First Steps to Getting Started with a Career in STEM

by Curtis Rurka on 15 Mar, 2022

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a growing career field that can be rewarding for anyone. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been saying for years that STEM jobs are the "jobs of tomorrow" and are expected to grow rapidly in the years ahead. In Canada, over 5,000 tech start-ups have sprung up between Toronto and Waterloo alone, not even considering the considerable growth in Montréal, Vancouver, and Ottawa.


TL;DR Summary

On the run? Here's a quick summary of the key steps to starting your career in STEM.

  • Find an area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) that interests you. 
  • Research colleges and universities that offer your preferred STEM programs. Don't forget to look into scholarships, bursaries, and extracurricular activities too!
  • Prepare now: a career in STEM begins in high school, so make sure you're taking the courses you need to get that apprenticeship or get accepted to your college or university of choice.
  • Complete your education.
  • Jump-start your career exploration with ChatterHigh's gamified Daily Quiz. (Create your free account here.)


If you're looking into a career that pays well, puts you at the cutting edge of technology, and will last well into the future, a career in STEM might be the answer. There is a wide variety of career options in STEM, so it's understandable that making a choice could be overwhelming. That's why we've put together this article to help clarify what STEM is, how to choose a STEM major and post-secondary institution, and what you can expect as you start your STEM journey. 



1. Choose a STEM career or subject that interests you


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People with careers in STEM have often completed a degree in a specific field in order to get the career they want. Although you should be prepared for your exact career decision to evolve as you get further along, having an idea of which field you want to go into is a great first step.


The list below is obviously not exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of what each of the "letters" of STEM could offer you as far as possible professions:

  • Science covers the natural, physical, and medical sciences. Some people also include social sciences like psychology in this category. Sciences are perfect for people who want a challenge and want to help discover new things.
    • Examples: biology, chemistry, physics, geology, ecology, medical sciences, etc.

  • Technology contains all the newest technologies and some of the older ones. People who like working with computers and problem-solving would love technology careers.
    • Examples: information technology, computer programming, electronics, industrial electronics, robotics, etc.

  • Engineering careers cover the application of science and mathematics to solve problems. Where science and mathematics handle scientific theory, engineering puts them into practice. Engineering is great for people who like hands-on work.
    • Examples: civil, mechanical, computer, electrical, aerospace, chemical, manufacturing, architectural, etc.

  • Mathematics isn't just professors and numbers! Lots of careers need talented mathematicians and statisticians to help understand data and financial information. Mathematics careers are great for people who like a challenge and enjoy working with numbers.
    • Examples: data analysts, actuaries, research scientists, etc.



If none of these options has immediately caught your attention, Let's Talk Science has a wide variety of career-related STEM resources available. You can learn more about various STEM careers from people who work in them, as well as what they love about their work and how they got there. You can even sort it by province or country if you want to find someone who works near where you live!



2. Choose somewhere to study


Once you've narrowed down a STEM subject area that you want to study, you'll need to find somewhere to study it! Different colleges and universities offer different programs and different levels of degrees. Your local community college helps you get an Associate's degree while at the big-name universities in your region you could probably get a Master's or a Doctorate (often called a Ph.D.). Check out the list below to see the differences between the different kinds of degrees.

 Degree Level (1)-1


Associate's Degree: 2 years

Careers that usually require Associate's Degrees: web developers, dental hygienists, veterinary technicians, avionics technicians, etc.


Bachelor's Degree: 4 years (2 years if you have an Associate's)

Careers that usually require Bachelor's Degrees: aeronautical engineers, business data analysts, software engineers, architects, etc.


Master's Degree: 2 years + Bachelor's

Careers that usually require Master's Degrees: computer research scientists, economists, occupational therapists, epidemiologists, etc.


Doctorate: 2-4 years + Master's

Careers that usually require Doctorates: physicians (doctors), dentists, computer engineers, research mathematicians, healthcare administrators, etc.


When researching colleges and universities, it's also important to consider what other activities and opportunities they offer. For example, do they have extracurricular activities (like sports, clubs and organizations)? What about study-abroad options? Cooperative education is also a great thing to add to a degree in STEM as it allows students to gain work experience in their field before they graduate.


If you're at a loss about where to start looking, ChatterHigh's Daily Quiz activity introduces you to local post-secondary institutions, programs, as well as all kinds of careers. The reports that you can unlock help pair your interests with these programs and institutions so that you can narrow down your options before you finish high school. ChatterHigh even enables students to personalize their career exploration experience



3. Finish high school with the requirements to get accepted


Most jobs in STEM require post-secondary education at a university or college, which means that finishing high school is a must in order to get into these programs. These programs may also require you to have completed a certain number or selection of secondary school courses, like sciences or calculus, so be sure to check this out well in advance so that you can save yourself from having to do them later. You can find requirements for most colleges and universities in the “Admissions Requirements” section of their website.


Bursaries and scholarships are also a great thing to look into at this stage, as many of them are given out to high school students or to first-year students planning to complete a degree in STEM. They're becoming more and more common, particularly to help certain demographics of students, such as students of colour and female students, get into STEM. A quick search engine query for your STEM subject area and "scholarships'' might be a great way to find some common ones. Your institution of choice from the previous section will likely offer scholarships as well. Here's a page with examples of some common scholarships offered to STEM students in the United States. Canadian students can find a similar list here.



4. Complete post-secondary education 


It might take anywhere from two years to ten (or more) to complete your STEM education, depending on the career path you choose. It's also important to remember that you don't have to wait until you've completed your degree in order to start working towards your career. Many degree programs have a cooperative learning or internship option too, and there's nothing wrong with taking a break from studying to work for a bit to build up experience. Once your post-secondary education is complete, you'll be well placed to get a career in the STEM field of your choice!





Our best advice is to follow your passion and keep your goal in mind. If after reading this you're still unsure of where to go next, take advantage of resources to start your journey. You could look at Let's Talk Science's career profiles to see which ones strike your fancy or take a gamified approach to career exploration by completing ChatterHigh's Daily Quiz.

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