing demand for these forensic science technicians. In fact, the BLS shows that this field is slated to grow by over 14% through 2024. Since these professionals earn an average salary of almost $60,000, this is quite an attractive career path.
- Biomedical Engineers
In order to help advance medical science, biomedical engineers are hard at work creating the devices, software solutions, and other tools that help people heal. This field is expected to grow by 23% through 2024, according to the BLS. Despite the lackluster growth rate, professionals in the field earn an average salary of over $94,000 with only a bachelor's degree.
Mathematics is the science that underlies all science. Mathematicians work alongside a wide range of professionals to help solve problems and analyze data. They often enter computer science since so many computer programs are created to crunch large amounts of numerical data. They might also enter the financial field to analyze stock market fluctuations or create models for corporate valuations. The BLS shows that this field is slated to grow by over 21% through 2024.
- Computer Systems Analysts
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the economy will need over 20% more computer system analysts through 2024. This astounding growth might be attributed to the fact that many systems have largely been in place for decades and so analysts need to determine which hardware and software is still efficient and which needs replacement. With an average salary over $90,000, this field has a lot of offer a graduate with a technology bachelor's degree.
- Software Developers
Nearly everything we use in our lives relies on software. Our computers, cars, and even refrigerators need someone to develop software that ensures they run properly and to our exacting contemporary standards. That is why software developers command a salary over $105,000 and will see their numbers increase by 21% through 2024.
This field sits at the conjunction of mathematics, statistics, and financial theory. Actuaries seek to analyze risk for insurance companies or any other enterprise that seeks to avoid loss by minimizing risk. For this reason, these professionals command an average salary of $108,000 and expect to see their numbers swell by 20% through 2024.
- Information Security Analysts
Cybersecurity is more important all the time. Hackers are constantly seeking ways to steal data and funds from unsuspecting victims. Computer science students who venture into this field can reap great rewards. Professionals in the field earn an average salary of over $99,000 with a bachelor's degree and less than 5 years of experience. Furthermore, demand for trained security analysts is expected to rise by over 17% through 2024.
- Data Scientists/Data Analysts
This is a relatively new field that has emerged due to our overwhelming glut of data. Businesses and governments are eager to use this information to determine how to better do their jobs. Since this field is so new, the BLS does not currently track it. However, it could be considered a subset of statisticians, who expect a 33% growth rate, but it could also fall under heading of informatics, healthcare informatics, and even research analysts depending on what industry you end up in.
- Atmospheric Scientists
Given the wider acceptance of global climate change, the employment markets are seeing an increased demand for atmospheric scientists. These scientists study weather, climate, and airborne particles. They might be involved in short-term weather prediction or long-term climate forecasting. This group expects to see an uptick in employment of 8% through 2028 which is considered faster than average.
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Highest-Paid Careers in STEM
Growth in employment is certainly a factor to consider when in the pursuit of a degree and the subsequent career. However, it's also vital to look at the salary one might take home. After all, most students will need to repay student loans, pay rent, and eventually afford a down payment on their first home.
While salary shouldn't be one's primary concern when choosing a career, it is a vital consideration. Students should first consider their natural abilities and what sort of work feeds their passions. If one is not able to be passionate and believe on one's work, then it's quite possible, and even likely, that they will eventually experience burnout. On the other hand, STEM encompasses such a broad spectrum of careers that it surely intersects with most driving motivations. Furthermore, when students pursue a STEM degree, they also find higher salaries and often greater status.
- Medical Specialists (Doctors)
These professionals are trained in highly specific specialty fields such as cardiac surgery, anesthesiology, gynecology, and others. The salary for these positions can exceed $208,000.
- Computer and Information Systems Managers
These managers oversee an operation's computer systems, including security issues, database management, and networking. They earn an average salary of $142,000.
- Architectural and Engineering Managers
Every architectural and engineering firm needs a manager to oversee the business including checking staff work, budgeting, marketing, and recruiting new employees. They earn an average salary of $140,000.
- Petroleum Engineer
These professionals work to discover and design optimal methods for extracting oil and gas from the Earth. For this they are paid a handsome average salary of $137,000
- Physicists and Astronomers
These scientists concern themselves with understanding the interplay between matter and energy in applications such as nuclear energy, radiation therapies, and even data science. They earn an average salary of $122,200.
