What is STEM and why are you a great fit for it?
Did you love assembling LEGO parts when you were little and sometimes you still do? Do you love playing Minecraft because you enjoy building things? Did you try to open your dad’s laptop as a small kid and see what’s behind the screen or under the keyboard (for the greatest horror of your dad)? Did you attempt to look into the mouth of your huge St. Bernard dog to see what’s in there? Do you like TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory? Are you a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the most popular scientists today?
If you answered most of the questions with yes, then you are a huge STEM-fan, even if you haven’t noticed it yet. It is for sure that you are profoundly curious about the world around you, and you are a born scientist. And if it is so, you should consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, shortly in STEM.
And girls, listen to me. I know that STEM is considered to be the play field for boys, but it is simply not true. The world is in dire need of both women and men being able to help technology and science move forward.
Science can also help you. When I was 6, I was hard to handle, I was full of energy. My mother therefore gave me a scientific encyclopedia made for kids trying to calm me down. She succeeded. I fell in love with science and since then I’ve been considering myself a soldier of the scientific method. My job is to gather knowledge and contribute as much as I can to the progress of humanity. I also realized that we need lots of young, curious and bright scientists in the future, many-many science knights, because today’s innovators won’t be enough to bring positive change for the future. And believe me, due to the rapid technological development, change is coming to every corner of science, especially into medicine and healthcare, and it depends on us whether it will bring a bright or a bad future for us.
I know that choosing the right career is a struggle. And it is not even certain that you will have the same career throughout your whole life. It is more and more certain that we need to reinvent ourselves many times in our lifetime. But you should consider a career in STEM, and I’m going to tell you why.
There has never been a better time to choose STEM than today.
1) Who would not want to be part of the first colony on Mars?
Isn’t it exciting that you might live through scenes from the movie, the Martian? And by that I don’t mean the fact that everyone assumed him dead in his team and he struggled to signal back to Earth that he is actually alive. I mean that an actual expedition to Mars is coming closer day by day. Elon Musk, builder of the Tesla electric vehicle and billionaire founder of SpaceX rocket company announced just some days ago, on 27 September at the International Astronautical Congress (a very fancy gathering for space-loving geeks) that he plans to build a rocket to Mars, and if everything goes as planned, the first passengers to Mars could take off as soon as 2024.
Each of the SpaceX vehicles would take 100 passengers on the journey to Mars, with trips planned every 26 months, when Earth and Mars pass close to each other. Tickets per person might cost $500,000 at first, and drop to about a third of that later on, Musk said. Wouldn’t it be super-exciting to take part in the development of rockets which carry out the travels between the planets? And wouldn’t it be beyond imagination to participate in the first colony on Mars? Or wouldn’t it be awesome to be part of the first Mars civilization which would build the first self-sustaining city on the Red Planet?
2) Can you imagine to travel everywhere by driverless cars and tubs?
Imagine that you finish school, you just push a button and as soon as you finish lunch in the cafeteria with your friends, the family’s car is there for you to take you home. There is no one to ask you annoying questions about your tests, your plans for the future or whether you ate fruits that day. The car knows the best route going home, and the only thing you need to do is to sit back in your seat, relax and listen to the loudest music ever.
Do you know that this scene is actually a lot closer to our reality than we usually think? In September, the US government issued new federal guidelines that are clearly designed to speed up the development of self-driving cars. In the same week, Uber started offering rides in self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, a notoriously demanding urban environment. Wouldn’t it be fun to be part of the planning process of fleets of driverless cars?
And we can go even further. Can you imagine solar roofs generating cheap electricity? Or cars making money for their owners when they are not used? Elon Musk envisions such plans for his Tesla. But now, close your eyes and think about your wildest dreams how people can reach from point A to B. What do you see? People having electric wings? Teleportation? Tiny capsules travelling by light speed?
