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The STEM Jobs Everyone Wants and How to Get Them

Everywhere you look, there's someone bemoaning the lack of scientists, technology experts, engineers, and mathematicians in America. While it's certainly a noble goal to encourage young people to work in these fields, the shortage of these professionals isn't quite as dire as politicians, pundits, and even education experts are making it out to be. In fact, many fields are heavily over-saturated already, with few job openings and incredible competition for positions that do exist. Some are even experiencing record levels of unemployment, and as many grads are finding out, even getting a Ph.D. isn't a guarantee of success. Couple these current struggles with a push to bring more students in STEM programs and you have a recipe for an incredibly crowded and over-saturated job market.

Yet these factors don't mean that students need to give up on pursuing careers in STEM fields or that more brilliant young thinkers and innovators aren't needed. While competition for jobs may be tough, students who want to pursue a STEM career shouldn't be disheartened. Instead, competition can make it easier to stay motivated to earn certifications, gain experience, and hone skills that will make grads ready to take on the challenges of the working world.

What follows is a guide that not only highlights some of the hottest, fastest-growing jobs in STEM but also provides advice on the training, experience, and skills that will help students more easily navigate the job market. Even if you don't see your dream job on the list, don't hesitate to read the recommendations offered by those already working in these fields; it's solid advice for those looking to work in virtually any STEM profession.

The Jobs

While most STEM fields are projected to have slower than average growth over the next decade, these fields are growing, pay well, and offer a wide range of opportunities. They may not be the ideal match for all students, but those who can see themselves working in these careers should read through to learn more about what they entail, the training they require, and the skills and experience that will make grads stand out among their peers. Unless otherwise noted, all data on salary and projected growth comes from the latest findings of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Looking for a job that pays well, offers comfortable working conditions, is expected to grow by leaps and bounds over the next decade, and lets you put your math skills to use in a practical way? If you are, a career as an actuary may be the right path for you. This field is a great choice for STEM students because it's expected to grow by 27% by 2020, adding 5,800 new jobs in the field in industries like health insurance, property and casualty insurance, and consulting. Even better, actuaries are well-compensated for their knowledge, with average pay coming in at $87,650 a year.

Actuarial work is also a great way to turn a love of math into an exciting and rewarding career. Using financial theory, statistics, and various mathematical methods, actuaries help businesses to manage risk by determining the likelihood of events happening and the financial costs that would be associated with that event if it did come to pass. The most common industry to find actuaries in is insurance, where they work to develop policies that protect the insured while keeping insurance companies competitive and turning a profit, but some actuaries also work for private consulting firms, helping build investment and business strategies or construct retirement and healthcare plans for employees. The great working conditions, pay, and opportunities afforded by actuarial work make it an incredibly in-demand field, and despite growth students who choose this path will still see stiff competition for jobs.

Education and Training

Becoming an actuary doesn't mean that you have to complete a degree in actuarial science, though that is an option (a list of colleges with actuarial programs can be found here). Many actuaries have a degree in math, statistics, or business. No matter the degree program, however, students should ensure they have the skills required to take on a career as an actuary by pursuing courses in economics, applied statistics, corporate finance, calculus, business, accounting, and management. They also need to take courses outside of these areas, including a number of courses in computer science and programming, so that they can build spreadsheets, databases, and analysis tools, as well as courses in public speaking and communication, as actuaries must present their findings and work in teams.

Skills to Develop

  • Communication: Actuaries will need to use a range of communication skills on the job everyday, as they are often working on teams to develop products and solutions. Strong writing skills will be needed to complete reports and speaking skills are essential to presenting findings and explaining technical concepts in an easy to understand manner.
  • Computer Aptitude: Much of the work done by actuaries requires a computer. Actuaries need to known programming languages and be able to create spreadsheets, databases, and analytic tools.
  • Math: Being an actuary requires strong knowledge of mathematical concepts, especially calculus, statistics, and probability.
  • Problem Solving: A big part of being an actuary is figuring out the best way to solve a problem (often to minimize the liabilities of a risk), so strong problem-solving skills are a must.
  • Project Management: Actuaries must be able to work in teams as leaders, managing their own work and that of others to meet deadlines and employer expectations.

Career Advice from the Experts

Gena Long, the Manager of Stakeholder Relations at the Society of Actuaries, says that the best thing students can do for their careers is to focus on getting certifications from actuarial societies. These are offered by the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society, each focusing on an area of actuarial practice. Long says that employers are usually looking for applicants who've passed at least two of the exams required to gain these certifications, though it does vary by location. She admits that the exams can take a lot of time and effort to pass so it's recommended that students find a mentor within their program or from the Society of Actuaries. This relationship can not only help in ensuring that students stay on track and don't get discouraged, but can be an asset when it comes to finding work.

