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5 Lessons From STEM-Educated Workers Who Took Jobs Outside of STEM

Topics: Career Profiles

We’ve all heard that STEM jobs are the wave of the future. If you’d like to work in a growing field, and you’re passionate about science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, then a STEM job might be for you. Interestingly enough, though, many folks who are educated in these fields don’t stay in them.

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New research, originally published in Organization Science this past summer, looks at why these STEM-educated professionals choose to leave, and what happens to their careers when they do. Let’s take a closer look at the key findings from this paper.

  1. A significant percentage of STEM-educated professionals ultimately end up working in another field.

Researchers utilized data from the National Science Foundation to analyze responses from over 25,000 scientists and engineers from the U.S. with undergraduate or advanced degrees in science and engineering. They found that more than 10 percent of the sample reported that they did not work in their field of study. More than 30 percent said their job was “only somewhat related to their field of study.”

  1. We shouldn’t make assumptions about “educational mismatches.”

When someone chooses a job outside of their educational focus, we might make certain assumptions — namely, that they couldn’t find work in their field. Certainly this is sometimes the case with an educational mismatch, even in STEM. But, these researchers attempted to analyze other reasons workers might make the switch and found that the majority didn’t opt out because they had trouble finding work.

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  1.  About 1 in 5 left because they couldn’t find jobs in their field.

Among those who elected to leave STEM, only 22 percent said they’d done so because they couldn’t find work in their field. Therefore, 78 percent made the decision to work in another industry voluntarily. In the sample studied by these researchers, 31 percent made the choice for “pay or promotion reasons,” 24 percent said they switched because they wanted a change of career, 7 percent said they took their job because they wanted work in a specific location, and 6 percent said they accepted their current non-STEM job because they wanted better working conditions. Four percent made the switch for other reasons.

  1. The move impacts job satisfaction.

Overall, the folks who chose a job outside of STEM did report lower job satisfaction that those professionals working jobs related to their degrees. But, this statistic was significantly lower for employees who chose to leave the field than for the 22 percent who were forced out.

  1. Among those who left voluntarily, there is a high rate of entrepreneurship.

When researchers examined the career trajectories of those trained scientists and engineers who left the field, they found that a surprisingly high number of these folks became entrepreneurs; voluntary educational mismatches were nearly 50 percent more likely to work for themselves than involuntary ones.

Perhaps it’s because they diversified their skills and experience through their occupational changes, or maybe something about having the courage to shake things up propels them toward other outside-the-box choices. Whatever the case may be, STEM-educated professionals don’t always take work in their field, but they are often innovators, and entrepreneurs, just the same.

For more information, be sure to check at the article, Scientists Working Outside Their Fields Are More Likely to Become Entrepreneurs, from Harvard Business Review.

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