STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) aren't what you think. Many take place outside of the laboratories, classrooms, and cubicles typically associated with the field. They’ll keep you on your feet (or treading water) most days. Here are a few likely to pique your interest.
1. BIOENERGY ENGINEER
Bioenergy engineers are focused on creating a cleaner, greener future by harnessing the power of living organisms. In some cases, that means taking waste—which might otherwise stick around landfills for decades—and converting it into renewable energy. These plants, often designed and operated by bio- or other kinds of environmental engineers, take in waste. When heated, the waste’s organic matter is converted into gas, which fuels a combustion engine to produce electricity.
2. NANOTECHNOLOGY ENGINEER
Nanotechnology experts work across scientific disciplines—and industries—to manipulate materials at the molecular or atomic level. The applications for nanotechnology are practically endless, from fabrics with stain-resistant weaves, to targeted drug therapy for patients facing life-threatening illnesses. One thing nanotech experts have in common? Excellent job prospects. According to forecasters, the value of products that use nanotechnology is expected to reach approximately $1 trillion—or 5 percent of the United States’ GDP—by 2020.
3. NUCLEAR MEDICINE TECHNOLOGIST
An important part of treating cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses is the ability to track their progress within the body. Nuclear medicine technologists play a key role here, injecting radioactive dyes that map out a disease’s progress (or lack thereof).
4. INDUSTRIAL PSYCHOLOGIST
This specialty field focuses on how work environments impact employees, from recruitment practices to management philosophies. Industrial psychologists also address that eternal question, “What’s the best way to improve employee morale?” With more companies focusing on employee retention and wellness, industrial psychology is a burgeoning field with high employment rates.
5. FLAVOR TECHNOLOGIST
Behind every wow-worthy chip and fruit drink you’ve tried, there’s a flavor technologist meticulously working away. Combining high-level chemistry and biology, these scientists utilize natural and artificial ingredients to craft the flavors that tickle consumers’ taste buds. And the work’s not confined to the laboratory: Technologists often take field trips to study herbs, extracts, and other raw flavors in their natural habitat.
6. UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGIST
History’s treasures aren't just buried beneath dry land. They’re also hidden at the bottom of lakes and rivers, and covered by rising oceans. That’s where underwater archaeologists come in, working for government agencies, research universities and in the private sector. In addition to the thrill of exploring shipwrecks and other unique finds, underwater archaeologists get to use some pretty high-tech gadgets, like nuclear-resonance magnometers and side-scan sonars.
7. SPACE AGENCY BIOSTATISTICIAN
There are still a ton of unknowns when it comes to the cosmos—including what effects space travel may have on the human body. To that end, NASA has a team of biostatisticians on hand, dedicated to studying how low- and no-gravity environments during far-flung missions affect human physiology—and figuring out the best ways to protect astronauts from harm.
8. ETHICAL HACKER
Nope—that isn't an oxymoron. Ethical hackers are highly skilled (and often officially certified) computer scientists and programmers hired by financial institutions, government agencies, and major corporations to identify vulnerabilities in a network’s security system. That means anticipating—and finding fixes for—all the different ways potential criminals might be able to gain access to an organization’s digitized information.