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:

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

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Changing Jobs

Dear, Anita,

I just accepted a new position with my company and am very excited about the opportunity… yet at the same time, I’m feeling really nervous about the change. What are some ways I can overcome my fears?

Dear, “New and Nervous,”

ButterflyCongratulations on this new chapter in your career! Changing jobs is a part of life, and the fear that goes along with each change is only natural. Our human instinct is to stay within a certain comfort zone, develop habits, and stick with routines that are familiar to us. The idea of rocking the boat with change tends to heighten our anxieties and can create unwanted stress.

The key is to simply reset your frame of mind.

  1. Don’t look at change as a bad thing. This is a very exciting time for you! You need to embrace the opportunities that come with it. I often remind myself that life is not a dress rehearsal. We only get one chance to live our life (“YOLO” in Generation Y terms) – to grow, learn new things, and expand our horizons. If you find yourself stuck in a rut for any reason, it’s up to you to make a change for the better.
  2. Get through the fear of the unknown. Take a good look at what’s worrying you. Is it the money? The commute? The new routine? Make a list of all the things you’re concerned about and break down each item. More often than not, you’ll find that some of the things you’re concerned about are trivial – or anxieties you’ve built up in your head that can be easily addressed and resolved. I also think you’ll find that the things you fear most won’t actually happen to you.
  3. Live in the present. Dwelling on your past role or worrying about what your new position is going to be like will only drive you nuts. Don’t miss out on what’s happening TODAY; enjoy those feelings of anticipation and excitement. When you get into the groove of your new position, give it 100%.
  4. Be resourceful. The fact that you’re starting a new position with the same company gives you the upper hand. Most people go through the same jitters – and they’re starting fresh out the gate with little or no experience with the company or environment. Take advantage of the people and resources available to you. Most of your doubts and concerns will quickly fade away as you engage in your new position. Ask questions along the way, and learn everything there is to know about the role and what is expected of you. Once you have a clear picture in your head, you will quickly get into a new rhythm and find yourself in a new routine that works for you (just like the one you’re accustomed to now!)

All in all, change is good, and the time you spend at work should be stimulating, invigorating, and exciting. A friend once told me that if you don’t feel those little butterflies in your stomach anymore in your current role, then it’s time to make a change. So get out that butterfly net and go for it!

Best Wishes,

Anita

Readers: How have you handled the uncertainty that comes with either a promotion or a new job?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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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.
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