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7 Important skills for STEM success

Carolyn Rahaman is a professional SSAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Master's degree in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.

Increasingly, schools, and society as a whole, encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). From researching renewable energy sources, to modeling nuclear interactions, to developing software, STEM fields abound with possibility. But for many individuals, the very mention of STEM education unearths unpleasant memories of chemistry or math homework. You can help your child sidestep these negative reactions and succeed in the ever-growing world of STEM by ensuring she has this toolbox of skills.

1. Content mastery

Students must have a firm grasp of STEM concepts in order to succeed in STEM subjects; a solid foundation in math and science is absolutely necessary. Your child must know how to implement the scientific method, how to form hypotheses, how to test those hypotheses and how to form conclusions. She must also be able to utilize appropriate terminology and vocabulary.

2. Critical thinking

Success in STEM relies not only on remembering facts, but also on the ability to apply concepts and skills to real-life situations. Students must develop creative, novel solutions to complex problems. In order to further technological advancement, they also need to innovate and adapt.

3. Reading comprehension

Reading for understanding is not just a skill for English majors. It is critical for scientists and engineers to comprehend the work that others are doing. They will often be required to read scientific papers, and to interpret and analyze their findings. In addition, they must present their own findings in writing in a way that is clear and understandable.

4. Data interpretation

The process of interpreting data shares many similarities with reading comprehension. Scientists must be able to analyze a graph or a set of data points, as well as identify trends, predict outcomes, extrapolate data and draw conclusions.

5. Modeling

Modeling is the process of presenting data in a meaningful way, whether with a colorful depiction of an approaching hurricane or an equation to describe semiconductor resistance. Effective models can explain findings and present concrete theories. Students should be capable of forming their own models and using the models of others.

6. Interpersonal skills

This ability is sometimes forgotten when discussing necessities in STEM. Scientists and engineers communicate findings and share problems on a daily basis, not just with their colleagues, but also when writing grant proposals or presenting their work to the public. Just as with most careers, STEM professionals collaborate, work in groups and occasionally encounter peers with whom they disagree on certain matters. Conflict resolution is paramount.

7. Perseverance

Scientists and engineers must be able to continue working on a problem or project in the face of adversity, approaching it from new directions or solving it one piece at a time. This can be grueling, tedious work, and it may continue over multiple weeks, months, or even years! However, it is worth remembering that this work can also lead to tremendously positive change. Individuals who persist when challenged may one day invent a cure for cancer or dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Why not encourage your child to be this person?

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

Image: Robert Daly/Getty Images
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