Faster aircraft, bolder video games,
better medicines—technology moves forward every day. And
tech-savvy workers make those advances happen. Without the
work of scientists, technicians, engineers,
mathematicians, and other skilled workers, most new
products and discoveries would never be developed.
The need for technical work continues to
grow. Technical occupations are often defined as those
related to science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics (STEM). Workers in STEM occupations use
science and math to solve problems. Educational
requirements for STEM occupations range from a high school
diploma and on-the-job training to a Ph.D. But all require
the ability to think logically.
There are several ways to identify and
count STEM occupations. Some researchers, for example,
count social scientists and science managers; others
occupation that uses science and technology. Adopting a more focused definition, this article describes the
occupations that most clearly concentrate on STEM.
On the pages that follow, you’ll find
information about STEM occupations, earnings, educational
requirements, and job prospects. There are also
suggestions on how to prepare for a STEM career and where
to find more information.
There are many kinds of
work within STEM’s divisions of science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics.
When you think of science workers, you
might picture a chemist in a white lab coat running
experiments—and you’d be right. But science goes
beyond the laboratory. Scientists are also involved in
teamwork, communication, and data analysis. And although
many scientists spend time in laboratories, they work in
offices, too. Some work outdoors, as when wildlife
biologists observe animals in their habitats or
geoscientists measure movements in the Earth’s crust.
Scientists design experiments to find out
how things work. They conduct or oversee those
experiments, analyze the results, and explain what the
results mean. They use scientific methods to learn about
the world. In 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS), 13 percent of STEM jobs as defined here
were in natural science occupations. (See chart 1.)
Natural science occupations fall into
three broad groups: life scientists, physical scientists,
and natural science technicians.
Life scientists. Life scientists
study living systems, from organisms to ecosystems.
Agricultural and food scientists, for example, study the
production and distribution of food. They work to increase
food quantity, quality, and safety.
Biological scientists study animals,
plants, and bacteria. They also analyze metabolic
processes and other life elements.
Conservation scientists and foresters
manage natural resources to maximize their long-term
economic, recreational, and conservation value; for
example, they might decide when and how to plant trees or
chop them down. And medical scientists look for both
causes of and treatments for human diseases.
Physical scientists. Physical scientists study
the parts of nature that are not alive. They might ponder
the motion of distant suns or the bonds between nuclear
particles. Atmospheric scientists, for example, monitor
weather conditions to understand trends and to forecast
Chemists and materials scientists conduct
research to create new chemicals and other materials for use
in many products.
Environmental scientists and hydrologists
investigate environmental hazards and pollutants and the
circulation of underground and surface waters. Geoscientists
study the composition and structure of the earth, often in
search of available supplies of natural resources.
Physicists and astronomers explore the
fundamental laws governing matter and energy in the
universe, mathematically modeling the forces of nature.
Natural science technicians. These
technicians assist scientists in conducting experiments and
analyzing the results. They might prepare experimental
apparatus, collect samples or readings, and summarize the
Biological technicians generally work as
laboratory assistants engaged in biological and medical
research. Chemical technicians in research and development
also work as laboratory assistants, and those involved in
manufacturing typically monitor industrial processes.
This category could include any occupation
that requires technical skill, but it usually refers to
information technology or computer-related occupations.
Workers in these occupations use logic, mathematics, and
computer science to make computers function.
Some technology workers create new software,
design computer systems, and develop databases. Others focus
on helping people use computers and on keeping computers
Designing and developing. Many
computer workers find ways to make computers more useful.
Computer software engineers, for example, create new
computer programs or systems. They develop an overall plan
for how the program works. They design algorithms that tell
the computer how to complete tasks. And they figure out how
to make software work faster.
Computer programmers often help software
engineers implement their plans. They write code to tell the
computer to do specific tasks.
Computer systems analysts help organizations
to use computers effectively. They choose computer hardware
and software that meet an organization’s needs and oversee
its computer-related policies and plans.
Computer research scientists study advanced
computer technology. Database analysts design methods of
organizing and storing data for quick retrieval.
Helping users. Other information
technology workers focus on helping people with computer
problems and on keeping computers running smoothly. These
workers, called computer support specialists or systems
administrators, provide administrative and technical
assistance to computer users.
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