Almost as important as actuarial exams are internships, which offer students the chance to develop industry connections and get real on-the-job experience within the actuarial field. Unfortunately, while internships are important, there often aren't enough opportunities to meet the needs of all of the students who want to pursue one. This, Long says, isn't catastrophic. Students should instead seek out other, related jobs in business, especially those closely related to actuarial work. Any work experience is better than none when it comes to finding a job, and she advises those without internship experience to play up the skills they learned through any business-related job to potential employers.

Students still working on their degree can start building the communication and leadership skills they'll need to appeal to employers by taking part in math or actuarial clubs. These, Long says, offer students the chance to take on leadership roles and meet people in the field who come to campus as speakers and mentors. It's also critical for students hoping to work as actuaries to maintain a solid GPA; it's one of the factors employers pay attention to when hiring.

Actuarial science isn't for everyone, Long advises, but those who enjoy math and are interested in using it in a business setting will find that it can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path to take.

Biochemist or Biophysicist

If you're interested in the biological sciences and enjoy laboratory-based work and study, then a career as a biochemist or biophysicist should be something you give some serious thought to pursuing as a career. What makes biochemistry and biophysics so appealing? It certainly doesn't hurt that they're expected to grow rapidly and offer highly competitive salaries. Jobs for biochemists and biophysicists are expected to grow more than 31% by 2020. This means that 7,700 more positions in the field will be opening up over the next decade, providing an ample assortment of opportunities for those in the field to find employment. Those jobs will pay well, too. The average salary for a biochemist or biophysicist is $79,390 a year, though those working in the pharmaceutical industry or in private research and development can expect to make more.

Of course, it's not all about the numbers. Work in biochemistry and biophysics is also appealing because it offers the chance to discover new things that could dramatically change the quality of life for those in the U.S. and around the world. Biochemists and biophysicists use cutting-edge technology to carry out research on the chemical and physical principles of living things and biological processes that they undergo. This can mean anything from studying the causes of cancer to developing new treatments to handle this, and other life-threatening conditions. While much of the work done by biochemists and biophysicists is related to medicine, there are many other applications for this kind of training. Agriculture, clean energy, and environmental science all also rely on the discoveries and innovations made by biochemists and biophysicists, offering those who enter this field the chance to make a difference in saving lives, keeping the environment clean, and feeding people around the globe.

Education and Training

A career in biochemistry or biophysics often starts by pursuing an undergraduate degree in biochemistry or biophysics or a related field like biology, chemistry, physics, or engineering. Throughout their undergraduate education, students will need to make sure to take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science. Courses that focus on laboratory work or outside internships and experience that require lab work can often be an asset both in getting into grad school and finding a first job post-graduation. Colleges and universities offering biochemistry degrees may obtain curricular and degree approval from the American Chemical Society. Many employers consider this certification from ACS a great advantage in prospective hires, though it is not required by state or federal law.

It is common and often necessary for those hoping to work in this field to complete a master's or doctoral program as well, which usually takes an additional two to six years of study. Students will need to have experience in a lab, a passion for research, and solid grades to be accepted into a biochemistry or biophysics post-secondary program. Once in grad school, most students will choose a specialization on which to focus their work. Common areas of study include toxicology, genetics, and proteomics.

Skills to Develop

Biochemists and biophysicists should make sure that these skills are honed by any professional training or experiences.

  • Analytical Ability: Scientific data alone isn't enough to make a breakthrough; biochemists and biophysicists must also be able to analyze and interpret the results of their research.
  • Communication: Communication is an important skill for aspiring biochemists and biophysicists to hone because most will work on research teams, give presentations of their work, and write up reports and papers sharing their findings.
  • Critical Thinking: Being able to think through the best and most logical way to conduct research or to tackle a particular problem is an incredible asset for a biochemist or biophysicist.
  • Math: A strong background in calculus and statistics is required for much of the work biophysicists and biochemists do.
  • Perseverance: Not every experiment will be a success and major breakthroughs happen very rarely in medical labs, so biophysicists and biochemists need to be able to keep working through trial and error without becoming discouraged or giving up.

Career Advice from the Experts

Two factors can greatly influence the job prospects of an aspiring biochemist or biophysicist: internships and lab experience. Often, the two are connected, as students take on internships that require a certain degree of work in a laboratory setting. For students who are unable to secure internships (a not uncommon occurrence as the demand for internships far outpaces the supply) there are still options that can help a resume look more appealing to employers. The Biochemistry Society advises looking for internships, jobs, or volunteering opportunities, even if they're not directly related to the biosciences. These experiences can still help build a wide range of transferable skills which can be played up on a resume. Additionally, short term work in a field like conservation and science media and administration can also help, as these experiences offer proof that applicants are suitable for biosciences jobs.

