STEM Career Viability – Where’s the Beef?

STEM education programs are hot…

OK, so we’ve woken up to the fact that we are falling behind in science and technology.  Almost everyone is making a massive fuss over STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.  In higher education circles, it seems like everyone is climbing onto the STEM bandwagon.  It seems like almost everyday I hear about a new STEM program.  Some campuses are even building  STEM centers.

Sadly, STEM has become a buzz word, the product of a carefully manufactured PR campaign at which money is being mindlessly thrown.  Its goal is to attract a job-starved nation back into the classroom.

But where are the jobs?

All the while, nary a thought is being given to the financial, educational and structural barriers that are keeping our youth on track to work at hedge funds instead of labs.

Although we are literally thrusting technical and scientific career tracks willy nilly on our young people, scant attention is being paid to the job market at the end of the eduction pipeline.  The talking heads are pontificating about a skills-mismatch and scientist/engineer shortages.  But there is scant real-world evidence backing up these claims.  In fact, in many fields, every sign points to a glut, not a shortage.  Salaries in many of these fields are flat or even falling. Creating the educational pathways for more scientists and engineers without something substantive on the jobs end is a recipe for more gluts and even greater commoditization of salaries than already exists.

Been there, done that…

Personally, I’m getting a very strong sense of dèjá vu.  In the late-80s, when I was making career decisions, people were banging the scientist shortage drums and I was one of the young fools who fell for it.  I was going to be lucky enough to do something I loved and make decent money doing it!  It sounded almost too good to be true because neither finance nor the law or any of the handful of meat and potato career tracks really appealed to me.   Sure, I wouldn’t make as much as as I would if I sold my soul to Wall Street, but in those days a decent middle class life was not the struggle against poverty it is today.  Well, it was too good to be true.  Unfortunately, I only discovered that towards the end of an eight-year doctorate

Everyone complains that we don’t have enough people going into STEM fields, but few take the time to look under the hood and ask why that is.  It’s like that old commercial from the 80s where the little old lady asked “where’s the beef?”

In several installments, I will be tracing my own experience through academia and science and taking a hard look at the feasibility of such a career path in our current economy.

© 2014 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.


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