Today is – a day where we celebrate the achievements that scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians have made through the centuries. It’s also a day which aims to inspire young people to go into STEM subjects by showing them how innovative each of the fields can be. In fact, that’s why November 8th was chosen: N-O-V8—get it?
Events like STEM Day are increasingly important thanks to the growing skills shortage crisis affecting every scientific discipline in the US. In 2015, there were 17 STEM job vacancies for every unemployed STEM worker and the situation is only getting worse, thanks to increased demand and decreasing graduation rates. But these figures don’t tell the whole story. Outside of Big Tech the shortage is even more severe, mainly due to the huge wages that Silicon Valley offers.
One reason this is happening is because too many potential STEM graduates aren’t aware of the innovative and creative possibilities a STEM career can provide, particularly those which don’t involve working for one of the tech giants. While Silicon Valley created many huge advances in the 90s and early 2000s, there’s a growing recognition that the pace of innovation there has slowed dramatically. And, as a society, many of those innovations we can do without, like smart fridges or AI assistants that can book haircut appointments.
The same cannot be said for the scientific disciplines. Chemistry, biology and physics are coming up with life-altering breakthroughs on a regular basis – from potential cures for diseases like HIV and Parkinson’s to taking on the environmental challenges of our age. Every week there are news stories showing how scientific researchers are helping to change the way we live for the better. Yet none of this seems to be filtering through – just type ‘science is boring’ into Google and you get over 132,000,000 results!
If we’re ever going to solve the STEM skills shortage, the reputation of science must change. Potential STEM graduates need to see biology and chemistry as professions which encourage and celebrate creativity, that offer a chance to tackle the biggest problems facing humanity. Otherwise they will most likely default into a career at a Google or a Facebook. Scientific institutions of every stripe, from chemical companies to universities, need to look at how they can change the way science is presented to move it away from its stereotypical crusty image and show the essential and constant creativity researchers are providing to the world. After all, as Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the world.”