Many career paths in biochemistry and biophysics will require additional study beyond the undergraduate level. Even in careers that don't require this training, it can be a huge asset in finding and advancing in a job. Nearly all research jobs in the biosciences will require a Ph.D., whether through academic employers or private institutions. At this level of education, there are a number of factors which can make an applicant much more desirable to employers. According to the Biochemistry Society, Ph.D. students should spend a lot of time choosing an area of specialization (some are more marketable than others) and, perhaps more importantly, an academic advisor. Advisors can offer students connections to future work, recommendations, and support and guidance through research that can be invaluable. Additionally, creative and innovative personal research is highly prized by academic and industry employers alike, and it is essential that students be able to design, administer, analyze, and share their findings.

Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineering is a cutting-edge, innovative field that gives those working in it the chance to play a critical role in developing systems, software, and devices that can solve serious medical problems and perhaps even save lives. This, along with the fact that it can be custom tailored to an individual's personal interests through specializations (common choices include bioinstrumentation, genetic engineering, medical imaging, and rehabilitation engineering), make it a top contender among STEM students who are looking for an interesting and promising career in the sciences after graduation. What's more, biomedical engineering has been ranked by Forbes as the "Best Job in America," making it a smart choice for any student looking to capitalize on his or her interest in engineering and biological sciences.

Making biomedical engineering even more appealing is the fact that it comes with some great pay: an average of $82,540 annually. Additionally, over the next decade it's expected that more than 10,000 jobs will be created in research and development labs for biomedical engineers. In these labs, both public and private, biomedical engineers will work to craft everything from new medical equipment (even in some cases artificial limbs and organs) to software that makes it easier for doctors to analyze results from complex medical instruments like MRIs. This surge in growth, almost 62% over 10 years, will make it possible for many new grads to find a place within this exciting and competitive field.

Education and Training

To work as biomedical engineer, students will need to complete a bachelor's degree program in biomedical engineering or supplement undergraduate training in another field with a graduate-level degree in biomedical engineering. During their studies, students need to take courses in chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, mechanical drawing, and computer programming to ensure they know all the fundamentals that will be required in their future careers. The BLS notes that many accredited biomedical engineering programs also include training in engineering design, another essential component of preparing for a career.

Cathy Jancuk, the program coordinator for Johns Hopkins University's undergraduate biomedical engineering program advises that students looking to add value to their degrees take on a double major or a minor, but only if they truly have the time and won't be stressed out by the experience. She states, "Business and entrepreneurship minors are appealing because students can gain knowledge and sometime hands-on experience with marketing, legal implications, financial issues, and employee relations. A double major in another engineering discipline can make a student stand out because they will have more depth in their area of engineering."

While not always required to work in biomedical engineering, advanced degrees like a master's or Ph.D. in the field may be beneficial. Others may also choose to pursue additional education in dental or medical school, which can be an asset in specializing in certain areas of biomedical engineering as it will prepare engineers to more easily understand the needs of patients and technologies already on the market.

Skills to Develop

Before, during, and after a degree program, aspiring biomedical engineers need to work on building these essential skills.

  • Analytical Ability: Biomedical engineers must be able to turn an analytical eye to the needs of those for whom they're designing products and solutions.
  • Communication: Biomedical engineers work in a lab, but it's rarely a solitary endeavor. Most biomedical engineers will work directly with patients and other scientists, engineers, and business professionals. Being able to speak, listen, and communicate clearly are essential job skills to build.
  • Math: A professional in the field of biomedical engineering must know the basics of calculus and other types of mathematics in order to be able to analyze, build, and troubleshoot medical products.
  • Problem Solving: Finding the solution to a medical issue and working within the complex systems of the human body requires strong problem-solving skills.

Career Advice from the Experts

Like many other careers on this list, biomedical engineers will find their job prospects greatly improved by taking on internships and co-ops while still students or in the months immediately following graduation. Whether through these internships or other clubs and experiences on campus, it's also essential that students hone their business, management, and leadership skills, as these are highly prized by industry employers. Jancuk says that these experiences offer students credibility with employers and offer chances for recruitment post-graduation. If traditional industry-based experiences aren't available, she advises students to seek out government or university research as a way to gain experience.

While not required for entry-level positions, most biomedical engineers will need a master's degree or higher (or a professional degree) to be considered for leadership positions. These more advanced degrees not only provide greater latitude for promotion, but also open up greater opportunities in research and development in industrial, academic, and government setting, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Additionally, the IEEE stresses that graduate work doesn't always need to be in science; an MBA can also help in advancing a career.

What truly makes applicants stand out, however, may not be education or experience but passion. Mike Hess, the vice president of innovation for biomedical device manufacturer Medtronic, says "The people who have stood out are the people who are motivated to help patients. There are candidates who have looked for opportunities to volunteer in hospitals or developing parts of the world. It tells me that they are sincere in really wanting to help people. That kind of experience builds your credibility and it builds your skills more than something you can read in a book."

