A number of bloggers have recently cited a study by Jupiter Scientific (SciGuy, Leaves On the Line, Cosmic Variance), that lists the salaries of senior scientists in many fields. The salaries are quite high, which seems to surprise many readers. Each blogger then asks, why can't we use this information to lure more students into science fields? In fact, this begs another question, where have the students gone who would have previously entered these fields? The physical sciences and engineering have seen a fall in the number of students pursuing careers at the same time that opportunities in these fields have increased. Salaries are on the rise because too few US trained scientists and engineers are available to fill them. This trend is expected to grow at frightening speeds in the near future.
So, how do we use this information to encourage students into STEM fields? The answer may not lie in using dire trends to scare them, nor in using growing salaries to lure them. The answer is in returning to practices in our education of students that fostered the love of science and engineering in previous generations. We must return to the use of science fairs and field trips.
Informal science experiences are how most scientists find their calling. This type of learning is conducive to the skills needed to succeed in science courses. These opportunities have diminished, particularly for urban schools, due to misguided applications of standards-based testing, financial limitations, and security concerns.
We as scientists and educators of teachers of science, must do better to get this message across to administrators and lawmakers.
Support your local science fair!
By the way, the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston is one of the most successful in the world, but it takes constant support to make the fair happen. Please encourage your school to participate, and your company or institution to support it. Please!