You’ve probably heard of STEM. You may know that the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. You may have also heard that there’s a focus on expanding STEM careers and opportunities.
But why exactly is STEM so important—and what can a career in a STEM industry offer?
Collectively, the term STEM encompasses a wide range of disciplines and occupations, from medicine to computer programming, that often has a great impact on society as a whole.
STEM professionals are tasked with finding solutions for some of the most challenging problems their communities face and must be able to think innovatively to tackle them. However, despite the need for STEM professionals, many people overlook these fields when choosing their professions.
Because skills in these areas are so important for the workforce, there is an emphasis on cultivating them in students early on. There has also been encouragement from the government to expand opportunities for STEM education and employment. For example, President Obama’s administration prioritized STEM education through measures like the Educate to Innovate Initiative, which sought to bring American students “from the middle to the top of the pack” in science and math achievement.
A STEM career focuses on a particular area of STEM, such as finance or mathematics. STEM careers are in high demand and are often well-paid.
STEM professionals are employed at a range of sites and locations. For instance, researchers often work in laboratories or perform field work in their areas of focus. Software engineers may work in the businesses that employ them. Clinicians, meanwhile, tend to work in hospitals, clinics, and other medical settings.
Some STEM professionals work for businesses or other employers, while others can be self-employed.
There are literally hundreds of jobs in STEM. From web developer to surgeon, aerospace engineer to architect, the field encompasses an enormous range of careers and specialties.
Some of the top industries that fall within STEM include:
• Computer software
• Environmental science
• Information technology
• Medical science
• and many, many others
Many people choose to major in an area related to their intended career path as undergraduates, although this isn’t always necessary. For professions that require graduate school, such as psychology, an undergraduate major in the field is often not required, though students may need to complete some prerequisites before beginning their programs.
See below for our list of the top STEM jobs.
Most STEM jobs pay well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 92 of 100 STEM occupations offered salaries above the national average as of 2015.
Entry-level professionals can expect to earn more depending on their level of education (some jobs may offer a higher salary to candidates with graduate degrees), experience, location, and other factors. Professionals who pursue niche fields or particular specialties such as petroleum engineering, the highest-paid STEM job on average ($149,590 annually according to the BLS), can sometimes have higher earning potential than those who pursue more saturated industries.
With new innovations and discoveries every day, STEM offers plenty of opportunities for career growth. STEM is also a rapidly growing field. According to the BLS, job growth for STEM occupations between 2009 and 2015 was 10.5 percent, compared with a 5.2 percent growth in other industries.
During the same period, more than 800,000 STEM jobs were added to the employment economy. That means that people with STEM skills have opportunities beyond advancing in their current careers; they can also explore new paths that require similar skill sets.
The Economics & Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that women held 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but just 24 percent of STEM occupations. The ESA also notes that women with STEM jobs earned 35 percent more on average than women in non-STEM jobs and have a smaller gender wage gap compared with non-STEM jobs.
Education and awareness about opportunities for women in STEM is important not only for women’s personal growth in the fields but also because their perspectives are necessary for advancements and creativity in STEM.
Because women are underrepresented and may face challenges in male-dominated fields, there are many societies, organizations, and scholarships dedicated to the advancement of women in STEM, such as the Society of Women Engineers, the Women Chemists Committee, and Girls Who Code.
As with most occupations, people find STEM jobs through a combination of networking, responding to job listings, such as the ones on Fairygodboss on job search websites, browsing company websites, and other routes. Some job boards specifically target STEM niches, but in most cases you can use any job board and search for careers within the STEM umbrella.
Think outside the boxes when looking for your STEM job. For instance, many startups, even those that aren’t technology related, need software developers and computer programmings, and plenty of established organizations require IT professionals.
Some niches may offer fewer location opportunities than others, but most offer some flexibility regarding where you can work. Some mathematicians may work in government roles, for instance, while others work at businesses and engineering facilities or in academia.
STEM offers many opportunities. Below are some of the top STEM jobs in alphabetical order.
Accountants work with financial records and assess financial operations to ensure accuracy and efficiency.