I’m glad if you do. Because then you can imagine passengers seated in pods shooting through a tube above the ground. Developers say it is going to be possible in four years. And Elon Musk says that the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco – which takes now 5-6 hours on the road – would take 30 minutes by the tub. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies predicts its pods will travel at up to 1,220 kilometers per hour – around half as fast again as an airliner. Can you imagine that? And choosing STEM as your career you could be part of the future by designing and building new transportation systems and tools – for example capsules which will be able to transport people from Stockholm to Helsinki for 25 euros in 28 minutes instead of flights taking an hour.
3) Don’t you want to save humanity and eradicate diseases?
I’m pretty sure you are already aware of the fact that illnesses and diseases cause one of the biggest problems for humanity. But what if I said there is a possibility to eradicate lethal illnesses from the Planet. Would you help the scientific community to do it?
For example, with a gene editing technique called CRISPR, we will have the chance to edit our cells in our immune systems to improve them against cancer cells and to help them kill the dangerous intruders in time. In the future, getting rid of cancer could mean just an injection. Researchers also used a similar gene-editing method to create mosquitoes that are almost entirely resistant to the parasite that causes the lethal infection of malaria. How cool is that on a scale ranging from 1 to 10?
4) Artificial Intelligence is coming
You might not think that there is anything special about playing computer games on laptops, on your phone, having cyberfoes and virtual enemies. Believe me, there is. Right now, we are at the dawn of developing the kind of artificial intelligence which might be able to compete with the human mind in every area. This is exactly the reason why Stephen Hawking, the greatest living physicist on Earth even said that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Elon Musk agreed.
We are not there yet, but it is amazing how fast research into artificial intelligence develops. AI machine learning will transform every field and every industry in a couple of years. In my area, medicine, IBM Watson aims to create a cloud-based data sharing hub for example for our healthcare data. It has the capacity to read millions of documents in seconds and to suggest the most fitting healthcare therapies. Atomwise aims to reduce the costs of medicine development by using supercomputers to predict, in advance, which potential medicines will work, and which won’t. Google Deepmind Health is used to mine the data of medical records in order to provide better and faster health services.
So, are you ready to learn how to build better AI algorithms and how to control them successfully? With such knowledge you might become a real-life Neo from The Matrix movie series fighting against the power of supercomputers.
5) Humanoid robots are eager to become family members
In a few years’ time, it will not be strange at all that most of the families will “hire” humanoid robots to help around the household, do the laundry or take care of grandpa when no one else has the time to read the news to him.
There are already certain robot companions who can keep company to people feeling lonely or to help treat mental health issues. Jibo, Pepper, Paro and Buddy are all existing examples. Paro is shaped as a baby seal, and it is especially cute and cuddly to help release stress and ease sadness and solitude. Pepper, the 1.2 meter tall humanoid “social robot” will be “employed” as a receptionist in two Belgian hospitals.
Some of them have touch sensors, cameras and microphones, thus their owners can get into discussions with them, ask them to find a great concert for that night or just remind them about their medications. Wouldn’t it be super-cool to come up with your own robotic design or a new function offering further development to an already existing humanoid robot? You would be one of the engineers of the future and your design could shape the landscape of robotics for the next decades. Are you interested in mechanics and are you fond of robotics? Don’t hesitate, choose a career in STEM!
6) The culture of eating is about to change
Did you ever think about what you are eating? How the meatballs in IKEA were processed? What KFC chicken wings contain? It is frustrating for many people that they don’t know what they are eating. You have no idea what raw materials, vitamins or harmful toxins a piece of hamburger contains. You might have food allergies but you cannot check beforehand whether the piece of cake you are about to eat contains the allergen. In the future, food scanners will be able to tell how many grams of sugar a piece of fruit contains, or what the alcohol percentage of a drink is.
Also, with the development of genetic testing, dietary recommendations could be made based on the information contained in your genes. There will be 3D food printers using fresh ingredients and create pizza, cookies, or almost any kind of final products just like what Foodini does these days. It is simply fascinating! It might be that your mom will put banana yogurts in your smart fridge twice a week because based on your genetic map, your doctor recommended it. And your smart fridge will beep very loudly if you don’t grab it and (at least pretend to) eat it.
