Note to STEM Kids: You Need to Know How to Write

If you’re a science, technology, engineering or math student, why bother to practice your writing skills?

Because right now, experts in STEM industries are combing through resumes, looking for that perfect hire coming out of college. And, post-graduate skills gaps have led them to look for some unique qualities beyond good GPAs or strong performance in STEM skills.

They are looking for students who are critical thinkers and creative. And at a recent STEM summit in Denver, business leaders and educators mentioned one essential quality they said many STEM students lack: the ability to write. Author Tom Perrault argues that tech companies even need to consider hiring liberal arts majors because they have skills such as critical thinking that are essential for the long-term success of the industry.

What’s “useless” is new again

STEM-related industries need people with creativity, empathy, vision and the ability to listen, Perrault says. And, educators should be cautious that curriculums don’t become so purely technical that they undermine the “plucky” American self-confidence, creativity and drive that makes Americans innovators, according to international news correspondent Fareed Zakaria in a recent piece for the Washington Post.

It turns out, skills previously considered “useless” now are essential, according to a story in Forbes magazine. With the increased capabilities of artificial intelligence and computer programming, even people well-trained in traditional STEM subjects need the ability to apply creative skills and to communicate well. STEM students should recognize that these qualities don’t have to be limited to liberal arts majors. Rather, you can acquire and hone them while working on STEM degrees.

Addressing the missing links

I see my STEM colleagues shifting their teaching curriculums to help STEM students learn to communicate and think creatively and critically. One of the best ways we do that is by assigning writing components in STEM classes. Also, we work to add communications-focused assignments, with group work and real-world writing scenarios, so that students may practice empathy and listening.

These may not be your favorite scenarios: writing and group work. But understand they can help you develop skills that will make you a strong performer in STEM industries after you’ve finished your degree.

Critical thinking, creativity and writing

Researchers have established a clear link between writing and critical thinking, and it is essential to keep practicing, developing and refining the skill, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Because writing education is often focused on teaching students through process – from brainstorming and free writing to audience awareness and empathy – a solid background in writing encourages those skills so often associated with liberal arts majors: creativity, empathy and critical thinking.

Strong writers are also skilled at dialectic thinking: the analytical skill that allows them to seek answers inside conflict. This is often the stimulus for creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. When applied to STEM industry or research, these skills are the foundation upon which innovation is built.

Communication is key

STEM academics and employers need qualified professionals who can communicate with others. It is no longer enough to be well-practiced at STEM subjects. The best students and employees must be able to share their passions, creative solutions and ideas effectively with others. Good writing skills may be key to effectively getting a job when you are finished with college.

The most successful people in STEM are those who recognize “what an incredible asset the creative arts are to humanizing and disseminating science,” mathematical physicist Spyridon Michalakis said in an interview with Edutopia. Writing not only makes STEM practitioners better at their sciences, it allows them to communicate their passions to others who do not understand who don’t understand their work.

STEM industries don’t need more liberal arts majors; STEM majors need to learn to write.

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29 Jun 2017

By Monica Fuglei