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A graduate’s conundrum: what are some non-academic careers for STEM students?

Approximately 50 per cent of STEM graduates are seeking such prospects
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STEM graduates find their skills valuable in industries ranging from consulting to communications. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY
STEM graduates find their skills valuable in industries ranging from consulting to communications. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY

U of T graduates are supposed to be highly sought after, and are among the most employable in academia, with a one-in-three to a one-in-five shot at a tenure track, depending on the faculty.

This employment rate in academia is comparable to that of Stanford University. 

However, even with a U of T degree, careers in academia are increasingly competitive. The average PhD graduate has a 10–25 per cent chance of achieving a tenure-track position, thanks to a growing number of PhDs with a much slower increase in academic positions. 

While a large proportion of applicants are able to land a non-tenure position — such as teaching, adjunct or lecturing faculty — graduates are increasingly trying to switch away from academic careers due to low salaries, poor work-life balance, and grim prospects for promotions.

So what kinds of jobs are out there for STEM graduates?

Careers in consulting and communications

There are numerous other positions available for STEM graduates depending on their interests. Students who are interested in writing or communication may pursue scientific communication or outreach, marketing, or public relations.

For those interested in problem solving, there are jobs pertaining to policy framework and advising, or consultancy in both the public and private sector. For those who don’t want to lose touch with the more technical aspects of the sciences, there are research and development jobs in the private sector, most notably in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and information technology industries.

A considerable number of graduates are also combining their scientific knowledge with other degrees, such as a Master’s of Business Administration or a law degree for careers in finance, banking, or law. These are only a handful of careers that some known STEM graduates have gone on to pursue — there are numerous other options. 

Skills to develop

You should start developing employable skills during your degree — many of them even overlap between academia and nonacademic jobs. “One of the best ways that STEM students can prepare for careers, whether academic or non-academic, is to get involved beyond [their] courses and/or research,” wrote Farah Qaiser, a recent Master’s of Science graduate from the University of Toronto’s Department of Molecular Genetics.

According to Qaiser, being involved in extracurriculars can help students develop people skills such as communication, teamwork, and leadership qualities. 

It is also important to show well-roundedness and adaptability by taking courses in a wide variety of fields outside STEM, such as picking up a language, or taking courses in the humanities and social sciences. Having a diverse course load can help show that you can adapt to different and challenging environments — an important quality in corporate culture. 

Alongside such skills, it is important for students at any level of their career to work on their networking skills, especially if looking for a career outside academia. Networking may seem like a ‘try-hard’ attempt to get an internship, and many students, especially at the undergraduate level, don’t invest a lot of time in it.

However, networking is more than a way to hunt for jobs. It is a way for students to learn more about the skills employers are looking for, the type of jobs that are out there, and what students can really expect in a specific industry.

How can U of T help?

Workshops focusing on industrial skill development have been offloaded onto U of T Career Exploration & Education, which holds numerous events such as Backpack to Briefcase events, networking events, and LinkedIn profile and resume development events.

U of T also offers experiential courses focusing on professional development and internships. However, such courses have limited capacity and a lot of events that are held around U of T can go unnoticed. 

U of T can play a significant role in helping students prepare for a world outside academia by increasing the capacity for such experiential- and internship-based courses and make them a requirement for graduation.

Regardless of what courses you end up taking, there are opportunities outside the classroom for students to prepare themselves for a variety of careers.