STEM Careers and Incomes

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I usually talk to my family back in the US during the weekends. I found out that my brother started working for a new company at the end of September. He had just left his previous job of six years. The new company was going to pay him almost double his previous salary. Wow. He and his wife are electrical engineers so their combined income will be in the six figures.

I am both happy and jealous, I have to admit.

I am happy that he will have a great income but jealous that I don’t have that great income. I

I really should be used to this–but I just keep forgetting. I am the only one in my family that doesn’t have a degree in the STEM fields, which explains why I don’t make a lot of money. My other brother works for a company that does quality control on various products. He has a degree in chemistry. Both my mother and sister are nurses. My father graduated with a civil engineering degree.

I am the only one with a Master’s Degree, albeit in a social science–but I am the one who makes the least.

That’s not to say that I am saddened by all this. I’m upset at myself because I haven’t done the things I know I should do to increase my income. I know that there are many people out there who have degrees in social sciences that make a lot of money. I know that this is my own responsibility. If I am not making as much money as I want, it is my responsibility to go out and make a better income.

I wonder, though, about my career if I had gone into the “hard” sciences instead. Growing up, I just felt more interested in history and English. I found the subjects really interesting, and also honestly–really easy for me to grasp.

On the other hand, I found memorizing formulas for science and math to be really difficult. And even if I finally managed to get the formulas straight in my mind, I constantly made mistakes with my calculations. It was all very discouraging. Even though I work hard at a problem, it was still difficult to get the right answers.

Also, the abstractness of it all was just too damned difficult to understand. I mean, really–how the hell was a formula going to explain to me about energy? How do you apply these numbers and figures to to real life? I’ll spare you guys the chemistry lesson, but I do remember those tiny triangles we had to learn in class about entropy and changes in energy. Again, I remember the triangles but not necessarily why I needed to learn them and what practical application they had to my life.


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Um, what?!

But even back then in high school, I knew I couldn’t just coast and blow off things. I took responsibility for my weakness and sought out extra help from teachers whenever I was struggling with concepts in math or science. I really tried to understand it all. Still though, despite all this hard work, I think deep down in my heart, I had already adopted self-limiting beliefs: Math was hard. Science was hard. This is not for me.

This continued on into college. Obviously, I didn’t even think about going into the STEM fields. My only exposure to “hard” science were the couple math and science classes to fulfill graduation requirements. Instead, I dedicated my entire college career to the social sciences, choosing to major in Political Science and Journalism.

It’s funny because now that I am older, I find science and math to be really interesting. I wonder how my life could have been different if only I had found that one class that kindled my interest in the hard sciences. If I had found that spark and it steered me down a different path–maybe even into any of the STEM fields–I wonder how my life would have changed.

Maybe, just maybe, I would also easily be making six figures.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that having a high income necessarily means that you’re automatically happy. I am pretty sure that having a high income means you’re dealing with a lot of stress and other bullshit. I also know that just because I have a social science degree, I am not stuck forever in lower-paying jobs. This is because I have the power to increase my income by getting side gigs or starting my own business. Even at my ripe, old age of 38, I can still enroll at a technical school and maybe get a more “useful” degree so I could transfer into a STEM career.

Now that I am older, I’m trying to live a life that is not limited by my belief. If I think about the boundless opportunities available to me, I know that I won’t be stuck making such a low wage.

The sky’s the limit.

I also don’t think that having a social science degree means that I have useless skills. One of the skills I’ve learned while studying a social science was the ability to do research and write papers. I am very glad I have learned that competence because communication is still a very important skill we need in this world.

Even though I do not have a degree in the STEM fields, I hope that I can prove that it’s possible to make a decent income and live happily on less than six figures a year. To me, that’s more important than making a lot of money and being miserable–although I wouldn’t mind earning that income to see if the money will change me and who I am. I also wonder if I will become affected by the lifestyle creep that comes along with that. I will be curious how I will change.

While I do my best to build wealth and find satisfaction with my life, I will continue to watch my siblings make a lot of money as they progress through their careers. I will continue to cheer them on. I will also continue to wish for their happiness and success.

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