How great would it be to create tools with which it would be easier for people with food allergies to have great meals and to eat secure food all the time?
7) Our DNA is finally ready to reveal our future
Genome tests have been in the spotlight for years. And the reason is understandable: it is simply amazing how much information you can gain from the tiniest parts of your body. I believe that in the future genetic testing will be similar to the practice of blood-tests in today’s healthcare, and people will choose their diet, their sports and other hobbies, even their jobs based on it.
And the future is already here. Patients have been able to order genome tests online for the last 10 years already. The basic assumption is that anyone can order a test from home and learn about their risks for certain medical conditions, and what lifestyle choices they should make to avoid them. Imagine working for a small start-up giving career advice based on genetic information. Too far-fetched? It might be here sooner than you think.
8) Creating engineered microorganisms
In the future, astronauts on Mars will eat bacteria-burgers out of bacteria-bowls using bacteria-forks. At least a team of students at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have a plan to grow food, medicine, and tools in space using genetically engineered bacteria. It means that a culture of a special type of bacteria will harvest Martian sunlight and produce sugar. Then another type of bacteria will digest that sugar and then produce whatever it has been engineered to produce. The bacteria might generate vitamins or any other digestible materials and bioplastics that could be 3D printed into any form, including the forks and knives necessary to eat the space spaghetti.
How amazing is that? Can you imagine yourself and your friends to have a debate over which bacteria-burger is the best or in which Martian restaurant they have the most effective food-producing bacteria? It might happen some day.
9) Smart sensors and tiny gadgets will measure every piece of information about us
Smart people with smart phones living in smart houses driving smart cars in smart cities. You have already all kinds of gadgets collecting information about you. And it is only the beginning.
Imagine that you wake up in your bedroom, and your smart sleep monitors tell you the quality of your sleep (and it could also wake you up at the best time to make sure you are energized in the morning). Afterwards, you go into the kitchen to have some ham and eggs. There could be smart forks and spoons that might teach you how to eat slowly. After breakfast, you go into the bathroom, you can brush your teeth with a Kolibree smart toothbrush analyzing whether you are hydrated or not; and giving rewards for cleaning your teeth long enough to count. When you go into the shower, your smart home could bring the temperature down by using a smart device like Google Nest. Imagine toilets with microchips, sensors logging movement patterns, bathroom sensors following patterns of water usage, digital mirrors measuring basic vital signs.
Are you worried or scared? It might be uncomfortable to know that these devices know so much about the details of our lives, but on the other hand, their aim is to make our lives better. And if you want to make sure that our data is used properly and our privacy is protected, the easiest way to do that is to choose a STEM career and make sure that sensors and wearables are controlled in the necessary manner.
10) Convince your parents with the practical side of STEM if necessary
You are already over the Moon (well, not literally… yet…) by the possibility to study something connected to driverless cars, space-bacteria or humanoid robots, but your parents are less enthusiastic? Tell them the following. STEM jobs have been growing at a three times higher pace than any other fields in the last 10 years in the UK. They also have the brightest future in terms of career chances and payment as well. There will be over 500 thousand new STEM jobs only in the UK only in the next 5 years…
Also, there are great initiatives already motivating teachers and policy-makers to help kids choose STEM. In the UK, the STEM Learning initiative helps teachers and students alike to familiarize with science, technology, engineering or mathematics. They provide professional development, resources, bursaries, recognition and tools to teachers, technicians and teaching assistants – so they will be able to pass their knowledge to their pupils eager to learn about the world. In the US, STEM Education Coalition works to raise awareness in Washington about the critical role that STEM education plays in shaping the future of the United States.
And of course, you could say that STEM is not everything. I will agree with you. We need skills also in social sciences and the humanities – and you need people who have the ability, knowledge and skills in these areas. Steve Jobs once declared: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it is technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” His comment reflects on the necessity to look at the environment around us in its complexity – and this should be our guiding beacon in the future.
But if you have the enthusiasm and courage, choose STEM, and I’m certain that you will get a great chance to build a better future for the next generation. At the end of the day, this is our lifetime job.