Further Reading

How can I do this?

STEM is difficult, right? I need to take a lot of really hard courses in school?

Jane Goodall went to Africa with no training in science, just an intense curiosity about animals and the patience to make and record observations of chimpanzees in the wild. Over the years, her studies of how these animals interacted with each other and their environment made Goodall a renowned expert in animal behavior.

But that’s the exception. STEM careers typically require a mastery of some science and math. How much depends on what you want to do with it.

A couple of years of college can prepare you to work in many types of laboratories, collecting data or running tests that doctors, scientists or engineers will later analyze. Teaching, engineering and jobs assisting scientists tend to require between four and six years of college. Scientists usually have a doctoral degree, which can take four or more years of study after finishing college. Some very competitive fields even require a postdoctoral fellowship — an extra year or two of research training beyond a doctoral degree.

A good grasp of basic math is needed for just about any field. And increasingly, it helps if you are comfortable working with computers.

With so many interesting STEM fields, how can I choose?

Sampling a little bit of everything in school can help you identify what you like best. It will also make it easier to work on projects where several fields overlap. Biologists who also know a lot of chemistry, for instance, have an easier time understanding how cells work at the molecular scale. And chemists who also have a background in physics can more easily understand the information flowing from their laboratory instruments. Some scientists might even study some types of art, like origami — whose paper-folding techniques can help train them to fold molecules into shapes useful for making new materials.

Or consider your outside interests and hobbies. Do you enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors? Geologists, biologists, environmental scientists and others do too. They spend a lot of time camping out, traveling at sea and exploring places where few other people get to venture.

Love food? Some scientists find ways to make foods taste better or stay fresh longer. Nutrition scientists study how the body uses foods — and how much of various nutrients the body needs to stay healthy. Keep in mind that chemists and materials scientists are a lot like cooks, since they involve combining ingredients and then heating, cooling, mixing, mashing or otherwise processing them to come up with new compounds. Their work shows up in everything from longer-lasting batteries to unbreakable smartphone screens.

Want to catch crooks? Experts with a background in STEM work as lawyers, investigating the theft of ideas or designs. Others investigate crime scenes and collect evidence.

Enjoy putting things together and making them work? So do engineers. They design everything from artificial organs to zippers. Some even set the stage for concert arenas, which are hung with tons of complex lighting and sound gear that must all be coordinated safely.

So just about anything you like can lead to a life in science, engineering, mathematics and technology. To see a nice cross-section of such STEM jobs, often in nontraditional areas, check out our Cool Jobs series.

John Holdren, the president’s science adviser, recommends taking STEM classes even if you don't plan on making a career in a related field. One reason: STEM can help you better understand the modern world — just as people in science and technical fields should take courses in art, history and literature.

And yes, STEM classes can be hard.

“I did struggle in college, but you're supposed to struggle — that's learning,” Duran says. “Don't give up. I wish I could go back and tell my [younger] self that.”

J. Cutraro. “How creativity powers science.” Science News for Kids. May 24, 2012.

Ron Fedkiw’s PhysBAM website: http://physbam.stanford.edu/~fedkiw/

S. Gaidos. “Watson a game-changer for science.” Science News for Kids. May 4, 2011.

S. Oosthoek. “Cool Jobs: Wild science.” Science News for Kids. Aug. 16, 2012.

S. Ornes. “Evolution of a Frankenstorm.” Science News for Kids. Nov. 15, 2012,

S. Perkins. “Cool Jobs: Crime scene investigators.” Science News for Kids. Dec. 5, 2012.

E. Sohn. “Getting in touch with touch.” Science News for Kids. April 3, 2007.

D. Strain. “The White House welcomes science.” Science News for Kids. Feb. 27, 2012.

Teacher’s questions: Questions you can use in your classroom related to this article.