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.
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.