The Nov. 4, 2011 New York Times article on STEM (science - technology - engineering - math) career paths shows clearly and succinctly that NO ONE is engaging in true investigative journalism anymore. The article by Christopher Drew, Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) shows an appalling lack of insight into the issues facing flocks of interested and engaged science majors. Did this author spend five minutes in a laboratory talking to scientists working in the trenches? No.
Yes, science and engineering are HARD. OF COURSE ITS HARD...Science is fascinating in the abstract - but “doing science” is never easy. If it were easy we would have cures for cancer, heart disease, obesity and all infectious disease coming out of our ears. We’d have a shuttle to Mars where people would take vacations and someone would be working on a Warp engine to go faster than the speed of light by now. I know its hard because I have a Ph.D. from a highly regarded medical school and was a molecular biologist by trade for over 15 years.
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Thomas Friedman has been offering career advice for far too long. This week he was at it again with “The Start-Up of You” in The New York Times. Thankfully, our youth do not seem to have been listening….and woe be to those that actually would because they would find themselves choosing between corrugated cardboard and a plastic bag for their digs.
For years Friedman was crowing about S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career paths. He loudly bemoaned the loss of American students in these fields while he beat the drums for loosening H1-B visa rules for foreign nationals so they could further crowd out the few American Nationals that had clung to their jobs. Friedman never connected the dots between the flood of foreign scientists and the massive glut of Ph.D.’s in America. He never paid attention the gutting of salaries - the natural result of a glut because he didn’t dig a little deeper for the facts. I doubt the man ever stepped foot inside an actual lab.
Recently, I came across a book by Caitlin Kelly with the simple title “Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail”. (http://malledthebook.com/) It is a witty, devastatingly sharp critique on our big-box retail sector. Written by a 50-year-old journalist who after losing her job at the Daily News landed in the alternative universe of a large retail franchise in the Westchester Mall, it is part autobiography and investigative journalism rolled into one book.
Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese” “might” be a great read for those in the business sector. But for those involved in careers that involve advanced degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM careers) the solutions offered are quite simply “non-solutions.”
“Who Moved My Cheese?”
For those who don’t know the story - its about four beings that live in a maze together. Two of the beings are mice ( Sniff and Scurry) and two are very small humans the size of mice (Hem and Haw)
Ever since Obama’s State of the Union address in January, we have been hearing more and more about American “exceptionalism” and about so-called “STEM” careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Engaging young minds in these all too critical areas of study is supposed to be the key to Americas future - paving a way to our supremacy in the 21st century and beyond.
Spin vs Reality:
We are becoming a county of middle men. Paper-pushers, deal brokers, middle men - whatever you want to call it - that’s what we are becoming. When the M.B.A. trumps the Ph.D. in terms of monetary value to the extent that it does - we are headed in one direction only.
STEM careers can’t take root in a society where middle men rule the day - and the profits.
Although the general “buzz” about the Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address was considered a major success in terms of public support - one thing conservatives complained about was the lack of praise for American “exceptionalism.”
Being exceptional is something you have to keep doing every day…
So even in the midst of their calls to undo the very programs such as public funding for R&D and infrastructure that earned us that title during the post-war years, republicans still like to tout America as number one. The sad fact is that we have lapsed - as all great societies eventually have - into complacency and have assumed that “exceptionalism” is a birth right not something that requires maintenance and looking over your shoulder to see who is coming up from behind. I find this surprising given that so many of these neoconservatives and tea baggers fancy themselves business types. The first thing I learned when I went into business was that you had know what the “other guy” was doing.