Actuaries assess financial risks for businesses such as insurance companies and individuals.
Salary: $113, 030
Aerospace engineers design and test aircraft, satellites, spacecraft, and missiles.
Through experiments and other data-compilation methods, agricultural and food scientists research the safety and efficiency of food production and crops.
Applied mathematicians and statisticians both use mathematical theories, methods, and techniques and numerical data to help businesses and other industries solve problems.
Sometimes performing experiments, physicists and astronomers study physical phenomena such as the ways matter and energy are made and interact or the nature of the universe.
Biochemists study the chemistry of living creatures. Often, they apply this knowledge to develop medicines and vaccines.
Combining the medical sciences with engineering, biomedical engineers design systems and machines for the healthcare industry.
Cartographers gather, verify, and interpret geographic information to create maps.
Working in a wide variety of industries and settings, chemical engineers improve methods and techniques in areas such as food production and chemical processes.
Civil engineers maintain and adapt infrastructure projects and systems such as roads, buildings, bridges, and other structures.
Often working with businesses and organizations, computer support or IT specialists provide technical assistance and advice to computer users within the organization.
Computer network create data communication networks to meet the needs of the business for which they work.
System analysts develop solutions to help organizations perform their procedures more efficiently.
Database administrators secure, store, and organize sensitive data for their organizations.
Through research and analysis of data and trends, economists study how societies use resources and produce goods and services.
Electrical engineers work with the design and production of electrical equipment.
Using knowledge of several disciplines, environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental issues such as water and air pollution.
Financial advisors work with individuals to help them make decisions about their financial needs, such as planning and investments.
Analysts look at the performance of investments and offer guidance to businesses and individuals on making financial decisions based on their data.
Financial managers develop strategies to help organizations meet their financial goals and analyze their financial activities.
Genetic counselors advise individuals on their risk of inheriting or passing on medical conditions such as genetic disorders.
Also known as geoscientists, geologists study the composition, processes, and structure of the Earth to learn about its physical makeup and history and predict how events and circumstances might impact it in the future.
Industrial engineers develop systems to improve the efficiency of and eliminate waste in production processes.
Protecting organizations against threats such as cyber attacks, information security analysts improve security measures in their businesses’ computer systems.
Also known as management consultants, management analysts look for ways to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness within organizations.
Marine engineers design and create ships and systems within them.
Materials scientists research the composition and structure of materials, searching for new uses and ways to develop them further.
Mechanical engineers design, create, and test machines and other tools used in facilities.
These healthcare executives work with health services, managing personnel and facilities and implementing measures to ensure they are complying with medical laws and regulations.
Medical scientists conduct research such as performing clinical trials to improve human health.
Operations research analysts help organizations solve problems based on analytical methods.
Petroleum engineers create and implement ways to extract oil and gas from the Earth.
Often specializing in certain health areas, such as gynecology, physicians diagnose and treat illnesses as well as help patients maintain and improve their health.
Psychologists work with or research mental health. Clinical psychologists treat patients.
Software developers create applications, programs, and systems for computers and other devices.
Web developers design, build, and maintain websites.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have earned additional credentials that allow them to perform additional responsibilities, including prescribing medications and conducting exams.
Salary: $58,100 (PayScale)
An exciting, fast-paced career, forensic science involves collecting and analyzing evidence from crime scenes. As a forensic scientist, you'll play a critical role in landing convictions.
Here's a job that's become very well known lately, given the pandemic. Epidemiologists research medical diseases, illnesses and conditions. These important professionals are always in demand, and they've been playing a vital role in combatting COVID-19.
*Salaries are national averages according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics unless otherwise specified.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in STEM, start by researching what kind of education you need. Some STEM jobs don’t even require a bachelor’s degree—you may just need to take some courses, such as a coding bootcamp, to learn the basics—while you may need to earn a doctorate for others.
You’ll also want to investigate the earning potential in your field and consider your personal needs.
STEM careers are booming, and there are many industries and niches to explore. Want to find STEM jobs in your specialty? Explore our job listings and learn more about companies employing STEM professionals.