Top tips for building a successful career in STEM
Having worked solely in STEM industries since finishing my degree, I’ve learnt a fair few things along the way about what it takes to succeed. While the perceived barriers for women pursuing careers in science still exist, I’ve found that an enquiring mind, steely determination and an equal measure of enthusiasm has helped me continually progress and develop my career in this amazing industry.
So, if you’re interested in starting your career in science or another STEM subject, or if you just want to give your existing job prospects a boost, here are my top tips for success:
- Get stuck in. We all know the feeling when your boss asks you to do something you’ve never done before. It’s happened to me countless times, but the key is to embrace new experiences that come your way. You’ll only learn by trying, so rather than fearing failure or making mistakes, take every opportunity you can to try new things. That way you’ll grow in confidence and start to recognise what your strengths are and how you can deliver results in the lab or in a commercial environment.
- Reflect and refine. It’s important to make time to regularly review your progress and figure out what’s working well, what’s not and why. It’s not about beating yourself up about things that went wrong. Assess what could be done differently next time, taking positive steps to continuously improve. Just think of it as an experiment, continuously reviewing your methods to get the best result.
- Build a network. I cannot emphasise how important this is. I’ve learnt so much from people around me and not just from colleagues – fellow students, customers, suppliers, academics, friends and family too. Not only is it important from a knowledge point of view but also for emotional support and advice. The more you can make connections with people involved in, and external to, the space you work in the better. The Catexel team is made up of scientists, strategists, business leaders and lateral thinkers, and each member of the team brings a network of contacts that have helped support our technical, commercial and operational success. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who! A career in STEM offers great scope for working with a mix of backgrounds and cultural influences that combine to create new thoughts and insights, helping to look at new challenges objectively and from different perspectives.
- Think laterally. Having a deep knowledge and understanding of your field is crucial, so make sure you invest time in developing your knowledge and remember that reading on topics outside your area of focus can also provide valuable inspiration. At Catexel we encourage all of our team to think laterally, as the ability to do so is a key driver in successful research and delivering results that others may not have considered possible.
- Get yourself out there! It can take time to build your confidence but if you really want to make a name for yourself in STEM industries it’s really important to start building an external profile. There are so many easy ways to do this; by attending industry events, actively engaging with the latest news and discussions on social media and if you’re feeling really brave – speaking at events. It can be a daunting prospect to talk in front of a crowd but it’s also a really effective way of reinforcing your knowledge and it can be a rewarding experience too. If we’re going to continue to attract new talent into STEM careers we need to create new role models to inspire them and show how rewarding it can be to work in these fast-paced, innovative industries and campaigns such as WISE do a great deal to support this.
- Don’t be afraid to specialise. Being in STEM industries can mean working in really specific areas, such as the transition based oxidation catalysis that Catexel is expert in. Though we sell a niche group of products, they go into many, varied industries such as coatings paper manufacture, cleaning products and textiles. Specialising in sales of these compounds allows me to move and network in all those areas, so don’t be concerned by niche!
I’m passionate about showing young women that they have just as much to contribute to science as men and next week, I’m speaking at a careers event organised the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce at Sale High School.
Liz Manning, Business Development Manager at Catexel