What Can I Do With a STEM Degree?

All prospective college students should at least consider what they could do with a STEM degree. Studying STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – will provide you with a solid background in the concepts of science and math and how to apply those principles. When you earn a STEM degree, you will be prepared for several high-paying and in-demand career paths.

Nearly 30% of STEM workers have earned a master’s, doctorate or professional degree.

PEW Research Center

Benefits of a STEM Career

Why should you study a STEM field? Careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are among the best-paying occupations in the United States. These careers are all experiencing rapid job growth and the future for these professions looks bright. There’s almost no limit to what you can do with a STEM degree. These careers aren’t just growing, they’re also evolving rapidly. New advances in technology, research and data mean that some of the most in-demand careers don’t even exist yet but studying STEM now can prepare you for these jobs of the future. It makes sense to earn a versatile degree that will allow you to choose between employers and industries.

The reason that you can do what you can do with a STEM degree is because of the rigorous coursework in science and mathematics that you take during your education. Different STEM subjects have different curricula. For example, an engineering major will delve deep into the principles of engineering, specifically as they are used in the student’s chosen discipline. A student majoring in information technology will take far more computer courses than the average math major or biology student. However, all STEM majors need a strong background in the fundamentals of science and mathematics to build on as they take their advanced, specialized coursework.

Unexpected Technology Careers for STEM Majors

If you’re wondering what you can do with a STEM degree, you’ll be happy to learn that there are dozens of great careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are scientists of all kinds, from biologists to atmospheric scientists and chemists to astrophysicists. But do all STEM grads work in laboratories, universities, corporations and technology firms? Would you be surprised that many science careers are now part of the finance, fast food and health care industries? Banks and financial services firms enjoy massive budgets so they can hire the best computer science talent in the job market. They must do this because financial technology, or FinTech, drives everything from investment analytics to trading software to stock exchange platforms.

Big Data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, is the financial key to unlocking the secrets of macroeconomics, economic behavior and consumer psychology. Financial consulting and accounting firms also need math and tech majors because they are tasked with minimizing risks, optimizing operations and maximizing profits. Forensic IT technicians are in high demand because organizations must continually audit and improve their financial controls and systems. Organizations that handle billions of dollars cannot function without programmers, network architects and IT security professionals to keep their confidential consumer data hidden from hackers. Some of the popular financial job titles include budget analyst, claims adjuster, insurance actuary, revenue agent and tax examiner.

Who would think that a STEM grad may end up working for Starbucks, McDonalds or UberEats? Commercial food production and foodservice industries must embrace technology to stay ahead of the competition and customer expectations. More and more customers are ordering groceries and restaurant food through websites and smartphones. Companies that sell food or offer restaurant services need software, website and app professionals to maximize consumer engagement and satisfaction. The reason that the three global food companies up above lead the country in sales is because they have user-friendly apps that consumers love to use.

Could a STEM major end up working in a glamorous five-star hotel in an exotic location? The answer is yes because hotel chains and hospitality organizations need technology experts to keep their service-based operations running smoothly. IT administrators who work for hotels provide support for hotel management information systems. They must troubleshoot and resolve front-line technology issues and customer complaints. These often involve credit card systems and online reward programs. Web developers will assist in maintaining the hotel portal and website with current and accurate information. Other duties include investigating operational efficiency, improving on current hotel software and helping with digital sales and marketing campaigns. Some IT staff will be tasked with client, internal and hotel chain reporting.

Would a STEM major work for major clothing brands such as Nike, Gucci or Calvin Klein? Of course, because the clothing industry is dependent on sales, marketing and social media data and trends to define strategies and meet solutions that meet their shareholders’ needs. For example, a data architect who works for a clothing line will be a member of the interdisciplinary data management team. They may be asked to design and deploy digital solutions that produce useful insights across demographic segments or geographic zones. This could be in the form of a machine learning program that monitors social media shares and posts to identify fashion trends and customer feedback. Other data scientists may research historical data warehouses to drive continuous improvement projects.

What does the field of supply chain management have to do with STEM? Everything because the different logistical parts need science, technology, engineering and math to function properly. The global transportation system delivers everything from Amazon orders to exported American products. Technology experts who work for logistical service firms will collaboratively work with IT experts, business partners and vendors to create functional features and satisfying specifications. This could include the building and maintenance of supply chain management information systems and infrastructure solutions. Just think what would happen in a giant warehouse with hundreds of employees if the radio-frequency identification (RFID) scanner system stopped working? How about a system glitch at a major seaport with Customers and Border Protection agents waiting for electronic bills of lading so they can inspect containers?

What Can I Do With a STEM Degree?

T Stands for Technology

This STEM category includes any job that requires technical skill, but it usually refers to information technology or computer-related occupations. Workers in these occupations use logic, mathematics and computer science to make apps, systems, phones and computers function. Some technology workers create new software, design computer systems, and develop databases. Others focus on helping people use computers and on keeping computers running well. Technology careers are among the fastest-growing opportunities for recent college graduates. The average annual salary for computer engineers is around $111,000. Job growth is at three percent and about 77,700 new jobs are created every year.

