It’s coming around to that time of year again, those final deadlines are just a few short months away, and worse still, those final exams are actually in sight. Everyone from your Aunt to your postman is asking that most dreaded question – “what are you going to do after university?”
Being at a university, it is easy to fall into the trap that the only line of work for STEM students is that of research, particularly those in the core sciences. The harsh fact is that to do research for a living you need a PhD, lots of experience, and quite often a dash of pure luck. What if the research life is not for you? What if a PhD fills you with dread rather than excitement?
These alternative, but equally rewarding, career paths are for the soon-to-be STEM graduates who have realised that the research life may not be for them.
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In an age where misinformation is a regular part of our news and social media feeds, there is a real need for communicators who can effectively and truthfully convey issues that are often sizeable and complicated to a lay audience.
Excellent writing and communication skills are a must. Science writers have to be organised; deadlines are an important aspect of the job role. It’s not all sitting at a desk and typing though, science writers must be comfortable in communicating and oftentimes interviewing academics, medical practitioners, research organisations, public bodies and many more besides. This can mean a fair amount of travelling to conferences and research establishments.
Opportunities are available in both media and non-media outlets. Those with specialised knowledge can look to medical/technical writing, which focuses on more specialised documents directly for industry.
Writing is of course not the only way to communicate science, many organisations also employ social media coordinators. Those with a specialist knowledge on a subject may want to try their hand to writing a book. Those comfortable in visual media may look to get involved in documentaries.
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Policy and Advocacy
Some people enter STEM wanting to find solutions to some of the biggest issues facing society. What is often overlooked is that solutions are of no use if they are not enacted by companies, governments, and other interested bodies.
This is where policy comes into play. Green energy is a good example of where policy makers and lobbyists are needed. Without policy makers and advocates for green energy, the technology for solar panels and wind turbines would not exist to the same degree it does today. It is the policy makers that advocate for the new technology, and drive changes in infrastructure to adopt these alternatives.
Strong multifactorial research skills are required for a job in policy, as are excellent communication skills. You need to be able to research current policy, apply scientific understanding to complex issues that often interweave with politics, and you have to be able to put together reports and briefs on important issues.
Further postgraduate education or training is generally a requirement for those wanting to go into science policy. For those willing to put the work in, this could be a great alternative way to change the world, without staying at the laboratory bench.
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This is possibly the option for those with a competitive edge, or those who like defined targets that they can aim to smash.
It would be all too easy to believe the stereotype that good sales people are those that can talk the talk, or ‘blag’ their way into sales. While talking is still important, there is more involved in medical and pharmaceutical sales. Strong technical or biochemical knowledge is required, you will be selling to doctors, scientists, engineers, pharmacists and others who will likely be armed with challenging questions.
Travel is a standard aspect to many face-to-face sales roles, it is likely that you would be expected to travel frequently in a particular region of the country that you are responsible for, which suits some people more than others.
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For those who enjoy passing on knowledge to others, moving into an educational role may be a rewarding way to channel your knowledge.
The obvious route here is to enter the teaching profession. This does require further training to gain teaching qualifications, there are many routes depending on your situation. The good news is that there are significant bursaries and scholarships available for those who want to train as a teacher in subjects where there are current shortages.
The classroom is not for everyone, but there are plenty of other ways to educate. Museums, zoos, charities, parks and other educational institutions need enthusiastic and creative educators. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit could run their own classes either in person, or online.
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All STEM degrees emphasize data literacy, logic, and analytical skills. There has been a data explosion in recent years, and informatics industries are constantly being created and expanded, in every industry imaginable. This means that if your STEM degree has given you a proficiency with large data sets, and an ability to process and visualise data in a meaningful way, there is probably a data analyst job there that would suit you.
Programming skills are very much required in the big data age and are almost ubiquitously required. Many jobs advertised would prefer a postgraduate degree in data science, computer science or a similar subject; however, there are opportunities for those with self-taught data skills, and a drive to develop more. There are a vast number of programming languages, analytical tools, and data modelling techniques—which ones are most useful really depends on the industry that you would wish to enter.