Finally, students can give themselves a leg up by making use of university resources both before and after graduation. Jancuk says, "Take advantage of the alumni networks and career offices of your school. Most schools have programs where students can reach out to alumni who are working in companies or fields relevant to the job seeker. Having a contact on the "inside" is invaluable." Students can also boost their career prospects by heading to career fairs and practicing interview skills, so they'll be prepared to convince future employers that they're really the right man or woman for the job.

Database Administrator

With businesses increasingly working to collect and organize data and more and more records becoming digitized (especially in the medical field) demand for those with the skills to create and maintain those databases has been growing steadily. That's a big part of what can make pursuing a career in database administration so appealing. It's expected that by 2020 this field will add an additionally 33,900 jobs, a growth of 31%. For new grads and students working an a degree relevant to this field, this is especially good news as there will be ample opportunity for finding work and getting a foot in the door.

DBAs, a common abbreviation for database administrators, also get to enjoy a comfortable work environment, often working in teams with other professionals to develop databases, secure information, and prevent information loss, making them a key part of any organization today and going forward. Jobs in this field often also offer healthy pay and benefits. The average salary for a DBA is $73,490, but those with specialized skills may make significantly more. These factors, as well as the inevitable expansion of the field over the coming years as new technologies and marketplace demands change how businesses operate, make it a smart and in-demand choice for STEM students today.

Education and Training

To pursue a career as a database administrator, students will need to get a bachelor's degree in management information systems (MIS) or another computer-focused field like computer science or computer programming. Those who work with large businesses may find that an MBA is an asset, as it provides a better understanding of the daily functions of companies with which DBAs may work. In fact, some companies may prefer or require it. While not always necessary, in some cases a graduate degree in database administration or MIS can also be a career asset.

Professor Delvin A. Grant from DePaul University's School of Accountancy and Management Information Systems says that if students are interested in working as a database administrator, they should focus on honing their skills in SQL, a programming language used in designing and managing relational database management systems. He also stresses that students need to ensure they have the ability to design and develop databases and have a strong understanding of entity relationship diagrams and normalization. For students who want to double major or add a minor to their MIS studies, he suggests fields like finance, accounting, and marketing, all of which complement the information students will learn in MIS courses.

Skills to Develop

Whether in school or on the job, those working as database administrators will need a wealth of skills at their disposal to be able to work within a highly technical and demanding atmosphere.

  • Analytical Ability: Good analytical skills will ensure that database systems can be carefully monitored, as DBAs are responsible for evaluating complex information from a range of sources.
  • Communication: It's rare that a DBA will be working solo in an office, so having strong communication skills will ensure that DBAs can work effectively with others on their team as well as managers and clients.
  • Attention to Detail: Databases are complex systems, within which even small errors can cause major problems. Being able to find, prevent, and fix these details will ensure that DBAs keep everything running smoothly at their place of employment.
  • Logic: In order to manage the large amount of data put before them and to ensure it's organized in a way that makes sense to those who will use it, DBAs need to be highly logical thinkers.
  • Problem Solving: A big part of the job of most DBAs is to fix problems with the database when they arise. These issues may occur at inopportune times or in confusing ways, and DBAs must be able to think quickly and problem solve in order to get things back on track.

Career Advice from the Experts

When it comes to finding work, Grant advises that students seek out additional certifications from big companies. Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM all offer their own certification programs, but students should keep in mind that gaining these certifications can be a time consuming and often expensive process, as many require numerous exams that come with serious fees (the Microsoft Certified Architect board exam, for example, will set you back $7,500). The work and investment may be worth it, however, as certifications can make it easier to find jobs and to look appealing to employers.

As previously mentioned, an MBA or other business experience can also look good on a resume, especially to employers in large corporations who are looking for employees who understand business processes and the information technology demands they impose. Those who do not want to pursue a full MBA program may want to simply take business courses or look for business-related certifications.

Environmental Scientist or Engineer

As businesses and industries become more eco-conscious and the government looks to more closely monitor the environmental impact of water usage and gas extraction, as well as to develop better environmental regulations, expertise in environmental science and engineering is more in-demand with employers than ever before. It's expected that over the next decade environmental science will grow by 19%, adding 16,700 jobs to the market, and environmental engineering by 22%, adding about 11,300 jobs. This is a great opportunity for students interested in playing a role in protecting and studying the environment to find work and to earn solid, competitive salaries doing it: an average of $78,740 for environmental engineers and $61,700 for environmental scientists.

