The Geography of Hiring in Alternate STEM Careers

Do you know where you’d like to live? To borrow from Aesop, are you a city mouse or a country mouse or perhaps, like me, a suburban mouse? What kind of weather do you enjoy, or wish to avoid, whether that’s blistering heat or months of dark, snowy days? Do you prefer the indoors, or do you crave fresh air?

I am truly surprised by how few students receive career counseling that urges them to consider not only their aptitudes and skills, but also what kind of whole life they want to live. Because let’s face it: Some higher-education and career decisions come saddled with strict geographic restrictions.

If you aspire to a career in academe, you may not have much of an opportunity to select where you’ll live, depending on the openings available and your connections when you go on the market. The same can be true of alternate careers. Chemist or chemical engineer? Chances are you’ll find industrial employment in New Jersey or Louisiana or eastern Texas. Want to be a high-tech entrepreneur or work for a start-up company? The networks are best in Boston and Silicon Valley.

The visualization below, created by Caren Weiner Campbell of Synoptical Charts, shows where nonacademic STEM Ph.D.’s reside in the United States, in the major categories of life sciences, physical sciences, technology, and mathematics. The states shown in darker hues have a higher raw number of people in the category. There’s a lot of information, and I encourage you to mouse over your states of interest and click around.

Also be sure to use the pull-down feature on the right that lists the disciplines included within each major category. The drop-down menus are alphabetical; you choose the field you want to work in and then find out where it’s most or least prevalent. For example, if you want to be an epidemiologist, select that in the “most prevalent” Life Science menu, and the map shows you where you’ll most likely want to live.

Here are a few additional questions to ask yourself to determine how much location matters to you:

  • Are the jobs I might want clustered in a certain region? Would I like it there? (It’s probably worth the investment to take a week’s vacation there in the least favorable time of year for that location—hint—air travel is easy the first week of December).
  • Do I have to consider a spouse’s career options? Where do our location Venn diagrams overlap? As the visualization shows, there’s a big demand for epidemiologists in Louisiana, but when you look at the pop-up you see that nonepidemiological medical scientists are least prevalent, so if that is your spouse’s job, you’ll want to consider that.
  • Do I need access to big-city culture, or a quiet place to relax?
  • Do I have, or plan to have, children, and if so, am I OK with the schools in my preferred locale? Can I pay private-school tuition, or are the public schools solid?
  • If the job I have/take/want falls through, can I find another without having to relocate?

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