Who Am I?

Exploring your identity.

Thinking of a pursuing a STEM Career?

Read this first.

A New York Times article featured everyday people who are reinventing themselves via a drastic career change: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/your-money/following-your-dream...

The piece discussed how trying it can be to flourish in a new field, even with ample enthusiasm for the new work and deep pockets to sustain oneself financially during the transition.

This is not to say that reinvention is only possible for those of us with the best education, training, contacts, and so on. But rather than reinvention, the author of the piece urged readers to consider reintegration, in which we build upon our past skills and knowledge to pursue a new career that is a better fit. This sounds sensible enough, but I suspect another ingredient is missing.

Research on identity development often addresses two processes in which we should engage, i.e., exploration and commitment. In terms of career identity, exploration concerns the extent to which we have considered different fields and the extent to which we have considered the specifics of a particular field. In terms of career identity, commitment concerns the extent to which we have made a firm decision about a career, and the extent to which we identify with that commitment.

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Exploration and commitment are recommended for anyone contemplating his or her career, either as a student or career changer, but they may be especially relevant for people planning on a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) career.

Why? Well, STEM careers have been touted as having the potential for higher pay and more rapid growth, but as college majors, they can be very competitive and require substantial workloads. So choosing to pursue a STEM career is not a decision that should be entered into lightly.

In fact, one study of undergraduate STEM majors found that those who engaged in identity exploration prior to committing to a STEM major felt that the effort required was more worthwhile, as compared to those who certainly committed to the STEM major but did not engage in identity exploration prior to committing.

Those students who did not engage in identity exploration also felt less competent in their STEM major, and felt less motivated in their STEM major; as a result, they also had greater intentions to leave their STEM major – regardless of their grades.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with leaving a major and pursuing something else. In fact, it may be the ideal way to find the best career fit. Yet switching majors can add years before graduation, a prospect not to be taken lightly in the age of soaring tuition rates and a shrinking job market. So before (and after) committing to a STEM career, do your homework.

Reference:

Perez, T., Cromley, J. G., & Kaplan, A. (2013). The role of identity development, values, and costs in college STEM retention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1), 315-329. doi: 10.1037/a0034027

 

 

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University.

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