November 18, 2021 | Updated: June 21, 2022
STEM careers are built on constant discovery and innovation. There’s always a new breakthrough pushing technology in new directions. It’s exciting and challenging.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to manage a STEM career.
“It is hard to plan a career — at least it was for me — many years in advance,” said IEEE Fellow Jelena Kovacevic. “It’s not a straight line; more like a zig-zag. But I was attuned and careful to opportunities that would arise, and was willing to ‘jump into the deep end of the pool and learn how to swim’ several times during my career.”
So we asked IEEE professionals for career advice.
The bottom line: continue to invest in skills and keep up with emerging tech, but don’t ignore soft skills that teach teamwork and communication.
Be Prepared to Keep Learning
“The world is in constant evolution. It is not possible to predict what will be the new products, services and businesses that will emerge five years from now. Thus, the key is to focus on mastering a set of fundamentals such as math/computing/cognition; engineering/modeling/applied sciences; or natural and human sciences.” Paulo Miyagi, IEEE Senior Member
“To choose a career in a STEM field is to choose a career of continuous improvement. The nature of the role means being responsive to change and possessing an ability to recognize the need for reskilling and adaptation as technologies change over time, sometimes dramatically.” Kevin Curran, IEEE Senior Member
“Currently, one of my key focus areas is about building multiple skills aligned to my area of interest. I strongly believe that the time we invest in building the skills will find expression and add value when we need them the most.” Aravindhan Anbazhagan, IEEE Member and Computer Society Member
Make A Plan
“In the near term, individuals should write down three personal goals or skills they want to learn or master. I say write it down because once you write it, it’s no longer a wish and it keeps it at the forefront of your to-do list.” Karen Panetta, IEEE Fellow “After university, in the short term I intend to get a better position in the labor market. As a medium and long term, my goal is to get more experience and perform a specialization so I can work in more strategic areas of business. Currently I am improving my soft skill development, so that I can be better prepared for continuous individual and team development.” Gabrielle Silva, IEEE Member
Develop Soft Skills
“I advise young professionals to develop their soft skills, to learn to work in teams and problem solving. Young professionals should focus less and less on very specific technical skills in favor of more broad solid foundations. Learning to learn efficiently and constantly will also become more and more important in order to keep pace with the advancement of technologies. I would also suggest paying attention to opportunities in interdisciplinary fields, especially in emerging ones, like genomics and blockchain technology.” Rodrigo Guerra, IEEE Member
“Although technology is a key part of our jobs as engineers, one should never forget the end goal of improving people’s lives. As such, one should always ask oneself “is this the best way to solve this problem from the point of view of the people directly affected?” Guilherme Susteras, IEEE Senior member.
“If I were a young professional, I would look for an activity with growth prospects in the next decade. It is observed that the search for solutions through emerging technologies, such as AI, Machine Learning, 5G technology, programming and others, directed towards meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals would be a good goal to pursue in my career.” José Roberto Cardoso, IEEE Life Member.
The Bottom Line
“How often have you heard someone say that a Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s degree? Companies expect employees to have higher education levels. Not having these degrees could be barriers to an individual moving forward. Experience alone is no longer being considered equivalent to formal degrees. If a formal degree is not an option, consider certificate programs that help you retool and reskill for new areas. For instance, AI and machine learning are becoming prevalent areas and valuable skills for the marketplace. Consider learning more computer science skills that help you build capacity to venture into incorporating these fields into your own discipline, even if you are not in computer science.” Karen Panetta, IEEE Fellow
If you’d like to learn more about career management in STEM, or want to read about the personal trajectories of STEM professionals, check out the IEEE Young Professionals Impact Blog.