Making your mind up: why choose STEM?

How to know if a science, technology, engineering and maths course is right for you

Trinity College has the best overall research profile for STEM, but UCD excels at computer science

Trinity College has the best overall research profile for STEM, but UCD excels at computer science

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Science, technology, engineering and maths has come a long way: the stereotypes are breaking down, the school science syllabus is increasingly focused on teaching young people about the rigours of the scientific method, and the prestige of STEM courses has been reflected in a rise in CAO points over the past decade. All across the country, students are exposed to STEM through initiatives like Smart Futures and the BT Young Scientist. But how can students know if a STEM course is right for them?

One of the major hesitations students have is that they may not have the mathematical aptitude required, but it’s a mistake to rule out studying STEM on this basis; if a course catches your eye, check out what modules are on offer, get in touch with the college and see if strong maths is a requirement.

At third level, STEM is about much more than just facts: it is about training students to think critically and be guided by the evidence, and these are highly valued skills. STEM graduates also have to be very creative in their thinking and approaches to problem-solving.

Skills shortages

There are particular skills shortages in information and computer technology as well as in construction and engineering (especially civil and environmental engineering) and in the pharmaceutical and food innovation industries. Think beyond the stereotypes of scientists in the white coat and the labs, or engineers wearing hard hats on the building site: many STEM graduates have skills that are valued in industries such as business and finance, telecoms or even creative industries.

Some students may know that they want to work in a particular area such as genetics, nanoscience, pure maths or civil engineering, but more will have a general leaning towards science or engineering and might not be sure what direction to take. The majority of science and engineering courses at Irish higher education institutions now offer a common first-year programme with a little taste of everything, after which students can go on to choose specialist subjects. At Maynooth University, a recently-developed suite of courses allows students to study arts and science subjects together.

Trinity College has the best overall research profile for STEM, but UCD excels at computer science while those interested in marine and environmental sciences may find a home for their passion at NUI Galway.

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