The salary is high for computer engineers, but so are the performance expectations. Computer engineers must research, troubleshoot and connect computer strategies to system functions and programming. They collaborate with other technology engineers to create innovative solutions like embedded architectures and machine learning primitives. Computer engineers who are employed by universities and private research firms may do things like building state-of-the-art algorithms, robotics and artificial intelligence solutions. Computer engineers are expected to have clear computer vision and be highly proficient in algorithms. They must have a deep understanding of software architecture and object-oriented programming.

Software developers earn over $100,000 per year. Their job growth is much higher at 17 percent. Over a million jobs are created because software development includes apps, smartphones, smart devices and website integration. The generic job term software developer will be re-named through specific job titles like Ruby, Java, Python, JavaScript and WordPress developer. To illustrate, a WordPress developer will be proficient in standard WP themes, plugins and marketing funnel tools They will use WP to design high-converting websites that are offer-based and advertising-driven. Their quality design goals include minimalism, optimization and conversion. A software developer who specializes in security may work with cryptography experts and systems engineers to produce new protocols, APIs and security rules.

Computer programmers earn about $80,000 per year. The job growth is slowing down as the demand for other technology platforms increases. There are still around 328,000 created every year. Their basic duties include monitoring and troubleshooting the performance of systems and IT infrastructure. They install and configure software, hardware and networks. A computer programmer who specializes in systems analysis will evaluate the program designs of major application and efficiency of data processing. They will work with IT professionals to formulate solutions and develop enhanced programs. A systems analyst will be responsible for reviewing operations from the technical design phase to the operational phase. Computer programmers will need current knowledge of standard language coding methods.

Database administrators make around $90,000 per year. The job outlook is at nine percent. They need at least a bachelor’s degree to start working. Database administrator manages the systems and data architecture that schools, corporations and governments use. They may take part in the development and management of databases used in classrooms, warehouses and police stations. Database administrators conduct data analysis projects for data profiling and quality control. Those who work in corporations may create data models, procedures and classifications. A sample project may be the migration of a database management system to another platform. This would involve a lot of research about data storage, integrity, volume and transfer factors and requirements.

Computer technicians may be referred to as help desk tech or remote administrators. They resolve a wide range of hardware and software problems. They must have excellent customer service skills and communication techniques. Most adults who work in an office or with technology will be used to calling the company’s internal or outsourced helpdesk professionals who diagnose desktop, laptop, application and network problems. These IT professionals must be self-starters who leverage available resources to resolve problems. On any given day, they may be asked to disassemble a laptop, inspect a tower computer, identify upgrade options or use command prompt to verify system operation functions. Some helpdesk techs also set up workstations, office furniture and training classes.

Engineering is Excellent

Engineering offers plenty of disciplines, like civil engineering, chemical engineering, computer and electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and software engineering. Some of the best paying STEM jobs for new graduates are engineering roles, such as petroleum engineer, nuclear engineer, marine engineer and chemical engineer, Forbes reported. Petroleum engineers can look forward to a faster than average job growth, and they have the opportunity to travel the world visiting drilling sites that may be on land or water. Petroleum engineers earn about $129,000 per year and enjoy a job growth rate of 10 percent. Over 35,100 of these jobs are created every year.

Petroleum engineers track and improve key performance metrics for specific oil and gas functions. They analyze and translate field reports and operations metrics to improve asset performance. Petroleum engineers must understand both math and economics as well as engineering science to perform their duties. This means that a few petroleum engineers will be semi-economists who participate in corporate executive meets to present the economic justification or denial for certain proposals. Those who work in the field may initiate and coordinate oil and gas well maintenance task procedures. Some provide field supervision for activities like drilling, workovers and re-completions. Petroleum engineers regularly work with other types of professionals like geology, mechanical and reservoir engineers.

Geological engineers study the fields of physics, biology and chemistry to do their jobs. They use their knowledge of the planet’s structure and outer layers to create and maintain systems that extract resources. Thus, they are usually employed by the mining industry to do things like supervise open-pit and underground mines. Some will oversee the construction of new structures or devise safer transportation methods for workers and extracted materials. Geological engineers may specialize in advanced fields like environmental, hydrogeological and geotechnical engineering. A geological engineer who works for a construction company may be in charge of materials testing, field exploration, regulatory compliance, industrial developments and water supply projects. They make around $94,000 a year and the job growth is just six percent.

At the opposite end of the planet, aerospace engineers work for companies that produce spacecraft and airplanes. The nature of the work will depend on if the aerospace engineer is employed by a public or private organization. Some may be employed by NASA or with a program like the International Space Station (ISS). The work that these engineers do requires project management, technical and contract skills. They may prepare plans, edit schedules and share documentation based on the project’s life-cycle requirements. Some will serve as a technical specialist to provide key information to decision-makers regarding tools, systems and processes. Some aerospace engineers only work as consultants who perform independent studies and internal assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of operations. The median salary is $107,000 and the number of jobs created every year is about 72,500.

