George Washington Carver’s scientific achievements in agriculture in the 20th century led to the development of hundreds of peanut, soybean and sweet potato products. Katherine Johnson utilized her mathematical expertise to join the illustrious group of Black women at NASA that broke scientific and racial barriers in the 20th century. In 1944, Vivien Thomas’ excellence in medicine developed a procedure to treat baby blue syndrome, a condition that causes infants’ blood to turn blue due to lack of oxygen in their blood. The achievement is lauded as a major milestone in medicine and was portrayed in the 2004 HBO film, Something the Lord Made.
All of these people are examples of figures who had profound careers in STEM, an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM is an expansive category that ranges from working to fix climate change, developing cures for life-threatening illnesses and connecting the world through technology. These important fields are tied to many of the advances that drive economic growth and innovation across the world.
What Is a STEM Career?
- Psychology: Psychology is the study of behavior and mind. The field of psychology analyzes issues pertaining to emotion, personality, perception, cognition and more, often facilitating people in navigating their everyday lives and human emotions. Subfields include cognitive psychology, behavioral psychology and adolescent psychology.
- Physics: Physics is the study of matter, motion, space and time. It analyzes the laws and principles that dictate motion in the physical universe. Famous physicists include Albert Einstein, who is known for his creation of Newton’s Laws of Motion.
- Environmental science: Environmental scientists study the natural world’s interactions with biology, chemistry and human nature. These scientists combine a range of disciplines to address challenges like deforestation, drought, global warming and more. They also work with public policy practitioners to develop strategies and solutions to address large-scale environmental issues.
Technology careers and technologists have been widely celebrated for their achievements to society. Steve Jobs, for example, changed the course of the world and history with his contributions to the personal computer and mobile phone. His company, Apple Inc., now reigns as the largest company in the world. Especially in the 21st century, the development and creation of apps has grown in importance as more people own cell phones, but there are also many other meaningful technology careers outside of app development. Below are some examples of careers in the technology sector.
- Computer science: Computer science analyzes computers and computational systems. From computer architecture to algorithm design and analysis, computer scientists utilize math and logic to develop computer systems and software.
- App development: App development refers to the process of design and creation of computer and phone apps. App developers utilize coding languages to build front-facing and back-facing programs that help apps perform various tasks, such as allowing users to play games.
- Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity refers to the range of activities individuals and organizations take to protect their internet-based systems. Cybersecurity efforts are implemented to minimize the risks of experiencing actions like hacks, phishing attempts and malware.
- Electrical engineering: Electrical engineering pertains to designing, developing and applying electrical systems and programming. Electrical engineers utilize expertise in physics and math, as well as knowledge in science, to tackle problems relating to power systems, lighting systems and motor systems, among many others.
- Marine engineering: Marine engineers handle design, construction and maintenance of marine structures, such as boats, ships, vessels, submarines and more. Employees in the field require not just engineering and architectural knowledge, but naval expertise as well. Marine engineers work in a wide range of industries, including naval architecture, oil and gas, offshore wind development, consulting and the public sector, just to name a few.
- Robotics engineering: Robotics engineers design, construct and operate robots. They utilize computer science and artificial intelligence to build and control robots to perform desired tasks.
- Data analysis: Data analysis is the process of organizing and interpreting data, or large scales of information. Data analysis can either be numbers-driven (quantitative analysis) or non-numbers-driven (qualitative analysis), with both forms of data analysis used across industries, including in healthcare, business and more.
- Quantitative analysis: Quantitative analysis is a branch of data analysis that deploys mathematics and statistics to analyze numerical data. Quantitative analysis is utilized in a host of industries, including marketing, finance, technology and more.
- Financial analysis: Financial analysts utilize math and quantitative analysis to observe large scale financial data for the purpose of informing decisions. By analyzing issues relating to revenue, budgeting, financial forecasting and more, financial analysts provide invaluable knowledge to financial stakeholders in making monetary decisions.
What Are the Best STEM Careers?
- Education: Many STEM careers require certain educational degrees in order to practice. For example, to become a doctor, one must complete a bachelor’s degree as well as a medical degree, then continue on to a medical residency followed by an optional apprenticeship or fellowship. Consider the amount of time and money you will invest in education when choosing your career.
- Demand: STEM jobs are in high demand, with a lot of employers looking to fill important positions in their organizations – and willing to pay high premiums for it. Consider the demand in the fields you’re considering before launching your career.
- Earning potential: STEM careers are known to be lucrative because there is high demand for STEM employees across business, government and educational sectors. Consider your future earning potential when narrowing down your career options.
Why Are STEM Careers Important?
- Economic growth: STEM fields are home to many high-paying jobs, and its practitioners are often at the forefront of cutting-edge innovation. Because of that, STEM careers grow local and national economies through the products and businesses they create, and also in the tax revenues they contribute to their communities from the increased output.
- Innovation: STEM professionals often create new inventions, like Dr. Thomas and his development of a treatment for baby blue syndrome. Those innovations save lives and change the face of the world, just as the airplane, automobile and iPhone have done in the last 150 years.
- Export capability: Countries that lead the world in STEM are also leaders in exporting critical products around the world, from vaccines, to phones to cars and planes. This output, in turn, grows the economy of nations and makes them more competitive on the global stage.
Robert F. Smith’s Experience in STEM
Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), began his professional career in STEM as an intern at Bell Labs. He credits the experience with preparing him for his future career. “[My experience] taught me one of my most important life lessons – ‘discover the joy of figuring things out,” Smith said of his internship at Bell Labs. “There is great joy in solving problems, in aiming for constant and ongoing improvement – it’s core to an engineer’s mindset.” He went on to study chemical engineering at Cornell University; in 2016, Cornell renamed the Robert F. Smith School of Chemical Engineering in Smith’s honor. Smith decided to pursue a career in engineering after college, including at Kraft General Foods, where he developed four patents.
Smith supports STEM in various ways, including at Cornell, where he funds programs to expand STEM opportunities to women students and students of color. Learn more about Smith and his philanthropic passions by following him on LinkedIn.