STEM in the wild

job posting photo
Photo by photologue_np

Today was the first time I’ve ever come across the term “STEM” out in the wild, in a context that wasn’t purely Educational. It was in a technical job posting, and I think it’s an interesting “leak” of Education terminology into the professional world.

Here’s the position: a Data Visualization Builder at a data/analytics company (linked in March 2015; apologies once it expires). Skipping past the fact that it sounds like a super cool job (!), after the job description and Responsibilities comes the Required Skills section. And here’s the very first thing they list:

  • STEM background

The first slot is often where the company posts the educational credentials they prefer to see. In the business/IT world I’m used to seeing job postings with phrases like “Computer Science or similar degree”, or maybe, casting a wider net, something like: “Degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering, Information Systems, or Mathematics.”

But here this company is looking explicitly for “STEM”. So what does that mean? I think a few things:

STEM crosses over

NOT this kind of stem
Photo by LadyDragonflyCC – >;<

One, it’s an indication that “STEM” has begun to cross over from Education into popular awareness, probably via the media and journalists reporting on Education, and maybe via politicians picking it up from there. There’s lots of buzz that “STEM fields are hiring,” or that “we need to invest in STEM education” (CA version). Whether or not the public or politicians understand it the way we educators do, it’s interesting (encouraging?) to see that the concept is sticking.

(And if you’re an educator trying to broadcast (so to speak) your idea more widely, take note that journalists & politicians are a vector by which Educational industry trends do sometimes make their way out.)

For you, a job.

Two, since STEM is a recent term and connotes the combination of several fields, the company is telegraphing that they’re young-ish, modern, forward-thinking, and multidisciplinary. In a way, “STEM background” is coded language. It says they are looking for people who are recently out of school and have heard the term before in reference to their major or program. They are aware that their background comes under that umbrella; these are people who see “STEM” and think “Right, that’s me.”

Third, aside from how the company wants to portray itself to job seekers, we can also tell that they are aware that they need someone with some quantitative kind of background, but that they’re not particular about which discipline that person comes from. They’ve identified STEM-type thinking as the thing they’re after, not a trained Computer Scientist or Mathematician—and you can bet that their interviewing processes and management styles are in the same vein.

I think it’s great when an employer is willing to recognize good, useful, flexible talent in any guise.

These are not the droids you’re looking for…

Fourth, the “STEM background” phrasing undoubtedly eliminates a good portion of the population who are NOT target candidates: people who have to look up “STEM” to see what it stands for. (Is it a discipline or some kind of professional training? An organization? A club or society? I can’t recall ever doing something called that…) Someone older, less connected to trends, or coming from a more traditional career path might recognize “Technical or Math background” or “Information Systems background”, but not “STEM.” Voila!—people with old ways of thinking are eliminated. It’s a lovely example of a velvet rope, as one of my favorite small-biz philosopher/bloggers once put it.

A STEM trend?

I’ll continue to keep my ears open for “STEM” in the wild. If we see it more and more frequently used in situations like this, I think that will be an indication that rigorous (yet flexible and creative) quantitative thinking is being recognized in its own right, in place of rigid disciplinism. And I think that will be a good thing.

Don’t you? Add a comment below.

One thought on “STEM in the wild”

  1. As STEM continues crossing over more into the business/IT world (as I hope it rightly does), it will lose its “velvet-rope” filtering role. The upside is that employers will be looking for candidates with “STEMmy” minds which are more adapted and/or adaptable to the modern business/IT world. Ideally, a “STEMmy” mind will prove to be a good predictor of fitness to a job and [upward] mobility.

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