While a surge in jobs is one great reason to pursue a career in environmental science or engineering, those who are truly looking to make a difference in the quality and preservation of ecosystems within the U.S. and around the world may also find this to be a field in which they can pursue their passion for environmentalism. Environmental scientists and engineers perform similar duties, both exploring potential hazards to the environment and working to develop ways to mitigate these hazards. Though the exact duties of each position may vary, both environmental engineers and engineers are focused on coming up with practical solutions to environmental problems. This can mean everything from building a better method of recycling to ensuring that communities have safe, pollution-free water to drink. They also often help ensure that state and federal regulations are in place to protect the environment, and will work to conduct studies on the condition of threatened environments, soil, water, and air to prevent unsafe levels of contamination. In short, both are great opportunities for students who want to enjoy job security and fair pay while helping make a genuine difference in the world.

Education and Training

To work as an environmental engineer or scientist, students will first need to pursue an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering or science, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, or the geosciences. Any program of training should include courses in all of these fields and should also be supplemented with study in hydrology, waste management, fluid mechanics, and environmental policy and regulation. For engineers, it is smart to look for degree programs accredited by ABET, as accredited degrees are preferred by employers and are required for professional certification.

While not always required for entry-level work, master's degrees are very often preferred by employers in the environmental sciences. This will necessitate an additional two to three years of post-graduate work. Graduate-level training should focus heavily on research and applications, and work in an internship or with an advisor is often not only beneficial but required. Usually, a master's degree is enough to get ahead in this field, but for college-level teaching or for some research positions a doctoral degree will be necessary.

Skills to Develop

In order to be successful as an environmental engineer or scientist, students will need to build these skills through coursework and hands-on experiences.

  • Analytical Ability: Environmental scientists must be able to carefully evaluate scientific data collected in the field
  • Communication: Communication is an essential part of working in the environmental sciences. Individuals will need to be able to work well on a team, engage in public speaking, and write up reports that detail findings and recommendations.
  • Problem Solving: Often, both environmental scientists and engineers must work to find solutions to environmental problems, which requires strong problem-solving skills.
  • Reading Comprehension: Those in the environmental sciences must read complex documents, often coming from a wide variety of fields outside of their own.

Career Advice from the Experts

If you're looking to build a career in environmental engineering, it's critical to pay attention to licensing and certification. To become licensed, environmental engineers must have a degree from an ABET accredited school, receive a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the Professional Engineering exam, and have relevant work experience. Additional certification from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers can also be helpful in getting a career off the ground.

Internships can also play a big role in helping young engineers and scientists find work. Experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and GIS within these positions can help an applicant to stand out, as these skills often play a big role in environmental research. Those who already have a working knowledge of these skills save employers time and money in training, which is highly desirable. Even if internships aren't directly related to the environment, laboratory or field-based experience is a must-have resume highlight that students should pursue while in school and after, if necessary.

Education, training, and experience will only get you so far in environmental engineering and science, however. Scott Yanover, recruiter for consulting firm Environmental Resources Management, says that he looks for people with personality and interest when hiring, too. Speaking a second language, having hobbies, and even playing sports can help single out engineers in this field as well-rounded and passionate individuals.

Medical Scientist

Medical science offers the chance to work on cutting edge research that can directly improve the medical care of patients around the world. Medical scientists work in universities, government offices, and within private industry to develop new treatments, medical instruments, and procedures that could save or extend lives. In addition to helping make a difference, medical scientists also get the chance to work on cutting-edge projects that can push forward medical science and lead to the development of new technologies.

While medical science can fulfill your desire to help others and do significant research, it's also a growing field that offers job security and ample pay. Jobs for medical scientists are expected to grow by 26% between 2010 and 2020, adding an additional 36,400 opportunities for those hoping to work in the field to start a career. This rise in demand for medical scientists is caused in part by increased reliance on pharmaceuticals and an aging population. Aside from promising, though competitive prospects, medical scientists are also well-compensated for their work. The average salary according to BLS data is $76,700, though some in private industry and with specialist qualifications will have the opportunity to make considerably more.

Education and Training

A career as a medical scientist will most commonly start with an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, or engineering, through other majors may form a strong foundation as well. College students should focus on taking courses in chemistry, physics, and mathematics but should also explore the humanities to learn communication and writing skills.

In this career, however, undergraduate education is just the beginning and students will need to obtain an M.D. or Ph.D. to work in the profession. Dr. Peter Preusch, director of the National Institute of General Medicinal Sciences' Medical Scientist Training Program says this about undergraduates planning to pursue graduate school: "The important thing is to have undertaken a rigorous, demanding program of study and have been successful. Perfect grades are not necessary, but GPAs in the 3.5 and better range are the norm." Another important thing to consider is that at the graduate level most students will specialize. Common specialties include genetics, pathology, and bioinformatics, though there are obviously many other areas of interest to research.

