“Where will that take you?”, “What do you plan to do after?”, “So, you’re gonna get a well-paid job, right?”, and “Do you like research?” are just some of the questions you will inevitably be asked over and over again as soon as you mention you’re a STEM student… It’s a rough life. And all too often it feels like you need to have it all figured out else you’ll be pushed around onto certain paths that you only have vague ideas of. Well, I’m here to tell you not to worry.
When applying, I remember looking at the all-important ‘subject-related employment / further study’ percentages of graduates, as if I had a plan for after graduation. The truth is, it’s quite ridiculous trying to predict where you’ll end up in your career before you’ve even enrolled in your course.
Perhaps, like me, you pictured after your degree, completing a PhD and then sail through academia? Or maybe instead you imagined that as a graduate you’d do an internship and then rise through the ranks of an industrial career? Or possibly you didn’t think of either of those things and you don’t know what you want to do, just that you love the subject? Anything but selling your soul and going into finance, right?
Don’t leave university! Do a PhD, then work your way up to become anything from teaching associate to tutor, research assistant to research fellow, or even assistant lecturer to professor.
Leave university! Either with a bachelors or masters, go into industry – that magical term which is thrown about so often in reference to STEM careers. Working in industry as a graduate leads you to a huge array of jobs from a developer to a kind of analyst to a specialist engineer to some sort of -ologist… the options are endless. You can also enter industry as a postgraduate and bypass the lower-level positions. Summer and graduate internship programmes are the perfect gateway to these careers and give you the chance to decide what you prefer.
But wait, there’s more! You may be surprised to hear that those aren’t the only options after you graduate. With skills like scientific literacy, research abilities, and problem-solving, not to mention all of the technical skills and knowledge you are taught along the way, STEM degrees are rightfully recognised as being very employable in fields unrelated to your degree subjects, such as finance and management – which, yes, does have a certain reputation.
What if none of those has piqued your interest? It’s always possible to use your passion for science and the abilities you pick up as an undergraduate to make real change in the way science affects society! Science communication is an area that is picking up gravitas, teaching both the public and professionals about science and research, as well as places like the Office for Science; which advises the highest ranking policymakers in government on evidence-based decisions that affect finance, legislation and society as a whole!
Final thoughts? Don’t stress over what comes after your degree, enjoy the three or four years you’ll spend here. Don’t listen to those who say ‘First year doesn’t count’, since that advice normally sets you up to fail (literally), and instead use the freedom of first year to learn how to study and prepare yourself for everything that comes next. And don’t be afraid to engage in the artsy-fartsy stuff like student media, performing arts societies, and the other things that often draw an eye roll from typical STEM students.