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Roundtable Discussion: What can I do in STEM other than engineering?


Hi Footnotes,

When people talk about STEM they always talk about engineering, but what else can I study or do that fits under STEM?

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For this round table discussion we pulled in these experts:

  • Expert one: Studying a Cert IV in Food Science and Technology (Food Tech)
  • Expert two: Blood Collector
  • Expert three: Head Teacher of Laboratory and Life Sciences
  • Expert four: Dietician
  • Expert five: Conservation Scientist

The Footnotes: STEM as an industry is pretty diverse… so tell me what you do?

Food tech: I work in food quality management, and decided to study Food Science and Technology at TAFE NSW. A bit of context for you, I am a pastry chef by trade, but I decided to make the jump to become a full time quality assurance/quality control officer. I am half way through the Certificate IV program.

Blood collector: As a blood collector, my field of study was science. I completed a Certificate III in Pathology Collection (Blood Collection) and a Diploma of Laboratory Technology (Pathology Testing) at TAFE NSW.

Dietician: I am a dietician, which means I’m concerned with human nutrition and the regulation of diet.

So my field is rooted in biology, chemistry and research, as well as the study of behaviours and social factors related to food choices. I studied a Bachelor of Dietetics.

Conservation scientist: I work in conservation, which is a highly interdisciplinary field in STEM. I studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in biochemistry.

Head teacher: I teach a Certificate III in Food Processing (Micro-brewing). TAFE NSW has a brewery where students have to brew beer from the beginning to the end. We also offer a Certificate III in Laboratory Skills, where students learn how to operate in a laboratory safely. Finally, our Certificate III in Pathology Collection teaches students to collect blood and other human specimens.

The Footnotes: What is your job day to day?

Blood collector: As blood collectors, we don’t actually test samples or diagnose patients, we just take the samples and send it to the lab where they test them.

Conservation scientist: I focus mostly on identifying priority areas for conservation in the ocean. I use my geography background and the skills I have learned during my PhD to work with all different kinds of spatial data, such as species ranges, the distributions of human activities like fishing, aquaculture, shipping, recreation, and socio-economic data to design marine protected area networks.

Head teacher: Day to day, Micro-brewing students could be brewing beer or assessing a batch they made. They may be testing and tasting, to make sure the quality of their production is good. This could include sensory testing, where they are given beers spiked with certain chemicals which simulate defects in the brewing of beer. For example, they might have a beer that’s been spiked with a chemical that gives an off flavour, which could tell you that you haven’t cleaned your tanks well enough.

Dietician: I own a practice that specialises in childhood obesity. A patient will come in via referral. Firstly, it’s about educating them on childhood obesity and the associated risks. Then as a team we need to understand how we [the family and I] got to this point and, more importantly, how to correct it. From this point I will develop a plan with them – meal plans, prescriptive ingredient lists, exercise plans and lifestyle shifts.

Food tech: I work in a wholesale pastry production facility as the quality assurance officer. I do a lot of paperwork and I observe production and make sure that the facility is following the rules. This means making sure that everything is hygienic and up to standard – so, things like washing hands and cleaning the equipment.

This is all to make sure that the product, at the end of the day, is safe to eat for everybody.

The Footnotes: What do you hope to do with your qualification?

Food tech: I’m definitely staying in this job, I just moved from being a pastry chef to this position so I’m staying in this area. I’ll continue studying with TAFE NSW a little bit more to get more qualifications and hopefully continue to move higher up.

Blood collector: I got into science to understand what medicine is and how it works. I like being a blood collector because I get to talk to patients. But I’ve actually decided to become a nurse, as I get to continue with science and health but also communication.

The Certificate III in Pathology Collection (Blood Collection) has helped me so much with my future in nursing, it has taught me to be aware of diseases, being cautious with patients and learning how to communicate best with them.

Head teacher: A science based course teaches someone how to work in a team and be able to follow instructions. Having these skills will set you up for life.

TAFE NSW has a number of science based graduates in management because they know how to think critically, they can see trends in data and they communicate well. The skills you learn are transferrable to other industries.

See Also

The Footnotes: How would someone get into the industry?

Food tech: Many jobs advertised for QA/QC in the food production industry require a degree in Science. And as much as I would love to study for a Master’s Degree, I just don’t have the time. TAFE NSW offers relevant industry experience and a pathway into a career in Food Quality Management.

Head teacher: Because you will spend many hours in work simulated, industry standard laboratories at TAFE NSW, you will be work ready. For instance, the first and second Micro-brewing cohorts have had nearly 100% employment after doing our course.

Conservation scientist: I would say that getting my master’s in Geography was the most useful thing I could have done to get my foot in the door. Other than that – get inspired. Get involved. Turn up. Find your purpose and start making contacts with people in the field. Do your research and reach out to the people who do what you want to do. That may mean studying with someone at a University whose work you find interesting or reaching out to the head of a local organisation you want to get involved with.

Dietician: You need to complete a Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) accredited dietetic program (also called an APD). This could involve a combined undergrad/master’s degree, a dietetics/other subject double degree or an integrated dietetics undergrad degree.

Blood collector: I would say doing a course somewhere like TAFE NSW really helps prepare you for the real world. When I first started working, I would ask scientists how to do something in the lab and they would explain the exact same things we learnt at TAFE NSW.

The Footnotes: What do you love about your job/course?

Food tech: I like that there are certain rules that need to be followed, it makes my life very easy. But mainly it’s working with people – I get to work with a lot of different people and explain to them what is important and why it’s important. I like to teach people, so it’s really great for me.

Dietician: The latest figures show that 25.1% of Australian kids aged 2-17 years are overweight or obese, so it is a conversation we need to have. I think being able to start this conversation and helping to solve some of these problems is the most rewarding part.

Blood collector: I’m actually mainly using my blood collecting job to learn for the future. I see patients’ symptoms and then I relate them to the tests that the doctors do so that they make sense to me. Then I can say, “oh, I see why the doctor gave them this medication”. But other than that, I mainly love communicating with patients and helping them feel better.

Conservation scientist: The range of challenges and problems to solve are constantly changing and that keeps me perpetually inspired. There is so much to do! Also, the people I work with to tackle these problems are amazing. One week I might be in a Government workshop in Papua New Guinea, and the next, I am doing fieldwork in Borneo. Seeing real-world success helps me stay positive in an otherwise depressing field. It is a real privilege to spend my life doing something I believe in and being surrounded by positive brilliant people.

Get your foot in the door through studying a STEM related course at TAFE.

Disclosure: It’s important to remember these are just opinions of the panel, and that this article’s advice shouldn’t be used in isolation when making your decision about working with animals. Remember, opinions are limited to a person’s own experience. 

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