Skills to Develop

These skills are among some of the most important to hone during training to become a medical researcher.

  • Communication: While medical scientists may conduct independent research, much of the funding for that research comes from grants. Being able to write strong applications for these kinds of funding is an extremely beneficial skill to have.
  • Critical Thinking: Since medical scientists spend most of their time researching, they need to be able to effectively determine the best method for solving the research question they're working on, whether that means designing a study or planning for testing.
  • Data Analysis: There's a lot of data and information that results from research. Medical scientists need to be able to organize, analyze, and understand what it means.
  • Detail-oriented Observation: Many medical experiments require close observation and attention to detail. Mistakes or failure to pay attention to the intricacies of the experiment could lead to inconclusive results and wasted time and money.

Career Advice from the Experts

One avenue students can pursue when looking to start a career as a medical scientist is to apply for the Medical Scientist Training Program through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Through this program, students can earn both an MD and a Ph.D., with full funding for tuition and other expenses provided through the NIH and a student's university (not all schools participate, but there are currently 43 partner institutions). As the program's director, Preusch says the unique program is a smart way for students to build both research skills and their understanding of the environment in which their research will likely be applied.

While the program is highly competitive, undergrads don't need to focus solely on their grades to apply. Students who've been awarded the prestigious honor are often at the top of their class, but far more important to their success, says Preusch, is their research experience. He says that the more research experience students have, the better off they'll be, as they'll have a better understanding of what research is like. Students who are both experienced and passionate about the field have the best chances of being accepted.

To pursue a career after post-graduate work, Preusch advises that students develop strong relationships with academic mentors and stay highly productive as graduate researchers. He also notes that, "Peer reviewed papers in good journals probably matter more than anything else in helping stand out in the job market." Though the key to getting many jobs may be fitting a specific skill set an employer is looking for. He also recommends building "soft skills" that can help medical researchers better interact and communicate with others in a collaborative environment.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Few businesses can operate without extensive and often complex internal networks that allow them to communicate and store information. The demand for professionals who can build and manage new, faster, and more secure on-site and mobile networks is a big part of what makes pursuing a career as a network and computer systems administrator such a smart move for STEM grads, as there is expected to be an enormous amount of growth in career opportunities over the next decade in this profession. How much growth? It's estimated that jobs within network and computer systems administration will grow by 28% by 2020, creating 96,600 new jobs that will allow offer a wide range of opportunities for those trained in this field to find work in businesses, the medical industry, and even in consulting. Network and computer systems administrators need to have a wide range of skills, as they often responsible for building and installing computer systems, creating local or wide area networks and intranets, and performing everyday upkeep on the system. Some network and computer systems administrators may also provide support to individual computer users to resolve any issues that prevent them from accessing the network. As a result, most working in this field can expect to take home competitive salaries, with the average coming in at $69,160 annually.

Education and Training

To begin a career as a network and computer systems administrator, students will need to complete a bachelor's degree in a field related to computer or information science, though degrees in computer engineering or electrical engineering can also lead to work in this field. Students should make sure that their degree program includes courses in computer programming, networking, or systems design. For some lower-level positions, an associate's degree in these fields may also be enough to get a foot in the door.

Network and computer systems administrators will need to pursue constant training throughout their careers to stay on top of the latest technological developments. To advance to a more prestigious position or move into management, some employers will require a master's degree in the field which can mean an additional two years of training.

Skills to Develop

A career in network and computer systems administration will be helped by building these essential skills.

  • Analytical Ability: Often, network and computer administrators will need to troubleshoot problems or find the best solution for setting up networks and computer products, so they will need to have excellent analytical skills.
  • Communication: Working in this field requires communicating with individuals throughout an organization and being able to explain technical concepts in a way that even the layman can understand.
  • Computer Aptitude: Since the primary job of network and computer administrators is to build, monitor, and use computers systems, a comprehensive knowledge of how they work is essential.
  • Problem Solving: Being able to think quickly and solve problems on the fly is a great skill for anyone working in this industry.

Career Advice from the Experts

One of the best things that a young network and systems administrator can do for his or her career is to start pursuing professional certifications through companies like Microsoft, Red Hat, and Cisco. These certifications are very often required by employers, though even if they're not they can be an incredible asset to a resume. Along with these certifications, joining professional organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery can help professionals keep up with technological developments, find career opportunities, network, and learn about what employers are looking for in applicants.

Whether administrators seek out additional certifications or take classes, being able to demonstrate a commitment to continued learning is incredibly important when applying for jobs. Simran Sandu, manager of network infrastructure at Adobe says, "It's imperative to stay current with technology trends by reading blogs, technology magazines, and attending conferences." Sandu notes, however, that employers also want to hire those who can demonstrate a broad foundational knowledge in the field, stating, "It's also important to study and learn the basics of network technology and to acquire an acute understanding of how information flows. Be able to identify key services such as DNS, DHCP, and firewalls, and define the roles they play in a network infrastructure."


