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Phoenix Forward magazine

Why more women should consider science degrees

Women in science

Despite the wealth of job opportunities for people with science degrees, there are still far fewer women pursuing science at the college level than men, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Although girls display just as much interest in the sciences in elementary, junior high and high school, the numbers decrease in college.

“I believe women shy away from science because often they aren’t encouraged by their teachers to stick with it as much as men are,” says Hildegarde Selig, PhD, an instructor in the environmental science program at the University of Phoenix Detroit Campus, and a former environmental researcher at the University of Michigan.

But if women excel in subjects like biology, chemistry and physics and can get past the stereotypes, she adds, they might want to consider earning a science degree. Here are four reasons why: 

They have the aptitude.

Although men outnumber women when it comes to enrollment in college-level science courses, there’s no evidence that men have more inherent abilities for science than women do, Selig explains.

Just because you’re the only woman in your upper-division science class doesn’t mean you can’t master the work. “Hard science is challenging and doesn’t come easily [to either sex],” Selig notes, adding that “many of my students [male and female] come to me worrying that they can’t handle the material. With science, you have to go over and over it again until you finally get it.”

Opportunities abound outside the lab.

“[Some women] tend to think that science all takes place while working in a lab in isolation,” Selig says. But that’s not the case. She points out that science also can open the door to people-oriented career possibilities that go beyond conducting solo experiments.

For example, with a science degree, you could work as an executive for a corporation selling medical equipment. “A company will appreciate that you can help explain the science behind the products you are selling to customers,” she says. Or you could seek a job as a nutritionist consulting with families about their diets, or become an elementary school science teacher.

Earning potential is good.

Women with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) earn a 9 percent higher average salary than women with other degrees, regardless of the field in which they work, according to the Department of Commerce.

Women with a STEM degree who work in a STEM field earn 29 percent more on average than women who are not STEM-educated and do not work in a STEM field.

STEM skills can increase your marketability.

There’s a lack of workers in the U.S. with science and technology backgrounds, but there’s a growing need to fill these jobs. Currently, 20 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy require an education in STEM, and that number is expected to grow.

“Employers in the United States [now] have to go overseas to find people with these competencies because they aren’t finding them here,” Selig says.

“With a science degree, [you can] have an advantage over a lot of other people when it comes to seeking full-time work. By mastering science, you’re demonstrating an ability to use quantitative reasoning in order to solve problems, and companies are looking for people that have those skills.”