There are so many ways you can progress in a STEM-related career. You can either specialize your skillset or become one of the few people in the world who can do what you do, or you can alternatively work your way up into management. It depends entirely on your personality, goals, and your skillset. Some have a general knack for leadership. Others prefer to focus on what they can do and build up their expertise that way.
Further education is a great way to help you pursue your goal, and in STEM fields, it is more of a necessity than something nice to have. This means ongoing education and training, all while seemingly maintaining your career trajectory and taking care of yourself and your social life.
It can feel like a lot, even for those who love their job and are committed to doing what it takes.
The saying “work smarter, not harder” is one of the best ways to approach further education. A graduate program can do so much for your career, and though the best way in the past was to take time out of your career to focus on these degrees, which is no longer the case. Today you can continue to work as an engineer, for example, while working towards a master’s management degree that will help you take your expertise and then add on the essential skillset you need to lead.
With the right tools and tricks, you can complete a degree while continuing your career, so for those who are attempting this delicate juggle for the first time, use this guide to help you get the balance right:
Know the Role You Want
One of the most important things to start with is to know what role you want. Your dream jobs. The one that will allow you to leverage your skills and experience in a way that makes you thrive. The answer will not always be obvious, either.
Take a management role, for example. You know you want to get into engineering management, but what that entails could mean various things. Engineering managers, for example, manage projects and lead their teams. They are tasked with keeping up with industry changes and need to direct and coordinate production. It is a very hands-on role that puts you as a leader for a specific project.
Then you have operations managers. These managers are also in charge of others, though in this case, they do not work on projects but the processes behind them. They need to put their technical expertise to fair use and work more with the operations and logistics of certain materials and goods rather than specific projects.
There are many differences between seemingly two similar options, which you can learn more about here, yet the career path and graduate program best for you will differ massively. By knowing exactly what role you want to work towards, you can choose the right degree for your goals. You can do this fairly quickly by following these steps:
- Job Search
- Make a note of Skills and Experience Required
- Cross-Compare with the Degrees You are Considering
1. Job Search
Explore the different job listings in the field that you work in. Read them through, see if the work is of interest to you. If it is, keep a note of the job title and use that title to help you explore the different roles available. There will be slight differences between all roles, depending on the company, so you do have the ability to tweak and adjust your position in the future, but that does not mean you should bark up the wrong tree.
2. Make a note of Skills and Experience Required
As you go, create a master list of the skills and experience that companies request. Some employers use job descriptions like a wish list, so you do not need to have everything on the list, but there will be common traits that employers are looking for. Use these as the basis for what you need to earn or learn from your engineering degree.
3. Cross-Compare with the Degrees You are Considering
Compare the skills and knowledge you need with the engineering degrees you are looking at and choose what best suits your future aspirations. You will also want to make sure that the degree is made for working professionals. If it is not, you will need to take time off from your degree or try to fit in night school to see your dreams through. In 2021 none of this is necessary. There are 100% online degrees, especially if you are looking into engineering management, to always get the best education regardless of where you are based.
The Tips and Tools that will Help You Succeed
Finding and starting the right degree is the most important tip, but to make your juggle of work and education even more comfortable, you will also want to use these tools and suggestions:
- Cloud-Based Apps
- Note Clipping
- Start a Study Group
- Voice Recordings
- Productivity Tools
- Testing Your New Knowledge
1. Cloud-Based Apps
The days of writing everything down in a notebook are over. The best way to learn on the go is to use cloud-based applications. This way, it does not matter if you note something down on your phone, or start a new document on your tablet because you can access the content you note down anywhere you are logged in. This can make it simple to learn and work, as you do not need to worry about ever forgetting your apparatus, and as all content is digitized, you can quickly search for information as you need it.
2. Note Clipping
There will likely be times when the information that you are learning from is available online. This is perhaps found in an industry news site or perhaps a digital paper. Either way, to make it easier to take notes (and save the citation), you will want to use a note clipping tool. This tool makes it easy to select the information you want to save for yourself later, and in the same process, it also works to save where you found that information for future reference.
3. Start a Study Group
It can feel like when you start a degree online that you do not have access to the other students. This is the furthest thing from the truth. It is great for morale; not only is cooperative learning one of the best ways to learn (especially for those looking to become managers). You can create such a group out of those you know, regardless of what degree they are pursuing, or you can get in touch with others who are working on the same degree that you are.
Never underestimate digital study groups. Even if you do not learn something from them that you do not know, education’s social element cannot be stressed enough. It might be as small as having someone who is doing the same project as you are to complain to when things get stressful. Or perhaps having a peer to ask questions about an assignment or deadline. Being able to socialize when learning connects you, grounds you, and can help you learn.
4. Voice Recordings
There are many great tools out there that can automatically transcribe the spoken word. This way, you can take notes from lecturers or even from yourself without stumble over yourself, trying quickly to type out all the information you need. It does not matter if the lecture was pre-recorded or if you can reaccess it later by rewinding. Getting the information down the first time can speed things up, and if you go back to clean up the document afterward, you are committing more to memory.
5. Productivity Tools
Productivity tools vary drastically from one to another. You can use tools to lock you out of social media sites and other time-wasting applications, for example, so that you can commit larger chunks of your time to other tasks. You can use timers to help count you down into a more productive work/break period.
6. Testing Your New Knowledge
If and when you can, you should always aim to put your new knowledge to the test. This is easier for those pursuing a management or administration degree, which explicitly adds management and leadership skills to your existing expertise. It is harder if you are specializing, as there may be legal restrictions. Either way, there will be something that you can do. Perhaps it is as small as shadowing those in the role you are working towards so that you can see what you are learning about in action. Or maybe it is taking the lead on a project to show your stuff. Doing is the best way to learn, so do not be afraid to put what you have been learning about in your degree to use in your career.
You will solidify your knowledge and showcase your new skills and value to your employer. It is a win-win situation that keeps giving.