Nuclear engineer is an umbrella term for different scientists who manage, install, repair and test machines, systems and facilities. Some nuclear engineers provide component engineering and manufacturing support for reactor modules. Others perform stress and pressure analysis of vessels and equipment to meet regulatory requirements. Some nuclear engineers exclusively deal with robotics and automated equipment that refuels and remotely handles dangerous materials. Some nuclear engineers directly support product and facility development. Senior nuclear engineers may provide technical leadership for processes and workflows inside nuclear facilities. A small number of nuclear engineers work for the government or the military, such as on a Naval submarine with reactor core. The annual average salary for nuclear engineers is around $102,000.

Environmental engineers don’t have to deal with radiation and dangerous waste, but they do have to deal with sustainability issues and eco-friendly solutions for land management. For example, an environmental engineer may find work through their state’s Transportation Department. They would work on projects that keep people, products and vehicles moving. The underlying systems include familiar transportation things like highways and overpasses, but also unfamiliar areas like drainage infrastructure and watershed systems. These engineers may prepare master plans, conduct field studies and help with disaster investigations. They provide critical engineering services to various departments and organizations. Environmental engineers usually work closely with landscape architects, building engineers and construction designers. They will need to have strong construction engineering and general project management skills.

What Can I Do With a STEM Degree?

Does a STEM Degree in Math Pay Well?

Mathematics is a narrower field of study, but there are lucrative careers in corporations and government agencies. Mathematics is a great major for anyone interested in a STEM career who shows a proficiency for algebra, calculus and other types of math. Mathematicians don’t just hammer out equations, they develop new ways of conducting math, which can be extremely useful for other STEM majors. A mathematician who works for a government agency will make over $100,000 a year. The job growth for mathematicians is a very high twenty-one percent a year. These STEM professionals will find themselves working in all types of organizations from commerce to education to health care.

For example, research labs and universities need mathematicians to develop and implement statistical solutions and database algorithms that are used by software programs. These could be used by scientists to calibrate machines and scientific equipment that measures electrical waves, coaxial channels and microwave systems. Applied mathematicians may work for engineering or technology firms who provide data analytics, software development and marketing intelligence to clients. These STEM professionals will conduct technical planning for system integration, verification and benchmarking. Their complex mathematical analysis may involve economic feasibility, product validation, fabrication costs, market risks and operation lifecycles. They will run simulation tools and models to produce detailed technical analysis.

Statisticians usually work for economics departments and corporations to conduct a financial analysis of operations, costs, audits and accounting systems. Some of their advanced techniques include linear, multivariate, logistic and time-series regression. They may employ statistical analysis to develop cost estimation models that are used to calculate fees for services and products. Because their work is so complex, their communication skills must be impeccable. Statisticians must continually translate and simplify insights and data for many professionals who aren’t good at math and statistics. However, they must also be prepared to defend their designs and recommendations to other scientists. Some statisticians work with accounting auditors to help implement enterprise-wide recommendations, internal controls and corrective actions.

Economist is a general term for mathematical analysts who perform diverse duties. For example, an economist who is employed by a Department of Energy may help analyze and improve costs and prices for electric and natural gas utilities as well as petroleum pipelines. These economists will ensure reasonable rates for consumers and promote fair and healthy competition for energy organizations. An economist who works for a consumer products organization that is a global giant will delve into retail data, cloud computing, manufacturing, inventory and operational controls. They will use their economist mindset to influence things like packaging design, industry pricing and consumer demand forecasting. A growing number of corporations need economists who have strong backgrounds in statistics methodology, business models, enterprise applications and big data solutions.

Do you think that a mathematician would want a job that pays $150,000 to $200,000 per year? Insurance actuaries do everything from calculating global risks to setting corporate pricing structures. Insurance companies rely on senior actuaries to help with strategic planning and pricing management. These actuaries will investigate and document the pricing and planning methodologies used across the nation by thousands of local, franchised offices to evaluate consistency and recommend changes. Actuaries need to understand statistical analysis and economic principles to conduct independent reviews of key segments and demographics. As executive leaders, they help with data sharing and price transparency to keep insurance operations stable and insurance clients satisfied. They will work on cross-functional projects that have abroad impact on all levels of business decision-making.

Given the almost endless options, what you can do with a STEM degree depends on what you want to study and what you choose to do with your knowledge. There are countless degree specializations and sub-fields within science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Graduates with a STEM degree will enjoy higher pay, less job competition and more career opportunities. All of this contributes to a higher job and life satisfaction.

Related resources:

30 Great Small Colleges for STEM Degrees

What is the Career Outlook for STEM Occupations?

What STEM Careers are in High Demand?

5 High Paying STEM Careers

5 Great STEM Careers in Math

5 Scholarship Opportunities for STEM Degree Majors

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