The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) are incredibly exciting. Now more than ever we need diverse minds working on the world’s most pressing problems, and a career in STEM is one way to be a part of that.
If you are considering a career in STEM, here are some things to keep in mind:
Find a major that fits your interests
Whether you are thinking about college or are in college now, it is important to explore your interests. For example, do you like building things and solving complicated puzzles? Learn more about engineering. Maybe even take a class in the subject. Are you passionate about protecting the environment? Earth or environmental science might be for you. Don’t be afraid to take a variety of classes or participate in different extracurricular activities like student clubs, research projects with a professor, or volunteering with a local science class. You never know what might spark your interest!
Also, if college isn’t for you, you may want to consider trade school, where you can gain a specific skillset for a specialized job. Trade school, or technical college, is different than a 4-year university; typically, most programs at trade schools take 3 months to a year to complete, or a little longer if you want to get your associates.
There are a diversity of STEM jobs – find one that suits you!
STEM jobs aren’t just about being a rocket scientist or researcher. They also include electricians, carpenters, and welders.
Some STEM jobs require advanced degrees, and some don’t. Whatever options suit your skills, there are a lot of exciting opportunities in the STEM world.
Establish a network of mentors
We all need mentors. Studying STEM or working in a STEM career can be daunting sometimes, so it is important to find the people that can be in your corner to cheer you on and help give you an extra push when you need it. Sometimes, you can find one mentor to serve all these needs, but often we need multiple mentors to help us navigate the variety of challenges and changes we will face.
Find mentors that can help you in the different areas of your life that are important to you and your career – this might include cultural, educational, and professional mentors.
Remember that you belong
Sometimes, it might seem like STEM spaces – whether it’s school or work – weren’t developed for you as an Indigenous person. After all, many academic institutions are built on the stolen land of our ancestors and serve predominantly white populations. Also, a lack of diversity can be seen in many STEM professions, where you may sometimes be the only Native person in the room.
When you feel like an outsider, remember that our ancestors have always been scientists and data keepers. Seek out mentors who can help you harness that awesomeness and colleagues and friends who respect the different perspective you bring to the table. Also, consider joining professional associations in your field that have an Indigenous group. If this doesn’t exist, work to create one.
Keep in mind that you come from a long line of innovative people who have thrived for thousands of years due to their ability to “think big” and solve complex problems. You will bring that unique perspective and wisdom with you into whatever STEM space you want to be in. Not only do you deserve to be in these spaces, but you are needed there too.
- Text 4 STEM
- We Are Healers
- Advancing Indigenous People In STEM – AISES
- AISES Career Hub
- Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science – SACNAS
Author: McKalee Steen is a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management department. She is passionate about studying Indigenous land stewardship practices, providing resources for Indigenous youth, and the power of storytelling.