Why Military Spouses Should Consider a STEM Profession


STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics

I am a chemical engineer and my heart belongs to my husband, who is serving our country as an active duty Airman. Yes, I just included both of those huge, seemingly conflicting, pieces of my life in a single sentence; being a career-minded STEM professional and a military spouse, simultaneously, is possible and can be absolutely amazing and fulfilling!

What Makes STEM So Great?

If you are looking for a career with the perfect Trifecta—in demand, financially sound and portable—a STEM career may fit the bill!

Most people don’t go into STEM solely for the money. Although the money is far from shabby…

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May 2013 annual average wage for all the STEM occupations was $79,640, roughly 1.7 times the national annual average wage for all occupations ($46,440).

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The decision to go STEM usually starts when we act on that little fire inside: a burning desire to solve problems; a craving for knowledge; an interest in finding a better way; a yearning to make our world a better place. STEM is a calling. If you have even a little spark inside of you for STEM, I encourage you to consider the following:

Jobs are out there! According to 2014 reports from the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, STEM jobs accounted for 5-10% of all jobs across our nation. The top three states with the highest distribution of STEM jobs were Maryland 7.7%, Virginia 7.5%, Washington 7.4%.

There will be even more out there soon! STEM jobs are projected to grow by one million between 2012 and 2022. Baby boomers are retiring in droves and a talent gap is growing. Just in Washington state alone, 50,000 jobs will go unfilled by 2017 because there aren’t enough skilled workers.

The STEM field is growing! You can get started on your STEM education right now! Scholarships are available for military spouses. Overall, STEM occupations are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations yet, of the recent NMFA scholarship applicants, only 5.8% were seeking STEM degrees. Military spouses are missing out on these fulfilling and rewarding careers!

What About the Downsides?

Let’s be real—there are challenges and there are many opportunities to improve the career horizon for military spouses in STEM. Here are a couple to consider:

Portability is questionable. There are many opportunities where remote work arrangements are possible. I know a few spouses who successfully negotiated this arrangement with their employer upon a move. Not every employer is willing, and not every job is capable of being remote. If seeking new employment after a move, many STEM industries vary by region as well so the likelihood of finding a similar job in a new area is hit or miss. The sunny side of this is that big-name STEM employers are starting to recognize military spouses as a high-value talent pool and are starting to develop solutions to attract, retain, and support the development and transition of military spouses in STEM professions.

Education is challenging. If you are worried that the education piece may be too difficult or too demanding, a little bit of love and geeky excitement is enough to give you the endurance and the resiliency needed for the rigors of a STEM education.

Work of love. I must caution you though, STEM can be rather addicting. When you discover the awesomeness of it, you may feel the calling to apply your passion and skills to every opportunity and you may feel a strong sense of loss and frustration if you run into challenges pursuing your career goals.

A Special Consideration for Military Spouses

Upwards of 95% of military spouses are female, and females are significantly underrepresented in STEM. This is important because our world needs better diversity representation in STEM professions because diversity leads to diverse thinking which leads to innovation. Regardless of your gender, your experience as a military spouse, and the breadth of your professional experiences, is extremely valuable in STEM. Beyond technical skills, the top-rated skills are thinking and communication—we are talking about some of the super strengths of military spouses right there!

What’s Next?

You decide! This is your career. Do the pros outweigh the cons? If you decide a STEM career is right for you…

We invite you to join the Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS), where you will connect with an extremely passionate and supportive group of people determined to overcome the challenges of maintaining a career with the military lifestyle and to support fellow active and retired military spouses in STEM fields reach their full potential.

Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS) is a member-driven 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, visit www.smsstem.org

Are you a military spouse in the STEM field? What do you love about it?

Posted by Michelle Aikman, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient

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