Career Change to STEM

Dear, Anita,

I understand women and men had been created similarly, but one particular question I could never uncover the solution to is why you can find a lot more males functioning as doctors, engineers, and scientists? The ratio of male: females is about ninety-nine to one. Why is this, and how can I as a woman change careers to get into one of these fields?

Woman DoctorDear, Marie Curie Wanna-Be,

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 34.3% of U.S. physicians are female, so women are gaining ground in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) fields. As to the why, we could discuss this for hours. There is an interesting nondiscriminatory take on the issue in this recent MSN News article: http://news.msn.com/science-technology/why-are-women-underrepresented-in-science-and-math-careers.

The days of working for one company in one career until you get a gold watch at retirement are long gone. But how many times do people change careers in their lifetime? The BLS estimates the average person holds 11.3 jobs from age 18-46. Of course, a change of jobs doesn’t necessarily mean a total change in your career choice.

But let’s talk nuts and bolts.  Making a drastic career change can be challenging, and double that if you’ve got kids to feed and bills to pay. So be as certain as you can be that this new career is something you will be passionate about, because you’ll need that enthusiasm to get you through the tough times.

Woman ScientistFirst, for a career in the fields you mentioned – medical, engineering, or scientific – you’ll need additional education. You didn’t mention your age (and it would be rude of me to ask!), but many of these fields take advanced degrees. I hope you have your bachelor’s behind you, or the process will take many more years. (Check out my past blog, Advanced Degrees While Employed, for tips on balancing work, life, and school.) You’ll need to narrow down your career choices to hone in on the focus for your educational efforts… and dollars.

Speaking of that, are you prepared to invest in your career change?  If you have previous student loans, are you willing to go into more debt? As an alternative to a full-blown master’s degree, you may look into certificate programs in the STEM fields (medical assistant, drafting, Microsoft certification, etc.), which may be completed more quickly and for a lower cost.

We’ve all heard stories about accountants turned bakers, and lawyers trying their hand at stand-up comedy. However, the easiest career changes are those in which you can transfer some of your current skills into your new path.  But don’t let that discourage you. For more inspiration, check out this NASA video:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuyEWbWRu5M&w=560&h=315]

Reader: Have you ever changed careers? What is the best piece of advice you can offer?

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.