The Student Research Foundation explores the Physical and Mental Requirements for STEM Careers

What Are the Physical and Mental Requirements for STEM Careers?

Many parents like to tell their children, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” That’s empowering, but in many cases, it turns out to be inaccurate. One adult friend of ours, for example, decided when he was five that he wanted to be a jockey when he grew up. But by the time he was in sixth grade, he was already too tall and heavy. (He decided to be an astronaut instead.)

The fact is, our physical and, in some cases mental, capabilities either qualify or disqualify us from certain careers.

What About Physical Strength?

Fair or unfair, sheer physical strength is probably the first baseline criterion of all to consider when making a job choice. If you work at Home Depot and part of your job is loading 50 lb. bags of sand into customers’ cars, you simply must be able to pick up and move objects that weigh 50 lb., and there is no getting around that.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobs that require the most physical strength are (in descending order of strength required): construction and extraction: installation, maintenance and repair; transportation and material moving; production; and healthcare support. The jobs that require the least physical strength are (all virtually tied): management; legal; community and social service; sales; architecture; and the arts.

And What Traits Are Required for STEM Careers?

“Which Skills Are Important for STEM Jobs in 2015?” by Dania Radi, published on AcademyCube.com on July 28, 2015, lists traits that include mathematical skills, critical thinking, the ability to solve problems, and organizational skills.

Those are all important, definitely. But we would like to add the following physical and mental traits that qualify individuals for success in STEM careers:

  • Good corrected or uncorrected eyesight
  • Excellent hand/eye coordination and dexterity (for laboratory work)
  • Sufficient physical strength to meet the demands of the specific work being performed
  • The ability to focus and concentrate (individuals with ADHD can possess skills that make STEM-sector jobs both easier to perform and harder)
  • The ability to work while standing and good mobility (for laboratory work, outdoor work, factory work and certain other technical jobs)

Opportunities for Counseling and Coaching Students

Matching students to jobs that meet their abilities requires tact and sensitivity. Few students, after all, wants to be told, “I don’t think you have the raw abilities to succeed in that kind of work.”

On the other hand, matching students to work that suits them is an opportunity to encourage and motivate them. Many students would like to hear “I think you would be great at field research, have you thought about that?”

We can’t all be jockeys, but we can all find rewarding careers.

Not sure which career is right for you? Participate in the National Career Pathway Study and you will be empowered with new information to make career and educational decisions that ultimately align with your interests, passions, and aptitudes.

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