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Friday, February 25, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Robert Jorczak

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it?

Robert Jorczak
Education: BS, MS, PhD

My formal education has been in physical and behavioral science, education, and computer "science".  I have been involved in STEM as a middle/high school science teacher and as a designer of (primarily computer-delivered) training and instruction.  Given my science and technical background, I was often involved in the development of technical training (for various adult audiences, including salesmen).

The worst thing about being technically knowledgeable is that you can be pigeonholed as the "nerd" or "geek" who has difficulty dealing or communicating with people and/or lacks leadership potential.  This stereotype may have some truth in it, like many stereotypes, but it an be frustrating if one is not satisfied with simply doing what other people tell you to do.  Often, those who can actually DO a  technical task (e.g., programming), rather than talk about it, are limited to that task so the unskilled have something to do (i.e., design or manage).

Another issue is that science and especially technology changes rapidly compared to other knowledge, so what you work hard to know often becomes obsolete and you are repeatedly faced with a similar new learning task.  That gets tiresome as one ages.

Technical employment, which used to sort of guarantee a job, is now sent to other countries so that technical jobs are suffering the same fate and manufacturing jobs.

The best thing is that you get to understand some science or technology, which can be awe inspiring and can provide a peek into the nature of the universe.  What is better than that?  You also, sometimes get to see the cutting edge of science or technology if you are lucky.  You may get to play with advanced fun toys.

I strongly believe we cannot promote science and technology enrollment or performance by pretending it is entertainment or fun for general audiences.  I support a dual approach which treats those with STEM ability and/or interest differently than those who have little interest or scientific reasoning ability.  The latter would be trained more about what science has discovered (and about appreciating science) and the latter would be taught how to do science. Finally, we will get both better STEM enrollment and performance if our culture demonstrates a higher esteem for it.

Posted at 12:00 AM Keywords: STEM 2 Comments

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