Career pivot: How to move from the arts into STEM
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Career pivot: How to move from the arts into STEM

16 Nov 2017

Interested in a STEM career path, but haven’t got the qualifications? Here’s how you can make the transition.

STEM careers are looking extremely attractive right now. They promise a bevy of opportunities and lucrative salaries as well as the opportunity to be at the forefront of societal progress.

It’s easy to see why someone might want to get into STEM in light of this, but what do you do if you don’t have any relevant qualifications?

It can take time to realise where your priorities truly lie, or those priorities can drastically change throughout the course of your career.

Are careers in the STEM industry just too difficult to pivot into? Did your 18-year-old self lock you out of the Garden of Eden that is STEM when they shakily typed out their choices on the CAO form? Not necessarily.

Such a drastic career pivot may seem an insurmountable obstacle, but it’s been done before. Keri Kukral, for example, explained at last year’s Inspirefest how she made the transition from ballerina to biomedical engineer, while Susan O’Beirne made the leap from music to tech.

It’s not necessarily simple, nor is it quick, but it’s definitely possible. If you’re looking to make the leap, read on for some tips on jumping to the science ship.

Ask yourself what you want to do and whether you already have some of the skills

The prerequisite to a STEM career pivot is knowing where you’re going to pivot to. What area of STEM has inspired you, and why?

Besides the rather obvious reason of it giving you a clear idea of what you’re doing, this can help you understand if you already have some prerequisite skills and competencies that you can transfer to your new role, to the point that you may not even need to upskill.

Killian O’Driscoll, project director at NIBRT, explains that there are often “transferable skills” in the degree you already have, and that you can point to this previous experience and reframe it in terms of how it is valuable to the career you crave.

“Things like general management, technical writing and their ilk tend to be pretty degree-agnostic as well.”

In biopharmaceuticals, the area NIBRT specialises in, there are also plenty of opportunities, even for those who didn’t do something science-related the first time around.

“The bioprocessing industry is growing, and employers are starting to cast the net out wider.

“We train 4,000 people a year. I’d say that 50pc of those do come from within the [pharmaceutical] industry and, while the majority of the other 50pc are from related STEM fields, there are definitely those who come from non-STEM backgrounds.”

Find the course to suit your needs

The next step is determining what kind of training and qualifications will be required to pursue your dream STEM career.

There are often conversion courses available, which can serve as a stepping stone towards getting a master’s in one field when your bachelor’s degree is in an unrelated field.

The way the course is delivered can be of equal importance in determining whether you can budget for the energy and time needed to make the plunge. If you’re working, you will need to ensure that you can fit the course around your schedule – by opting for evening classes, for example.

Online courses are a blessing in this regard, as they can be completed from home and you can vary the time spent on them per day, so long as you meet the required deadlines. Their increasing popularity has also done away with any previously held stigma around online education.

“People are pretty comfortable with [online courses],” O’Driscoll explained, “because they’ve become so prevalent of late.”

If you are especially time-poor, it might be worth considering isolating your search to courses that offer a flexible end date. Some will allow you to get your accreditation so long as you complete all modules between one and five years.

Prepare to be patient

One of the things that may be hardest to overcome when making a STEM career pivot is how much the process may test your patience.

“Those who come from a non-STEM background generally start with a Level 6 or Level 7 course,” O’Driscoll stated. This means you may have to build up to the level of qualification you previously obtained in another field.

You may then have to seek further qualification to get the job you want. The career pivot process generally involves playing the long game, and it is important to keep that in mind and moderate your expectations accordingly.

Network, network, network

Networking is an essential part for any job, but doubly so for a job in a field in which you have no previous experience.

Getting your name out there and making sure that prospective employers are aware of you can be a great way to prepare for when you finish your studies and start to look for your new STEM job.

“I’d encourage people to do careers events, Careers Zoo, and to look into NIBRT’s career events,” advised O’Driscoll.

It can also be a good idea to reframe your current network in the same way that you can reframe your current skills. It’s possible that you’ve already connected with someone from your related field, or that you are connected to industry leaders through a degree of separation, which you can bridge by reaching out and asking for an introduction.

You shouldn’t feel as if there are certain jobs you simply cannot have unless you’ve devoted yourself to them from day one. It’s never too late to make the change.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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