Career | School

You Don’t Need To Fear STEM Subjects: Here’s Why

Girl Student on Laptop - Stress

Choosing what to do at college can be a challenge. You have a sense of what you should do, but you find yourself ignoring many of the so-called “harder” subjects in favor of something a little less difficult.

For many of us, those harder subjects are STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We have this idea that these subjects are the most difficult and so to avoid embarrassment or failure, we stick to the things we know.

Decisions like this have two effects. The first is that all the most innovative sections of the economy develop with minimal female influence. When we ignore these subjects as a group, we hand them entirely over to men, whereas the evidence suggests that workplaces function best when both genders work together.

The second effect is on your career. A STEM education is essential for helping women escape the low-wage service economy and get on career paths that’ll really lead to places. Industry is crying out for people, especially women, with the skills to develop businesses in a technological direction. At the moment, they can’t find all the people they need which is creating demand and career opportunities.

Some worrying evidence, however, suggests that the reason more women aren’t in STEM fields is that they may be “self-selecting” out of them. What this means is that women who get into these fields, whether in college or elsewhere, have a change of heart and come to believe that they can’t perform at a high level after all. It’s the fear of failure and mediocrity that pushes them into more “traditional” career paths.

Research dating back to the 1980s tries to explain why this might be the case. Psychologist Carol Dweck looked at how boys and girls of similar baseline intelligence react to difficult problems. Boys, she found, were much more likely to persist when trying to complete and new and complex task, whereas girls tended to give up more easily.

This “giving up” apparently persists past childhood and into the college realm. When women get lower grades than they want in economics and other STEM disciplines, they start considering failing outright and then quit their courses. It’s a vicious cycle that leads fewer women into promising careers. And it’s a big waste of latent talent.

  STEM Woman Girl Job Science

Data from the Guardian newspaper suggests that the problems in STEM subjects are deep-rooted. The problem, according to Peter Hicks of the education skills panel, is that many women are not educated by people with scientific or technical literacy at the school stage. Girls just aren’t exposed to the kind of people who could inspire them to become the next great scientist in the future. In primary schools, the situation is particularly bad, with very few individual teachers having any scientific training of merit whosoever.

The Higher Education Agency in the UK collects data on who is doing what subjects and which universities throughout the country. Despite the high-profile drive to get more women into STEM subjects, their data suggest that women are increasingly reverting to what have been dubbed more “feminine” subjects. Women now make up more than 82 percent of students in allied medicine disciplines, like nursing, and more than 60 percent of students in the creative arts – another set of traditional female-dominated subjects.

As an educated individual, you’re probably already aware of all of this. Yet, the perceived difficulty of these subjects is still holding you back. Are those perceptions justified? Take a look at some of these reasons why you don’t have to fear STEM subjects.

Learning Is Much Easier If You’re Interested

Many people had terrible experiences of STEM subjects as they grow up. Teaching at school can be poor and can leave you with the impression that you can’t do it, or it’s too complicated.

But science suggests that if you change your attitude to a subject, suddenly the learning process becomes a lot easier. When our brains get interested in a certain subject matter, they suddenly start treating it as important, boosting memory and enhancing your ability to focus. Getting good grades at school was nearly impossible because a lot of the material was dry or uninteresting, But if the content is interesting, then it becomes easier to absorb and learn.

Learning Is Bitesize

A lot of STEM subjects are built from first principles upwards. What that means is that they start with basic concepts, and then develop more and more abstract ideas on top of them.

Take statistics, for example. A fundamental concept might be something like taking the average of a variable by adding up all the individual numbers and dividing by “n.” But averages find their way into all sorts of statistical applications, including regression techniques. For instance, you can calculate regression coefficients by working out their variance around the mean – where “mean” means the average value of the independent data.

The fact that a lot of STEM learning is bitesize is a critical insight. You soon realize that those complicated concepts or equations aren’t necessarily anything that’s outside of your ability to grasp, so long as you understand the more simple concepts that led to them.

You Can Learn At Your Own Pace

Study Girl Student on Laptop

Going to a university or college might seem like a bit of an ordeal if you’re the sort of person who likes to learn at their own pace. Keeping up with all those problem sets and lecture notes can be a challenge. But in today’s increasingly online learning environment, there’s no longer a need to attend a class, with all the associated expense. You can now get a masters in applied statistics online, as well as many other subjects, which you can do at your own pace.

Learning at your own pace is vital if you want to avoid end-of-year exam stress and burnout. Today, roughly one in three students will have some kind of degree-related mental health problems during their period of study. Online learning gives you the flexibility to take on only as much learning as you feel able, all the while helping you to develop relevant, economically-valuable skills.

STEM Subjects Are Still Passable

Although STEM subjects might seem challenging to get through without making mistakes, most examiners are actually quite generous, especially if you show that you understand the concepts. Yes, you could make mistakes in your working, but your teachers are often much more interested in how you arrived at your answer.

It’s true that some questions will be tricky, but it’s also true that you can pick up a lot of marks for going through the correct methodology. Few people flunk out of STEM degrees who put in the required time to learn all of the concepts. Remember, most institutions only require 35 or more for a pass for undergraduate degrees, and 50 percent or more at the masters level.

One Final Thing …

Student in Library
Image: Flickr Credit: Intel Free Press

It’s worth noting that getting an education in a STEM subject is not easy. But by doing so, you’ll be gaining crucial skills that will ultimately make the rest of your life a lot easier. With STEM skills, you can fall into a high paying job, get on the career path, and not have to worry about money like a lot of millennials have to do.

It’s about costs and benefits: the cost is that you’ll have to face down your fears – which could be unfounded. But the benefit is that you come out the other side with something that’ll help you avoid many of the significant life problems that people face.

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