Saturday, 22 March 2014

The STEM Crisis?

Two quite similar articles on the STEM crisis have appeared in the last year:
  • The STEM Crisis Is a Myth: A nice side-bar shows the STEM "crisis" through the decades. The author Robert N. Charette, also cites the research of Michael S. Teitelbaum, the author of the following article, which appeared in The Atlantic. The bottom line:
[E]veryone needs a solid grounding in science, engineering, and math. In that sense, there is indeed a shortage—a STEM knowledge shortage. To fill that shortage, you don’t necessarily need a college or university degree in a STEM discipline, but you do need to learn those subjects, and learn them well, from childhood until you head off to college or get a job. Improving everyone’s STEM skills would clearly be good for the workforce and for people’s employment prospects, for public policy debates, and for everyday tasks like balancing checkbooks and calculating risks. And, of course, when science, math, and engineering are taught well, they engage students’ intellectual curiosity about the world and how it works.
Many children born today are likely to live to be 100 and to have not just one distinct career but two or three by the time they retire at 80. Rather than spending our scarce resources on ending a mythical STEM shortage, we should figure out how to make all children literate in the sciences, technology, and the arts to give them the best foundation to pursue a career and then transition to new ones. And instead of continuing our current global obsession with STEM shortages, industry and government should focus on creating more STEM jobs that are enduring and satisfying as well.
Every high school graduate should be competent in science and mathematics—essential to success in almost any 21st century occupation and to informed citizenship as well. 
The evidence all points to high levels of student interest, high-performance levels among the students most likely to pursue majors and careers in science and engineering, and large numbers of graduates in these fields.
The repeated past cycles of “alarm/boom/bust” have misallocated public and private resources by periodically expanding higher education in science and engineering beyond levels for which there were attractive career opportunities. In so doing they produced large unintended costs for those talented students who devoted many years of advanced education to prepare for careers that turned out to be unattractive by the time they graduated, or who later experienced massive layoffs in mid-career with few prospects to be rehired.
UPDATE February 2016: The following Nature article Physics: Post-PhD job stability headlines with "Fewer than one-third of physics PhD graduates take permanent jobs, and that is a record high." That doesn't sound like evidence of a STEM shortage to me!

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