10 Little-Known (But Fascinating) STEM Fields to Explore
Interested in a career involving science, technology, engineering, or math? The world is your oyster (or your robot, as it were). STEM disciplines offer countless job opportunities—many of which you probably didn’t know existed. Below, some lesser-known (but fascinating) industries worth considering.
1. EXPLORATION GEOPHYSICS
Consider this the grown-up version of treasure hunting. Exploration geologists and geophysicists take stock of the Earth’s surface, using a variety of testing methods, in an effort to locate potentially lucrative mineral or oil deposits. The job carries with it a good deal of responsibility—mining, after all, is expensive business, and big companies base their decisions on these geological forecasts—but the role also involves lots of travel and lengthy stints in the field.
2. REGENERATIVE MEDICINE
It might sound like straight science-fiction. But regenerative medicine—which falls under the broader category of biomedical engineering—is a burgeoning field that involves growing human tissue in a lab. Using a variety of materials and techniques, tissue engineers are working on the technology necessary to regenerate or grow replacement tissue and organs for patients facing life-threatening illnesses.
Not surprisingly, this requires a good deal of training. While a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or engineering is a good place to start, and can lead to an entry-level research job, most professionals have an advanced degree, at least four years of work experience and have passed a licensing exam.
3. ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
Animal behaviorists seek to understand how animals think, why they make the choices they do, and how they move about their world—which in turn make them an essential piece of the puzzle in global conservation efforts. On the home front, animal cognition experts studying dogs and cats can help us foster even stronger bonds with our furry companions, and help animal welfare organizations better advocate for creatures who can’t speak for themselves.
4. MUSIC DATA ANALYSIS
At the convergence of art and technology? Music streaming. Today, producers, distributors and everyone in between rely heavily on data to see not just what’s popular, but also understand (and act on) what exactly is driving said popularity.
One major music streaming service has a team dedicated to analyzing its growing mounds of data and building algorithms for giving users more of what they want. To be a research lead on such a team, most companies require an advanced degree in math, science, or computer science.
5. DIGITAL FORENSICS
Computer crime investigators are on the front lines of the fight against identity theft, illegal downloads, hacking, and much more. Law enforcement agencies rely on them to help solve offline crimes too, which could involve recovering deleted or hidden data from hard drives, smartphones, and other electronics. But those with backgrounds in digital forensics aren't limited to positions with law enforcement agencies. Large organizations may utilize digital forensics experts in their attempts to catch criminals—ideally, before they act.
6. ANTARCTIC ENGINEERING
Yes, engineers are needed in Antarctica, too. Scientific teams studying the frozen landscape there rely on expensive, delicate equipment—all of which needs to be carefully maintained and operated.
The requirements here are a bit less concrete than for some of the fields mentioned above. Candidates should have a wide range of experience—and the ability to deal with uncomfortable, remote, challenging living situations.
Optics—the study of light and the way it interacts with matter—is a field that makes a variety of technologies possible. From consumer goods (say, your DVD player) to medical imaging equipment to satellites, a wide variety of objects function thanks to the power of optics. Companies and government agencies involved in space exploration depend on optics experts to obtain and analyze images of far-off destinations.
8. VIDEO GAME DESIGN
Think your video game obsession is useless? Think again. Video game design can be a rewarding path for anyone interested in graphic design, software engineering, and of course, storytelling.
Designers with experience in virtual reality gaming, in particular, can leverage their knowledge in the pursuit of even bigger goals. Some aerospace companies, for example, are currently developing VR technology that would allow engineers to practice constructing and repairing space systems before they take (very expensive) real life action.
9. DE-EXTINCTION ZOOLOGY
Loving animals used to mean you might want to become a vet or zookeeper, but lately, advancements in science have dramatically upped the ante. Scientists have made huge strides towards actually bringing extinct species back to life, which is why de-extinction zoologists will be needed to assess and manage how these animals can be reintegrated into the wild without disrupting existing ecosystems.
While you can’t go to school to focus explicitly on this field, an education—especially one with flexibility in terms of its focus—in biology, genetics and/or conservation science represents a good first step.
10. ROBOT OPERATIONS
No robot is completely autonomous, which is why robot operators are still necessary to help robots navigate specific terrain (such as deep underwater), and to repair, test, and maintain automated systems. If you’re interested in breaking into robotics, a degree in engineering—with a specialization in robotics, if your program offers it—may be your best bet.