For some STEM majors, myself included, science has not been enough. I loved chemistry, engineering, and their intersections, but I kept thinking: how can you satisfy the parts of you that compel you towards activism and social justice, when your time, energy, and cognitive space are monopolized by lectures and labs? When can you stop to process the turmoil in the world with a seemingly endless list of courses, summer research applications, grant proposals, and graduate school interviews? Where can you find others to connect with who are similarly minded when your peers and mentors are dedicated to keeping science “pure” and “objective,” free from the messes that obstruct “good” science? What career options do you have that won’t leave you feeling like an insignificant cog in a production-crazed machine? These questions are difficult, but on that last one, I can offer some assistance.
6 Job Options for STEM Majors Interested in Social Change:
- Librarian/Information Professional
I confess: I put this job first because it’s the one I ultimately chose for myself, but I sincerely believe that the role of librarians (along with all other information professionals) are central to social justice. Issues of literacy and access to information have been at the root of inequality for centuries, and as a librarian, you have the opportunity to influence trends in social consciousness. I don’t mean to say that you’ll be some grand puppet master, but someone selected all the books, magazines, and journals on your library shelves. Someone manages all the databases your school or company has access to. And all the websites and apps that you use for reference or discovery (Wolfram Alpha, anyone?) are created and improved by someone. Why not you? You could be the next Librarian of Congress…
- Science Writer
Have you ever trudged through an absolutely impossible paper and wished that there were a Cliff Notes version? As a science writer, that could be your job. A major critique of STEM is its inaccessibility to the general public, and although significant strides have been made in demystifying the sciences, that work is not nearly complete. Honestly, how great would it be to have a population well versed in the implications of climate change and the fundamentals of physics? Science writers ideally possess a STEM background, which gives them the vocabulary and the frameworks for processing difficult concepts and new developments. They also need top-notch communication skills; depending on the publication, a science writer should be able to adapt their source content for different age groups, skill levels, and professions. A plus: science writing is applicable to education, politics, history, popular culture, and countless other fields, so if you value your intellectual complexity, have your cake and eat it, too!
I am not attempting astute political commentary with this suggestion. I am simply saying that what if there existed a U.S. presidential candidate who utilized their STEM background to enact policies that could adequately address the perverse effects this country has on the environment? And that is only one (really big) example of how scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians could influence the civic sector of our society. Running for local office, like membership on the school board, is another great way to get involved politically. Currently, the overwhelming majority of our politicians studied law and political science. Add that to the long list of failings in diversity for the U.S. government… It’s our fault, too, though. People can’t vote for candidates that don’t run!
4. Science Historian
The history of science has long been considered a discipline that merits great respect, and to no one’s surprise, most of what we know in science history is about white, Western, cis men. Shockingly, that demographic is hardly the first or the only group of people to contribute to the ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge. So who is going to correct that narrative? In your role as a science historian, you will be charged with interpreting the past for the benefit of a present. I often wonder how different the science world would look if the contributions of non-normative identities were held in the same esteem as the current forefathers and sprinkling of (white) foremothers. Certainly a film like “Hidden Figures” would have been made sooner… and under a different title.
- Digital Media Content Producer
Whew. That’s a mouthful, but as more and more of our world turns digital, the market for media savvy young professionals is expanding. Truthfully, the proliferation of vloggers, YouTube sensations, and podcast hosts is overwhelming for me, but I am grateful to a good number of these content creators for keeping me informed about the latest and greatest in the communities to which I belong. If you enjoy the regular Twitter conversations that connect the ivory tower and the water cooler, or if you think Reddit should be respected as a scholarly source, consider taking your STEM background online. The Internet is a great equalizer in a hierarchy too long maintained by the hallowed halls of higher learning, so even if you don’t end up at Buzzfeed with Quinta B., the expansion of science literacy through digital media still has worth.
I would be remiss if I didn’t explicitly point out the intersections between STEM and the Arts, so if you are living at that crossroads, I got you! Diversity and inclusion in television and movies has come a long way. Again, I introduce “Hidden Figures” as a testament to the growing push to include more marginalized people in the spotlight. And “Mr. Robot”! If you haven’t been following that show, please get into it. People of color, queer people, women and femmes, low-income people, and differently-abled people, among others, are active in STEM, but most mainstream representations of our careers are more of the same. If any of you amazingly talented people have an interest in this, please follow that inclination. The result is more imagery that can normalize the myriad of ways we exist in the world, and I want to watch your show!
Indisputably, the time is now for current STEM students and recent STEM graduates to take part in a fundamental shift in our society. Our rising consciousness of injustice and inequality, coupled with the boom in innovative science and technology, leaves ample space for us to bring our love for the scientific method out from under our fume hoods and into the day-to-day. A commitment to improving the world is something to celebrate and cultivate, not sacrifice and deny. Don’t shy away from your inspirations! We need you.
Kara Bledsoe is a MSLIS student at the Pratt Institute, specializing in digital archives and cultural preservation. She is also an aspiring filmmaker and web developer with a passion for increasing minority representation in STEM and STEM history.