In September, I attended the Ontario University Fair, one of the biggest university fairs on the continent. There, I spent many hours talking to prospective students and their parents about earning a degree in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math. Here are some of the reasons to pursue a STEM education.
1. A STEM degree can take you far
Where can a STEM degree take you? The short answer is: anywhere you want. STEM can be the foundation to many careers or a route to careers in STEM-related fields. Let's look at some of the leaders of Fortune 500 companies.
General Electric's first female vice chair Beth Comstock majored in biology; GM CEO Mary Barra has a BS in electrical engineering; PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi received her BS in physics, chemistry and math; and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty majored in computer science and electrical engineering. In fact, almost every woman at the top of Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women list has a degree in STEM, reports the magazine.
A STEM education can take you far, and not only in business. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a doctorate as a physical chemist. In the arts, Lisa Kudrow, or Phoebe from Friends, has a degree in biology; Natalie Portman was an award-winning neuroscience student; and Danica McKellar, who is an actress and author, has a degree in math.
2. Demand for STEM jobs is on the rise
There's no better time than today to consider studying science or a STEM-related program.
The information, communications and technology (ICT) sector is facing a serious skills gap that is expected to grow to 71,000 jobs by 2017, according to IDC Canada. An IDC survey found that 53 per cent of large Canadian organizations said that lack of talent was the largest obstacle to successful completion of big data projects, according to Canadian Business magazine.
All this demand makes a foundational degree in STEM very attractive as a route to future employment. Seven of the 10 highest-paid jobs in Canada are STEM-related, with mining and forestry manager and petroleum engineer as the top two.
Canadian Business magazine also reports that data scientist is the fastest-growing job category in the country. That area of expertise can be studied in many foundational STEM degrees, such as mathematics and computer science.
3. STEM skills prepares you to lead in any field
In addition to the advanced technical knowledge that students acquire, a foundational STEM degree teaches skills that prepare you to lead in any field -- from critical thinking and data processing, to collaboration and long-term planning.
Science is a way to understand the world around us, which helps us find solutions for the world's most pressing problems, from how to build sustainable cities to using big data to understand how populations and communities interact. Problem-solving is a skill highly sought after by employers. Elon Musk, one of the world's most famous innovators, is known for hiring people who demonstrate an ability to solve complex problems, according to Forbes magazine.
Pursuing a career in science further by completing graduate school and becoming an academic scientist or researcher typically means that an individual will have additional valuable skills. Those skills include advanced technical knowledge in their field and the ability to communicate science to diverse audiences, raise funds in support of specific projects, collaborate and build teams and, increasingly, advise on policy and decision making to non-scientists.
4. STEM provides various career options
A STEM education can lead to a wide variety of career paths. Having been asked so many times about possible career paths, I developed this infographic, with the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University, to show prospective students where STEM graduates develop careers. With data derived from the U.S. Census Bureau, the infographic pools together general areas to make the information easier to present.
A third of graduates of biological, environmental and agricultural science work in the healthcare sector; an example of a career in this area is a clinical administrator. While 15 per cent work in directly STEM-related careers, other graduates go into non-STEM careers, including education, management, business, finance, arts, entertainment, legal, service and sales jobs.
More than half of graduates of Science and Engineering-related programs pursue careers in healthcare, for example, as a pharmaceutical representative. While other careers include aerospace engineering (six per cent) and education (seven per cent). Other students pursue careers in non-STEM jobs.
The top career pathway for graduates of computer, math and statistics is into the computer field (44 per cent), for example, as an information analyst. A significant proportion (almost 20 per cent) of others go into arts and entertainment, for instance, as a game developer. The remaining graduates can be found in a variety of other careers, including teaching, business, finance, STEM-related and management.
5. STEM helps women climb the career ladder
If Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women list is any indication, starting out with STEM degrees can help women climb the corporate ladder to the top. Now, more than ever, is the opportunity for women to lead in STEM, where they currently only make up approximately 22 per cent of the total workforce, according to Women in Computing, a campaign launched by Mediaplanet Canada.
In the Ryerson community, students in STEM are taking advantage of that opportunity to lead. For example, Yomna Aly, graduated this year with a BS in computer science and is working towards her master's in Human-Computer Interaction. She was also president of Ryerson's Women in Computer Science club. Aly is an example of women poised to excel and lead in STEM and forge a path for other women to follow. At our most recent convocation, our top award-winning students in science, math and engineering were all women, which bodes well for our collective future.
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