Changing Jobs

Pursuing STEM education when wanting a career change

Pursuing-STEM-education-when-wanting-a-career-change

Too often, society tries to dictate the acceptable path for life. You’re supposed to graduate, choose a career, and stick with it until you retire. This is, of course, nonsense. Life changes, and it is never too late to follow your curiosity and passion into a career change.  

One of the most popular and lucrative job paths to take at the moment is in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. However, these fields also tend to require you to take courses or obtain formal qualifications in order to fully understand and contribute to the industry. While this can be challenging, it is both worthwhile and rewarding. Although, if you’re passionate about the subject, these challenges are unlikely to be a hurdle that could stop you, anyway!

Let’s look into some key considerations when making a career switch that requires STEM education.

Choosing a path

One of the most important elements of a career change is identifying your goal and how you can move toward it. There will be some STEM careers that have prescribed paths, and others that have a variety of options to get there. For example, careers in cybersecurity can benefit from a university degree in computer science, but it can be achievable with a combination of self-education, project engagement, and networking. The key is to conduct research and make the right plan for yourself.

Start by looking into the various different qualifications that can be a benefit to your field. Gain an understanding of what you need to learn to get started in the career, and what courses can provide you with the most relevant information and experience in the area. Don’t just take university or course provider prospectuses into account, either. You’ll often get the most useful and accurate information about the paths you can take from people who are already in the STEM field you’re aiming for. Reach out and talk to them. You don’t need to mimic their paths, but it can provide you with more personal data that can better inform your choices.  

Importantly, write down the steps toward your path — the qualifications you want to take, and the work experience you can gain on the way. This shouldn’t necessarily be set in stone; it can be changeable. But it functions primarily to move the prospect of a long educational path outside your head where it can easily overwhelm you. It also makes it easier to navigate your career change when you have some sense of where you are and a roadmap to where you’re going.

Utilizing a method

There was certainly a time in the not-so-distant past that gaining a STEM education to kickstart a career change was less practical for a lot of people. However, changes in our society over the last couple of decades have resulted in an explosion of educational options for workers in fields that lead to top salaries. The good news is, whichever method of learning you choose, there are usually high-quality courses available to you that are recognized by employers.   

It’s important to note that full-time in-person university courses are usually among the most direct routes into STEM-based careers. Although these courses usually operate on a structured and strict timeline, they do offer access to labs and other on-campus amenities. These classes also allow you to make daily connections with your peers and lecturers that have insights into your intended industry that you may find useful. It is also often the case, particularly with engineering degree courses, that faculties will have relationships with local industry leaders that can lead to opportunities for collaboration and even directly to jobs following graduation. 

On the other hand, online learning also offers an equal amount of opportunities and benefits. Some of these, such as greater flexibility to study while also working your current job, aren’t always present for in-person courses. A virtual degree certainly isn’t a less rigorous experience. If you have a passion for numbers, you can pursue a master’s course in data science that allows you to delve deeper into specializations such as artificial intelligence or analytics. In most cases, you’ll also have excellent access to supportive resources, data sets, and even lab time. There is also a growing trend for STEM educators to design field-based practical assignments that are intended to be achievable wherever students happen to be studying from. As such, your decision on what methods you wish to use comes down to how they fit into your plan and intended timeline.  

Considering Your home life

Unless you have a separate source of financial support, it is likely that you’ll be juggling your schoolwork with your employment and potential childcare. Don’t be disheartened by this, you can still be successful. However, that’s not to say that it won’t occasionally be stressful. In order to limit the impact on your own mental wellbeing, and also avoid transferring the stress or anxiety to your children, it’s vital you start building stress management techniques into your routine. Arrange periods daily to just be alone and concentrate on your breathing. Learn exercises that declutter your mind, and make arrangements with relatives and friends for childcare.   

Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to undertake your STEM education all at once. When you’re passionate about a subject it is only natural to want to engage fully with it as soon as possible. However, if it is not practical to do this, you can take your education in steady stages. Spread your modules out over time, or take a break after gaining an associate’s degree before moving on to your bachelor’s, master’s, or even a Ph.D. In some cases, you may be able to get entry-level positions in your intended industry as you study, and your employer may offer support for your studies. Take the time you need — it is never too late in life to contribute meaningfully to STEM fields. 

Conclusion

Gaining a STEM education for a career change can be a big step. Take time to research and plan your journey, and consider the relative benefits of different approaches to learning. With some attention to how it can fit into your current duties, you can ensure your transition to a fascinating career is a positive one.

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.

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