Pharmacists are some of the most in-demand and well-compensated professionals working in STEM today, making this a very attractive career option for those interested in the sciences to consider. Spurred on by an aging population, the development of new drugs, a complex healthcare system, and large numbers of current professionals reaching retirement age, experts expect a boom in pharmacy careers over the next decade. It's estimated that the field will grow by as much as 25%, providing those with the proper qualifications with access to more than 69,700 new jobs in physicians' offices, outpatient care centers, nursing homes, and other medical facilities.

Working as a pharmacist not only offers a fair amount of job opportunities but also the chance to help ensure patients get high-quality healthcare and access to medications that can prolong or improve quality of life. Pharmacists often work closely with patients when dispensing medications, offering advice on how to use them properly to ensure they are administered safely. They also work with insurance companies and healthcare providers get medications to patients faster and at the lowest price. Some pharmacists may choose to forgo the retail setting and will instead work doing research for pharmaceutical companies, often through universities, which could help lead to the development of entirely new drugs, an exciting prospect for those interested in the field. For their work and expertise, pharmacists are very well compensated. The average yearly salary for pharmacists is $111,570, though those starting out may make more closer to $82,090, a wage still well above average.

Education and Training

Those looking to become pharmacists will first need to get a bachelor's degree in a science-related field like biology or chemistry, though sometimes other areas of expertise will work as well. Regardless of the degree program, students need to take courses in anatomy, biology, and chemistry. While bachelor's degrees are often recommended for students hoping to work as pharmacists (and required by most top schools), they are not always necessary as some programs may allow students to move directly into pharmacy study after taking introductory courses.

To become licensed as a pharmacist, students will need to apply for (including taking the PCAT) and complete a doctor of pharmacy program from an accredited college or university. The better students do in undergrad, the better their chances of being accepted to pharmacy school, as the average GPA for pharmacy students is between 3.1 and 3.7 according to U.S. PharmD. This program of study will include coursework in pharmacology and medical ethics as well as supervised work in medical settings like hospitals and retail pharmacies. Generally, doctor of pharmacy programs take about four years to complete, but there are some three year programs as well.

From there, graduates can enter the job market, but those seeking advanced positions in clinical pharmacy or in research labs will need to take on a residency in a medical facility. Those looking to start their own businesses may want to pursue an MBA and others looking to specialize will take on graduate work in fields like public health.

Skills to Develop

All pharmacists will need to have these skills in order to forge successful careers.

  • Analytical Ability: Analytical skills are important for pharmacists because they must be able to assess the needs of customers, evaluate doctors' orders, and ensure that all medications are being given out in a safe and appropriate manner.
  • Communication: Interpersonal skills are highly prized in pharmacists because these professionals must work closely with customers and patients to explain often complicated medications. Additionally, good communication skills are required to be able to speak with other medical professionals, pharmacy techs, and other team members.
  • Attention to Detail: Even a small mistake in filling a prescription can have serious side effects, so pharmacists must ensure that all medications they dispense are accurate and safe to use in the dosages prescribed.
  • Management: Pharmacists must not only be good at working with and managing others, but they must also be able to manage inventory and ensure medications are in stock.

Career Advice from the Experts

A career as a pharmacist will begin with becoming licensed. All states require this certification to practice. To obtain a license, grads will need to pass two exams that will test their knowledge of pharmaceuticals and pharmacy law and ensure that all pharmacists are equally well-trained and capable. Without this licensure, it will not be possible to find work in this industry.

Aside from basic licensure, employers are looking for pharmacists who aren't new to working with patients. Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacy professional services at CVS says, "Exposure to patients and patient care during school will make applicants more successful." This kind of experience may be obtained through clinical coursework, but additional internships that offer direct contact with patients can be an incredibly asset to a resume as well.

While employers obviously want pharmacists with impeccable technical skills and an encyclopedic knowledge of pharmaceuticals, there are other skills that count quite a bit in the job hunt as well. Pharmacists looking for work need to tailor their resumes to highlight skills in leadership, communication, and conflict resolution. Additionally, experience with business, whether through internships, courses, or extracurricular involvement, can be an asset as most pharmacists work in retail environments.

Those looking for ways to differentiate themselves from others in the job market may want to pursue certifications. There are several that may help in finding work in a wide range of specialties. Among them are the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties Certification, which offers designations in nuclear, nutrition support, oncology, pharmacotherapy, and psychiatry, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment certification, Diabetes Educator certification, and geriatric pharmacy certification. These certifications are not required, but can help in finding work and making a resume stand out.

