3 Tips for Future STEM Majors

1. Learn to ask for help 

Just like UPchieve can help you throughout high school, you will need similar resources in colleges. Who better to ask for help than the professor! Reaching out to professors serves two purposes: you learn the class material better and you build a relationship. This relationship will come in handy when you need a letter of recommendation for a job, internship or graduate school. Additionally, in science fields, professors often have research opportunities for students in their labs, which look great on a resume! 

Building a study group from classmates provides crucial support when exam time rolls around. Trust me, it is easier to study until 2 am with a group of people than by yourself. Being a STEM major requires humility, admitting you don't have all the answers and repeatedly asking for assistance. Sometimes the same tricky concept will overwhelm you even after reading the textbook, attending class and watching an online tutorial. Use professors, study groups, tutors and teaching assistants (TAs) to master the material. This is normal STEM life. 

2. Get used to shockingly low grades 

Most STEM majors have a story where they survived a test with a class average of about 42%. Many STEM professors grade on a curve which means this 42% will be adjusted to a non-failing grade; however, STEM students will often still fail an assignment, a project or even a test. Failure means “an unsuccessful attempt.” Another attempt awaits at the next assignment, project or test. Learn from your mistakes and improve by asking for help. 

Programmers, engineers and, workers in other STEM career fields, find solutions to problems by working through failure in real life. Testing ideas and finding the best path requires experimentation and perseverance. This approach starts in college by exploring new ways to study and keeping your resolve throughout tough courses. Discovering ways to learn from failure will be a useful tool throughout life. 

And after failing you can send a few memes in the study group chat, grieve your grade and then get back to work!


3. Have confidence in your abilities 

Given the first two points, at times it will feel that you don't belong in a STEM major, class or even college. After doing poorly on an assignment or test, thoughts like, “you aren’t smart enough for this” or “everyone else understands this concept, you’re faking your way through class” fill your brain. Symptoms of imposter syndrome, feeling like accomplishments come from luck — not your ability, plague STEM students

Rest assured in this truth: You belong and you have the ability to succeed. Failure does not have to end your STEM career, rather it provides an opportunity to learn a new way of thinking and to grow as a student. 

Stereotypes of STEM students having specific lifestyles or interests persist but in reality STEM students have diverse backgrounds and personalities. If you feel like imposter syndrome dominates your thoughts, reach out to your college’s student center or counseling. Point #1, “learn to ask for help,” applies inside and outside of the classroom. 

More Specific Information 

Science Majors

microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry, environmental science

Science majors have a laboratory component to classes. On a semester system, a four-credit science class will have three hours of lecture and three hours of lab each week. Other three-credit courses will just have three hours of lecture. As you can see, lab cuts into your time. In addition to this, you might be taking two or three science classes per semester, meaning you could spend six to- nine hours in lab! Although time consuming, lab gives you the opportunity for hands on learning, experiments, and a chance to use cool technology. 

Technology Majors  

Computer science, human - computer interaction, software design, web development

When you learn how to code, prepare to spend hours debugging and refining your work. Details matter here so pour another cup of coffee brewed with Mountain Dew and work through your code. You don't have to know how to code before majoring in computer science but it certainly doesn’t hurt. If you want to try your hand at this before going to college check out freecodecamp.org or edx.org. They have free resources to help start your coding journey. 

Engineering Majors 

Biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering 

Engineering combines many aspects of STEM and the type of engineering you want to practice will dictate your classes. Engineers take knowledge and principles from science, math and technology to create solutions that meet our needs. For example, biomedical engineers invented a camera pill that can detect cancer earlier and it costs less to use than other procedures. Engineers need to have a curiosity about why something works, or doesn’t work. If you enjoy taking stuff apart to figure out what happens on the inside, you might enjoy engineering. 

Mathematics Majors 

Math majors will tell you that high school math and college math differ tremendously. High school math focuses on computations while college-level math classes concentrate on proofs and theories. This change to abstract thinking can throw a curve ball to many students who loved math in high school. Instead of solving an equation, you will write a paragraph proof to show the logic and reasoning behind a theorem. High school geometry provides an introduction to proofs so if you enjoyed this way of thinking — look into a math major. 

A note to future STEM majors 

STEM majors have a bad reputation for looking down on others and discrediting non-STEM majors. If you go into a STEM major, please change this stereotype. Make friends outside your major by joining a club and getting involved on campus. You will need a healthy break from studying. Additionally, an English major can help edit papers (yes STEM majors still have to write papers) and a communications major can give tips on your presentation. In return, you can tutor them. Teaching them will actually help you as well. 

Of course you can still bond with other STEM majors about your hours in the laboratory counting fruit flies for a semester project. (True story, the campus police asked to see my student ID because I tried to enter the science building at 9 pm on a Friday night). But, don’t belittle other majors to make yourself feel smarter or superior. As #3 says, have confidence in your own abilities. 

If you desire to major in STEM, start #1 right now and ask UPchieve for help to get there!