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The Decline of STEM: Why American Students Are Avoiding STEM Professions

The 2011-2012 school year is over, so we decided the next infographic should take a look at how the sciences are faring at schools in the United States. Let’s start with a personal anecdote about science education. When I started studying bioengineering at UCSD, I was ecstatic to find out that 2 of the 7 other people living in my suite would be studying it too. Study buddies! Just 1 quarter later, one switched to biology (and eventually out of science), and after 2 quarters, the other fled to economics. What went wrong? The classes were nothing surprising, such as general physics and calculus, not including the tougher major-specific stuff like systems biology. I believe the problem lies in a lack of education about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). If my friends were more prepared for the courses that scared them off, or even just knew what they were jumping into, it would provide much more confidence to jump into the major that previously excited them.

STEM is an important driver for innovation, whether it is programming new software, researching disease treatments, or designing new electronics. Despite the importance of STEM and the relative job stability in those fields, a majority of American students don’t care to get involved.

There are multiple possible causes for this, but it appears that the crux of it lies in one thing: level of difficulty. How many people do you know lament having to do integrals? Stoichiometry? Debugging code? A common piece of advice is “do what you love” or else you’ll be doing a job you hate for the rest of your life, and people seem to be listening. For every STEM-passionate person, there are two or three that think it’s tough, intimidating, or boring.

What’s the solution? The answer can range from more allowance for teaching creativity to greater positive media coverage of the sciences. At Scientist, our solution is to promote STEM with science challenges open to amateur scientists, professionals, and anyone with an idea. We are wrapping up our $10k Open Science Challenge with BioCurious and we have many other competitions planned (look for our announcements!). To promote science for kids, we offered $1000 for an under-18 category in our most recent challenge and we are in the middle of preparing high-school science competitions in San Diego and New York. Students need an outlet for their ideas that schools may not have the capability to harness, and we believe we can help.

Check our new infographic to find out the alarming decline of STEM in the United States and see why we need to step up our promotion of STEM education.