“I Got a Golden Ticket!”

STEM Degree Holder, Yesterday

A popular thought in the US is that all our problems would be solved if, and only if, we produced more graduates with STEM degrees.  Connected to this is that if you have said degree, you’re on easy street where there are an infinite number of job openings for your chosen field.

Now I know for a FACT that you probably don’t even have a STEM degree the moment you parrot this trope.  How do I know this?  Let’s backtrack for a moment.

Take a few minutes and read the following posts:
Grad School is a Crock
“We Need More Scientists!”

All done?  Good.

In a perfect world, a STEM degree WOULD be a golden ticket where you’ll have a high-salaried, great benefits job waiting for you when you graduate (without having to go to graduate school for a Masters or PhD).

The problem though, is that perfect world is a fantasy.

Those that shout the “We need more STEM!” mantra have one thing in common:  a Humanities, Social Science or ____ Studies degree (you know, the ones you wipe your ass with if you run out of toilet paper) or they’re “Science Writers” (LOL).

To channel Aaron Clarey, they’ve never taken or altogether avoided at all costs Math, Science, Engineering and Programming courses.  These are ones that require you to actually pay attention in class and put effort into your work.  Not those where you just show up and regurgitate the professor’s leftist taking points in order to get an easy A.

Besides, what new information is there to glean from analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnets or Milton anyways?  Hasn’t it been done to death by scores of limp-wristed pseudo-Marxist baristas already?

While the STEM degree is tough, and I know this first hand with my ridiculous course-loads in order to graduate on time, the compensation for said positions post-graduation is higher than others that require less rigorous degrees.  Again, the job market for STEM was relatively good up until about 2007 or so.

When I was contemplating whether to stay in Grad School (late 2007), I started to hear whispers that something was wrong in the chemical field.

Layoffs at some places

Lots of mergers (even more than usual)

Closing of research sites

Downturn of research funds from private companies

Employers being extremely picky on who they interview (top 10 schools and Ivies only)

Increase in the number of PhDs doing more than one post-doc before moving on

A large number of “future academics” fighting tooth-and-nail to get a professorship at third-, forth- and fifth-tier schools

An anti-industry view

And then 2008 happened.

The market took a shit and dragged the chemical industry down into the toilet, where for the most part it still resides.  My own professional society didn’t even acknowledge the rising and persistent unemployment amongst chemists until just recently.

What about me though?  Well, I was fortunate enough to find a position and get employed before the market tanked.  This was after an eight month job search while I was finishing up my Masters.  I applied to over 70 positions at 40 different companies, and what I had to show for it before I accepted my current job was 6 phone interviews, 3 on-site interviews and 1 job offer.  It was and currently still is an employer’s market.

For the most part, I really don’t care for my job, but I needed money to pay my debts.  So I had no other choice but to accept the offer, and now here I am in Columbus five years later.

The market is so bad even today that even if I wanted to leave Columbus, there wouldn’t be a job available to go to.  This partly my own handicap, since I will not move to a state with taxes or cost of living equal to or higher than my home state of New York.  So that rules out Massachusetts, California and parts of the Northwest.  Also being out of a laboratory setting for so long hurts me too.

The other problem is that NOBODY is hiring, since most companies are scared shitless with uncertainty about Obamacare and the many yet-to-be-written labor, health, tax and environmental regulations.  Sure, they paint a rosy picture about the future, but the fact of the matter is that they don’t know if they’ll be in existence in 5 years.


TL;DR Version:  Getting a STEM degree isn’t a one way ticket to easy street and if you believe that, you’re a fucking idiot.

Note:  I know this is all anecdotal and my personal opinion, but it is true nonetheless.  If you want some hard information Google some variation of “(STEM field) graduates unemployment numbers” and you’ll see where I’m coming from.


6 thoughts on ““I Got a Golden Ticket!”

  1. I have a STEM degree, but you’ll never hear me parroting the line. I try to encourage people to take some time to figure life out before college. It’s not fair when you’re 18 to have to pick, on a whim, the next 40+ years of your life before you’ve even found a favorite beer.

    The path I took was military. I went in the Navy and learned electronics. Then I did various tech jobs, worked into engineering, and got an IT degree in my 30’s. By that point I had a better understanding of what my skills and likes were.

    I don’t think rushing people into college (and a crushing student loan debt) right away is the best thing for any of them. This is based on a model that might have worked in prior generations with lower cost of living.

    Of course, I try to encourage all my friends with children about to enter college to spend $5 on Worthless. They all neglect my advice and start filling out the student loan applications.

    • I always had an aptitude for science, it just wasn’t until high school that I knew I liked chemistry. Originally I was planning on joining the Marines after HS, but that changed when I decided what I wanted to do.

      Agree on the military thing if you don’t know what you want to do. My brother did that, he got a 2 year degree first at the insistence of my parents.

  2. Alrite Beppo, how’s it going? Been quiet here for a while, looking forward to the next post.

    I’ve just finished my Physics masters and am moving on to a PhD. Was unsure at first but since it is directly working with a very prominent company in the industry I eventually want to start my own company in, it seems like the right choice. You’re right it may not be the path to easy street, even though it definitely felt like I was putting a lot more work in up front during my degree compared to some social science friends doing essays on “The Importance of Argentina hosting the 1996 Olympics”, actual final year essay title. Still, I figure that by giving myself skills that very few people have but are actually useful I can get ahead of the curve. That’s the hope. I expect hard work to be the necessary companion to natural talent to get me there.

      • Italian your first language?

        Currently heading down the composites route (switching towards engineering) but my main specialism was quantum before that. Particularly Quantum Information and Memory. There’s something brilliantly eloquent about the maths involved and the fact it still simplifies to old school Classical physics when you zoom out.

        And it gives a great opportunity to chat pseudo-spiritual dribble to girls about how “we’re in an infinite number of universes where all possibilities are simultaneously explored so there’s only a tiny probability that you and me ever met as we are right now, doesn’t that make you feel both really significant and really tiny at the same time, so why not have fun right?”. Save that one for the smart girls who need an excuse.

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