Software Developer

These days, computers, tablets, and smartphones are everywhere, with each requiring software that lets users do work, manage projects, send email, browse the web, or even just play games. Behind every piece of software is a software developer. These professionals analyze the needs of consumers, then design, test, and develop software that helps to meet those needs. Software developers are in high demand in a wide range of industries today, especially app development and cloud computing have seen significant growth. In fact, it's estimated the the industry will see record-breaking growth over the coming decade, expanding by 30% and creating approximately 270, 900 jobs for those who have the appropriate skills and qualifications. These positions offer a chance at job security, benefits, and high pay, with average salaries coming in at $90,530 annually.

Even without these factors, software development would still be a great career for those interested in computers and programming to consider. It can be tailored to almost any industry (common specializations include finance and education) and offers the opportunity to showcase not only technical skills but also a great deal of creativity, as developers manage the process of designing and building new software.

Education and Training

A career in software development usually begins with a bachelor's degree in computer science or another computer-focused field like IT, computer engineering, or software engineering, though sometimes fields like mathematics can work as well if an appropriate amount of coursework is focused on building technical skills. Regardless of the degree program pursued, those hoping to work in software development need to take courses related to building software and computer programming to ensure they have the broad skill set needed to create a lasting career in development.

While generally not required for entry-level work, some positions within the software development field will require a master's degree. This kind of education can be an asset in getting promoted or finding higher level work, but it is not required to have a successful career in development. What is necessary, however, is a dedication to learning. Developers must constantly learn new forms of computer programming, changing industry standards, and must stay abreast of developments within the industry for which they are building programs (like finance, education, entertainment, etc).

Skills to Develop

Hoping to work as a software developer? Start building these skills now.

  • Analytical Ability: When developing software, professionals need to be able to analyze the needs of the end user and to develop a plan that will best meet those needs.
  • Communication: Software developers rarely work alone so being able to communicate well with others, talk to customers, and be an effective leader are all important assets.
  • Creativity: For software to be successful, it needs to stand out in the marketplace. A creative mind and innovative thinking will help in this process.
  • Detail-Orientation: Even a small mistake in programming can cause problems with development, so software developers must be able to maintain concentration and pay attention to small details.
  • Problem Solving: Developing a new computer program is rarely a process that goes off without a single issue coming up, so software developers will need to be able to assess problems and come up with solutions on the fly throughout the development process.
  • Teamwork: Software developers usually work in teams, so individuals will need to be able to coordinate tasks with others, lead and take direction, and perform well in a group setting.
  • Technical Aptitude: Above all else, software developers have to know their stuff when it comes to computers. An in-depth knowledge of a variety of computer languages and design methods is critical to finding lasting success in this field.

Career Advice from the Experts

Dennis J. Frailey, the Vice Chair of the IEEE Computer Society Educational Activities Board, former instructor at Texas Instruments and Raytheon, and professor of computer science and software engineering at Southern Methodist University says that students need to begin their careers as software developers by considering their long term goals. This isn't always simple and he states, "This is sometimes very difficult for a young person just graduating from school, and chances are, one will change one's mind over the years, but it's important not to jump at whatever is "hot"today because it may not be so much in demand in a few years. Instead, think about whether you would rather be writing software for an airplane manufacturer, a corporate information technology department, or a video game manufacturer, or something else."

Also critical to finding lasting success as a software developer is taking a wide range of courses in college. Frailey cautions against specializing too much in one area, as different types of programming and job skills often go out of use due to the rapidly changing technology market, which could leave young professionals unable to find work.

This broad-based education is part of working to develop a career, not just find a job in whatever is hot at the moment. Frailey adds, "There's a big difference between finding a job and finding a career that has advancement potential. For finding a job, the most important skill is whatever languages and tools are currently popular. It's always a good idea to know the currently popular languages and tools. Just subscribe to Computer or IEEE Software or some other professional society or trade magazine to keep track of what's currently "hot." But for a career, one must develop one's "bench strengths" including a sound background in mathematics (especially discrete math, probability and statistics), and computer science (the typical CS curriculum)."

There are other ways you can add to your resume as well. Frailey advises students try to take on at least one internship in an area that's of interest to them, stating, "That is more important than anything else for making you stand out. Employers want evidence that you have accomplished something, preferably in their domain." When it comes to education, you can also make some smart moves. Frailey advises combining a computing major (one in computer science, IT, software engineering, or computer engineering) with on in an applied field (medicine, aerospace engineering, and accounting are examples). Also, he says, "Employers also like evidence of team project courses and solid grades in things outside of your major (like public speaking, math, etc.) to indicate a truly strong, versatile candidate."

While there's no guaranteed way to get a job in any field, these educational and career suggestions can help you to improve your chances, stand out, and take advantage of some of the best and most promising careers in STEM.