Themes of the Career Paths in STEM Panel

On Tuesday, February 24th, a group of UNH students gathered to meet members of various STEM industries to hear advice from professionals and to hone their networking skills. Participating companies included CDM Smith, Liberty Mutual, Raytheon, Summit Engineering, Texas Instruments, and QA Cafe. Dr. Robert Henry, from UNH’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department, moderated a panel session, where each panelist shared their take on their industry, and STEM fields as a whole.

As it often seems to be the case when you gather a diverse group of people in a room to talk about the same thing, I noticed some themes and shared concepts from the panelists’ answers. Here are some of the themes of the night, as I see them:

Soft skills – I don’t think there was a panelist who didn’t mention this. This may be hammered into undergraduates by every career counselor and professor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. These skills – public speaking, verbal communication, technical writing - don’t develop on their own; each one takes work and dedication to develop. Hearing this echoed by each panelist was a great tell of what will set a young engineer hoping to enter the workforce apart from his or her peers.

Mentors – Many of the participating companies had formal mentorship programs, but mentorship is important if one is assigned to you or not. One panelist said that she looked at everyone around her as a mentor who could teach her about herself and others. As Professor Henry pointed out, asking a company in an interview or at a career fair if they have a mentorship program is a good way to set yourself apart from your peers. It shows the company that you are hoping to integrate into their community, and learn from your peers and superiors.

Business – As the panelists introduced themselves, it became clear that many of them held an MBA. A student asked whether it would be more useful to get an MBA straight out of college, since she knew it was something she was interested in, or if it was better to wait. A panelist made the point that an MBA is a “toolkit”, and if you have no use for the tools yet, it may be better to wait. If, on the other hand, you know that the business side of a tech field is what your passion is, maybe it is better to go straight to business school, and market yourself to companies as a candidate with technical background and a business degree. This brings us straight to the next theme, which is…

Know your target – There was some contention on the panel between how to send in a cover letter and resume. In a panel environment, I find it most useful when panelists disagree, since it allows the audience to experience the variety of employers and methods out there. The major difference in applying to small companies and larger companies, seemed that small companies wanted more personalized applicants – if you’re applying to a small company, make sure you have introduced yourself to a contact there first so they can connect a face to a name. Large companies seemed to have stricter policies for applying – an applicant needed to submit their cover letter and resume through the existing methods, regardless of whether they had a contact at the company. After some discussion, the panelists agreed that it’s always better to have a contact at the company you’re applying to, and to let them know that you are applying. Of course, it’s always an advantage to know a hiring manager!