This article is in response to yesterday’s “8 Post Grads Confess Whether Or Not They Use Their Degree,” and will look specifically at STEM majors, and their experience after completing their undergraduate degrees. Some went straight to graduate school, some decided to pursue other fields altogether, and some are still in the process of applying to graduate school and completing their course work. I was thrilled to see how many responses I got in such a short period of time, which is thanks to the fact that roughly half of the responses below came directly from TFD readers, who were happy to share their stories.
Here are nine former STEM majors on where their lives has taken them after undergrad, and how their degrees have shaped their experience:
1. “One of the wonderful things about having a major in health sciences is the variety of career options. The downfall, however, is that many of these career options require additional years of school after finishing the undergraduate degree. Most of my classmates had some type of graduate school plans. I currently work in the nutrition field, which was my concentration in college, but it is an entry-level job. Unlike some other fields, where you can work your way up the chain, the only way for me to gain a higher paying and more prominent position is to earn additional degrees and a license.
I start graduate school next week. The coursework will take me about two years as I try to earn a living at the same time. (I’m going to work full-time while in school.) I will then apply for a dietetic internship. If I get matched with a program it will be 40 hours a week of work for about 8 months, UNPAID! Careers in the health sciences field are very rewarding and can pay well in the long run. However, there are years of schooling and working for free before you start earning a salary that can make a dent in the enormous amount of loans you may have accumulated in this process, is a huge challenge.” — Mary, 25
2. “I majored in Physics, without any real idea of what I wanted to do after school; I just knew that I loved the subject. Upon graduation, one of my friends told me that his boss was looking for someone with a science background to join his start up company, so I was able to schedule an interview and secure a position pretty quickly.
After working for three years, I realized I didn’t have much room to move up in the company, so I went back to school for a Master’s in a more specialized Engineering field. A lot of companies recruit at the university I attended, so I reached out to the ones that seemed interesting and went through about 5-6 interviews. I have now worked for one of those companies for several months, and I honestly use both of my degrees every single day. Having the degrees did not guarantee me the jobs I have had, but they gave me the skills and knowledge to even be considered. I have found that once you have the qualifications, it is networking skills that will get you hired.” — Amy, 26
3. “I studied public health in college and loved it. But once I graduated I wasn’t particularly excited about the work opportunities. I found that, in that field, even most entry-level jobs required a Master’s in public health, which I didn’t feel ready to pursue. After college, I just took a front desk job. In the past two years I have taken the time to think about what I want out of a career. I have landed on the fact that I want to create. I am now considering a career in architecture and am preparing to apply to grad school.” — Malia, 27
4. “I work in tech, but actually wasn’t a STEM major. I was first drawn to the idea of my job (I work for a company that creates and sells auction software to auctioneers and auction houses), because I was an art history major. I do work directly with a lot of our clients, however my job is much more oriented around the technology and our software than it is in art. I act as the middle man between our clients and our engineers, which means I have to be able to communicate and work well with others, while also having a thorough understanding of how our software operates. As much as I love art history, it has been fascinating to learn more about the technological side of this business. In my role, understanding the coding and operations behind our software is a lot more important than knowing the origins of movements like impressionism and plein air painting.” — Jamie, 29
5. “I graduated May 2015 with a B.S. in biology, concentration in physiology, with the intentions of going to medical school. I spent 6 years paving my pre-med path, going through internships in psychophysiology research labs, volunteering my time to teach an after-school, all-girls science club while working at Starbucks and pursuing my degree. I went to conferences and spoke with passion about my career goals as a future physician. Then my mom got sick, and I encountered what the inside of a hospital felt like for patients and for their families. I hated the lack of compassion from worn out doctors and their lack of patience when it came to explaining their illnesses.
As much as I love science and medicine, I couldn’t stand to become like the many doctors I encountered. (For the record, I know not everyone turns out this way, but the system is flawed in so many ways, it would be difficult for me to survive this lifestyle.) Career-wise, my degree offers the chance to go into research, become a teacher, go into nursing or other healthcare professions; all of which require graduate school or some other form of formal training. Seeing as I’m not looking to add onto the debt I’ve already accrued, I am chasing my passion for photography instead. I don’t regret my education because I delved into topics that I genuinely love (though I do regret the loans I’ll have to pay back). It’s funny how you can go six years planning for one career, find it isn’t for you, and end up chasing your original teenage-heart dreams!” — Alexandria, 23
6. “I have a B.S. in geological engineering and an M.S. engineering in environmental engineering from a state school. I have also completed the coursework for a PhD in environmental engineering but, after deciding academia/research wasn’t for me, accepted a full-time job offer instead of completing my dissertation. The job I took was one that was originally offered to me after completing my Master’s.
I stayed with that company for 18 months and then pursued employment in the public sector. Work/life balance is my highest priority and in my field that usually means working for the government. The job search was almost painfully slow. Government agencies are notorious for taking months to fill positions. There are multiple levels of application review, several rounds of interviews and then several people have to review and approve the hire. It took about six months from application date to start date.
I currently work as an environmental engineering project manager; my main job function is to review and approve landfill designs in accordance with state permitting requirements. In the interest of full disclosure, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree with no debt — I was a student athlete and received athletic and academic scholarships. This undoubtedly afforded me flexibility in my post graduate choices.” — Shannon, 28
7. “I majored in computer science. I graduated in the spring of 2014 and have been working in an analyst role for a year now. While I was in school I was employed through a Canadian program called FSWEP (Federal Student Work Experience Program), where I held many positions. During the final stretch of my degree, I worked as a junior software developer.
When I was hired into the analyst position I am currently in, the hiring managers were looking for someone with a strong technical background. A large part of my position is data analysis; I write SQL queries to pull information from our enterprise system’s databases. Although that is the only programming required in my role, my other responsibilities also rely heavily on my understanding of programming practices. In my daily work, I use more soft skills than your average computer science graduate, but I would not be in the position I am in, or at all qualified for project management opportunities in the future, without my degree.” — Ella, 24
8. “I studied software engineering at a college that was serious about preparing you for practical application after college. As part of my degree requirements I had to complete five internships directly related to my field of study, through which I gained invaluable experience, knowledge, and contacts. This is not meant to discredit the purely academic part of my degree which set up the basic need-to-knows and covered a broad range of topics that are needed to understand the big picture. I use what I learned in my classes on daily basis and would not have the skills I have today had it not been for everything I learned in college.” — Diana, 26
9. “I studied math at a small liberal arts college and ended up working at a litigation consulting firm after college. I chose the job because it was marketed as being very quantitative/problem solving focused. It was, but it was also demanding and hierarchical. One thing that surprised me when I started working: it is extremely difficult to work 70/80 hrs per week. For some reason, I thought that would be glamorous somehow. But I actually recently accepted a new job and will have to switch cities because of that.” — Dave, 30
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