The Engineer’s Dilemma: Introduction

img_2403[1]I’m an engineer. For as long as I can remember I have loved to build new things and take old things apart. As a kid I had an electronics kit and a chemistry set and preferred reading the encyclopedia to playing football after school. I taught myself how to program our Apple II+ while I was still in grade school, and by the time I reached high school I was proficient in several programming languages and spent my summers writing, deploying, and maintaining a CRM system for the family business.

When it came time time to go to college, my biggest decision was which field to study. This was long before the term STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) was used to describe the interests of people like me, but I could have gone in any of those directions as I entered the university. I ended up graduating with a degree in Computer Systems Engineering, a perfect blend of electrical engineering and computer science that prepared me exceptionally well for my career thanks in large part to my undergraduate mentor, Professor David Pheanis.

But I no longer work as an engineer. Ten years ago I made the leap to product management inside the small health IT company where I had spent the previous decade writing software. That move ultimately led me to graduate school at Wharton and a series of product strategy jobs in bigger companies. It’s been an amazing and rewarding journey so far.

It turns out that I’m not alone among STEM graduates: A recent study estimates that in the United States fewer than 1/3 of college graduates with STEM degrees work in STEM-related jobs. The authors seem to use this study as evidence that the United States does not need to liberalize its immigration policies in order to address an oft-reported-but-apparently-nonexistent lack of qualified workers to fill these jobs. I’m not going to wade into the immigration debate because I think the authors are missing some more important questions:

What’s happening to all the STEM graduates, and why? Where are they going?

What are the consequences of so many highly educated, well-qualified people leaving their respective fields of study?

What can STEM graduates, their employers, and universities do differently to avoid some of the negative effects of this trend?

To learn more, read on.

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