Choosing to expand your career and pursue higher education in a STEM field is a big decision to make. Add the ever-changing circumstances of military life, and you’ll likely discover more questions to ask yourself than answers.
Should I pursue a master’s or PhD? Online or in-person? Is there a program near me or will I have to move away from my spouse and family to attend the program of my dreams? What about state licensing if (when) we move again? Scholarships and grants? Mentorship opportunities?
The SMSS 2020 Spotlight on Military Spouses found that of 207 SMSS members 90% have a bachelor’s degree, 50% have a master’s degree, and 15% have doctorates. SMSS members make high-value contributions to both private and public STEM sectors. However, 71% felt that being a military spouse hindered their ability to secure employment in their desired field.
That’s why we’re on a mission to better understand the community and needs of military spouses in STEM. We launched a member-to-member support program in September. The SMSS member forum is a great place to ask questions about educational interests and career readiness. If you have a question, post it! You’re likely not the only one who’s curious.
Is graduate school for me?
Let’s start with the big question. Is now the right time? Are you ready to spend years studying and considerable expense to reach that next level? A great starting point is to reach out to the career education center of your alma mater and speak with an advisor.
What’s your why? The University of California, Berkeley, offers a helpful chart of questions to narrow in on what’s motivating you to pursue graduate school. Next, check out Duke University’s tips for “How to choose the right graduate school.”
What to study?
Some of us have known our dream career since childhood, for others finding your perfect niche in academia or applied STEM fields can take a good bit of time and self-discovery. Thankfully, with Military Spouse Education & Career Opportunities, you don’t have to spend hours searching the web alone.
With career coaches, job hunt help, and tips for entrepreneurs, there are a million and one resources to explore. Keep track of your scholarships, schools of interest, and career goals with a MySECO account.
Find your professional peeps
A great way to ensure you’re making the right choice on a particular graduate school is to connect with others in your field who have completed their studies. By joining a professional organization, you can build a network of contacts and learn what they loved about their graduate programs. Or what they wish they’d done.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science offers student memberships. Its Science magazine has a careers site dedicated to scientist stories, graduate school searches, job postings, and employer profiles. You can even create your own Individual Development Plan or catch a podcast or webinar while you peruse their 2020 Career Handbook.
This year, many organizations are offering virtual conferences, annual meetings, or webinars. Take advantage of a great opportunity to connect with professionals around the world without leaving home. Check out the SMSS member’s forum for a list of virtual STEM conferences compiled by members.
Seek your Yoda
We all need a little help along the way. Finding a mentor(s) who understands the complexities of military life and your STEM field is a great way to get support while navigating life, family, and your studies. American Corporate Partners offers a virtual military spouse mentorship program, as does Military One Source.
The global network at SMSS is a wonderful forum to connect with STEM professionals. Check out our monthly “Illuminating Military Spouses in STEM” series to meet fellow SMSS members and reach out!
The nitty-gritty: license requirements
One of the largest headaches for STEM professionals in many healthcare fields is transferring state and national licenses between moves. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a nationwide map of state-by-state license information, a resource guide, and a customizable action plan.
If you’re considering graduate school, see what licenses you may need once you enter the workforce in your state. Before departing your location, contact your military branch’s family support center. You may be eligible for license reimbursement programs.
Live Long and Prosper!
Looking forward to graduation and the wide world beyond is exciting and nerve-wracking. As you decide on graduate programs, think a few years ahead and explore what kinds of jobs you want to be a prime candidate for.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a breakdown of which STEM occupations earned higher wages with an advanced degree and which did not. Does your career field require higher education? Will your current employer be able to assist with tuition?
O*NET OnLine offers a vast database of job descriptions to explore that you can filter to a STEM career cluster. As you narrow in on which graduate school to pursue, see if their program goals line up with the career skills and abilities you want to build.
As you navigate your graduate journey, hop on the SMSS members-only forum to share your experiences and insights. Still curious? Explore these STEM career resources:
- The National Military Family Association’s STEM Education + Careers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ STEM 101: Intro to Tomorrow’s Jobs handbook
- Career One Stop’s Military Spouse page
- Candid Career’s STEM channel of videos with professionals
- The Versatile PhD