Do you know what differentiates successful STEM professionals from the ones constantly struggling to chart a career path they dreamed of?

A lot of things of course. The answer is not a simple one. A common thread through most of the answers though is that the successful ones were quick to adapt to the workforce when they transitioned from being a university graduate to a STEM professional.

Our research with recent graduates shows that quite a few misconceptions stand in your way when starting your first job and hoping to hit it out of the park right from day one. Let’s have a look at few of them.

Misconception 1: I’m logical because I’m a STEM graduate.

Being logical is intrinsic to STEM disciplines is what most graduates think and they extend that to themselves assuming that they are very logical when it comes to communicating in a work environment.

However, when we talk about logical reasoning in the workplace, it falls under ‘critical thinking’ which is the ability to explain a convincing argument to the target audience while taking note of their limited understanding and seeking to fill those gaps to persuade them.  

STEM graduates are more likely to understand mathematical derivations and equations but this is not the kind of reasoning that can help when you have to convince a colleague or a stakeholder in the workplace.

Consider this and take out time to develop your skills of critical thinking and persuasion as these are often critical to your professional success.

Misconception 2: Problem solving is my key role.

There is no doubt that STEM professionals play an important role in devising solutions to a number of problems we face in Australia and globally. Most of our professional members see the intellectual challenge of solving difficult technical problems as the primary reason for work satisfaction.

What is also true though is that the time spent in finding answers to problems and designing solutions is less than 10% of total time spent at the workplace for most STEM professionals.

In reality, the industries you are likely to work in are more about routine process than about solving problems. Much of this arises from the need to be effective and using solutions that have already been thought through and improved multiple times before.

Misconception 3: Technology keeps changing and I need to stay updated

You read an article about that cool new thing that someone is experimenting with in a research lab and you feel you must stay updated and not be left behind now that you are out of university, right?

In reality, while it is always great to be updated about innovations in your discipline and your industry, the work you will actually be doing will rarely be impacted by this.

Constant learning is very important of course but it’s more about what you learn from your more experienced colleagues and supervisors while on the job that will take you faster on the path to success than reading scientific articles.