Typically, actuaries work for insurance agencies to help them manage risk. Their work relies heavily on statistics, financial data, and probabilities. Actuaries earn an average salary of $108,000.
These professionals work for a wide variety of employers including banks, governmental agencies, and consultancies. Economists earn an average salary of $105,000
- Information Security Analysts
Cybersecurity is the name of the game for these professionals. They determine how to design and implement cybersecurity hardware, software, and general protocols for a variety of firms. Information security analysts earn an average salary of $99,000.
- Computer Systems Analysts
Efficiency is the main focus of these professionals. CSAs constantly look for new and more efficient technology solutions for their firms. Computer systems analysts earn an average salary of $90,000.
- Mathematicians and Statisticians
Businesses increasingly rely on big data to understand their markets, so they hire statisticians or mathematicians. These professionals crunch the data using models to help make sense of it all. They earn an average salary of $92,000.
- Electronics and Electrical Engineers
From cellphone networks to the Internet to electric-drive vehicles of all sorts, these engineers are hard at work making sure those systems are designed and operate at maximum efficiency. They earn an average salary of $101,300.
STEM Employment Statistics
Every college student is interested to know whether they'll be able to capitalize on their degree. It is important to first follow one's dreams and choose a major field that best suits one's particular worldview and abilities. However, it's also pragmatic to consider the long-term return on investment (ROI) any particular degree or career path promises. Even a casual review of employment statistics shows that those in STEM fields outperform non-STEM workers.
When humanities students weigh long-term ROI against their current academic focus, it may be possible to find a happy medium. For instance, a philosophy major might blend their analytical skill and fascination with consciousness with a computer science degree and research artificial intelligence. Political science majors, on the other hand, might apply statistics in their undergraduate work and then expand on that in the business world.
Unemployment by Field
Unemployment is always a concern when choosing a career or a college major. STEM students should feel confident that their chosen careers tend to fare well in the employment market. Government statistics show that in 2010, during the Great Recession, STEM professionals with bachelor's degrees and no more than approximately 5 years of experience had a lower rate of unemployment than any other field. By 2017, when the economy had recovered, STEM remained at the lower end of the unemployment spectrum.
The lowest unemployment rate was found in nursing, which showed a 1.6% rate of unemployment in 2017, while the broad category STEM Fields showed a rate of 3.3%. Medical fields could, of course, be considered under the general umbrella of STEM, as could computer and information systems, which showed an unemployment rate of 3.7% in 2017.
STEM fields tend to do quite well when their average salaries are weighed against others. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that STEM and STEM-related fields are at the top of the charts for early-career salaries. That is, for workers aged 25-29 with a bachelor's degree, the top-earning employment category was computer and information systems, which showed an average salary of $65,400 in 2017. When grouped under the umbrella of STEM fields, young college-educated workers were found to earn an average salary of $60,500 per year. Nurses came in third with an average annual salary of $57,300 in 2017.
Thus, the three top-earning fields are all within the general auspices of STEM. Not only do these fields tend to earn more but they also do better during times of higher unemployment. The closest two rivals to STEM fields were general medical and health and business management and administration, which both claimed average salaries of just over $50,000.
Other Facts about STEM Employment
STEM workers tend to outperform their non-STEM peers in nearly every category. Regardless of education, STEM workers tend to earn more than their non-STEM peers who hold similar academic credentials. For example, the PEW Research center found that STEM workers who hold only a high school diploma (or less) earn an average salary of approximately $45,000, compared to $33,000 for those in non-STEM jobs. After college, PEW found that STEM workers commanded an average salary just over $75,000 while others were earning nearly $20,000 less per year.
STEM workers also tend to have more advanced academic credentials. That is, 29% of STEM workers hold a post-graduate degree, compared with 12% of non-STEM workers. STEM workers are also more likely to have a bachelor's degree (36%) than non-STEM employees (21%). Further, STEM graduates tend to remain in their field upon graduation from college. That is, 52% of STEM graduates find jobs that correlate with their major. Though that may seem low, the remaining 48% predominantly work in either business/finance or social services, both of which require a high-level of quantitative analysis. Interestingly, women with STEM degrees are more likely than their male counterparts to carry their degrees into relevant careers.