I graduated in STEM. Now What?

As a STEM professional with over 10 years of experience in both industry and academia, I have gained valuable insights that can help recent graduates navigate their careers more effectively. In this blog post, I aim to share the lessons I have learned to ease the transition for those who have just earned their STEM degrees.

Be a Lifelong STEM Learner

In reality, college provides you with the foundational knowledge needed to begin your career. However, learning does not stop at graduation. Throughout your career, you will continuously acquire new skills and tools with each job. Depending on your field, many companies will encourage or even require you to enroll in certification programs or undergo training to stay current.
 

As someone who has navigated this journey, I have realized the importance of keeping up with emerging technologies. For instance, when I was in elementary school, dial-up internet was revolutionary. Fast forward nearly 30 years, and now artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming our world in ways we could never have imagined. Recognizing this, I am committed to learning about AI for my career growth, and I encourage you to do the same. Here is a link to a site that lists all the different types of free courses available to learn about AI.

If you have earned a STEM degree, you likely have a natural curiosity and a desire to understand the world better. Embrace this curiosity and commit to lifelong learning. Every STEM field is constantly evolving, and staying current will enhance your career and keep your passion for discovery alive.

Build your STEM Network

During my undergraduate studies and even after earning my STEM degree, I completely underestimated the importance of building a strong professional network. I believed I could climb the corporate ladder quickly on my own. Boy, was I wrong! While it is possible to succeed solo, it would have taken much longer. I quickly realized that the journey to the top is much quicker and easier if you have the right people in your corner.

How to Build your STEM Network

So, how do you find these people? Follow the steps below.

Step 1: LinkedIn

Start by creating a LinkedIn account if you don’t already have one. Build your profile by showcasing your coursework, accomplishments, and projects. For inspiration, you can refer to my LinkedIn profile. Use relevant keywords in your profile so recruiters can easily find you. Connect with your classmates, industry professionals, faculty, and any administrative staff you have met. From this point forward, whenever you meet someone, invite them to connect on LinkedIn. You never know who they can introduce you to or what opportunities they may offer in the future.

Step 2: Professional STEM Society or Organization

Become active in your professional society. For example, last semester I was a mentor for graduate students part of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and had the opportunity to meet other industry professionals with PhDs who shared nuggets of wisdom. Additionally, I was actively involved in SHPE throughout my graduate degree too, and because of that, they paid for me to attend their national conference! Below is a list of minority serving organizations in STEM that you can engage with.

Minority Serving STEM Organizations
Step 3: Find a Mentor

If your plan is to attend graduate school, chances are mentor-mentee programs exist. I encourage you to enroll as a mentee. Having a mentor is life-changing.  I have had several throughout my doctoral studies and even now as faculty. Mentors can help you in the following ways:

  • Make the best decisions for your career
  • Help navigate challenges
  • Help avoid common pitfalls in your career path
  • Introduce you to a larger network
  • Help develop your technical and soft skills
  • Boost your confidence and provide encouragement
  • Offer insights into industry trends and best practices
  • Advocate for you within their networks and recommend you for promotions or new roles

Invest in your Mental Health

As a minority in STEM we face unique challenges and stressors that others may not face. Mental health professionals can assist with the following:

  • Provide effective strategies for managing stress and maintaining well-being
  • Provide techniques to enhance concentration, reduce procrastination, and improve overall productivity
  • Assist in achieving a healthier work-life balance to avoid job satisfaction and reduced burnout
  • Assist in coping with imposter syndrome
  • Help to improve interpersonal skills, leading to more effective communication and collaboration within teams
  • Help to manage anxiety and depression
  • Assist in exploring career goals and dealing with professional setbacks
  • Foster personal growth such as developing greater self-awareness, resilience, and emotional intelligence

What's Next?

The following blog post will discuss the different type mentors that exist and will discuss at greater length the importance of having several mentors.

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Stephanie Taboada

The author of this post has a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. and is an Engineering Professor with industry experience. As a Latina and a STEM professional, Stephanie is passionate about incentivizing Hispanics to pursue STEM. Read Stephanie's blog to understand the opportunities that exist in STEM for underrepresented groups. Follow her on social media to learn when the next blog post will be published.

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