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The Problem with STEM


I barely escaped being a “STEM kid.” Popular usage of the acronym didn’t creep into our lexicon until around 2000, and by then I was a college freshman who’d already declared myself an English major (to double down, I went on to get a master’s in writing). Clearly, I was far, far away from that esteemed science, technology, engineering, and math club. I remember AISES being a big deal at the Native American student center in college, largely because of the travel and scholarships. Once, I looked up what AISES stood for: American Indian Science and Engineering. Well. That wasn’t me, so I moved on.


‘Today’s writer…has to be so much more than just a writer.’ Illustration by Josh Quick.

Except here’s the thing: We’re living in a world where everyone’s expected to be some insanely talented double rainbow unicorn-dragon hybrid that does it all — and does it all equally well. Creatives are also supposed to be tech savvy — there’s no point in having a marketing background if you can’t seamlessly apply it to a social media campaign complete with analytics. Why have a math degree if you don’t also understand how to adapt your teaching to all types of learning styles with increasingly artistic approaches?
STEM is dead. Or, more appropriately, it’s been resurrected as something wildly different.
More and more frequently, opportunities cross my desk with calls to action like, “Are you a woman in tech? Minority in tech? We want to make you rich and famous!” (Okay, that last part isn’t usually so overt). Am I a woman in tech? I’d say so, but not everyone agrees.
I’m a writer. Specifically, I write search engine optimization-rich online content to help my clients achieve better search results for “their” keywords and phrases. I prove this to them with analytics reports. Sometimes I take on new social media management campaigns, crafting posts with just the right blog links (which I’ve also written), featuring high-authority external links and curated images. All of my writing for clients has to play well with responsive design and be mobile-ready, which involves appropriate layout choices and font picks. I’m very much a sans-serif girl, myself. As you can see, for a “writer,” this brief summary of what I do suddenly sounds pretty techy.
Today’s writer, especially one who makes a living writing, has to be so much more than just a writer. It’s kind of like saying you’re an engineer. Well, what kind of engineer? A software engineer, hardware engineer, mechanical engineer, civil engineer, or music engineer? Suddenly, “being an engineer” could be wholly in the tech field, sciences, engineering, or the arts. You just don’t know.
Still, I’m often brushed off as a woman in tech. It seems that without a classic title that ends in “technician,” women aren’t considered part of the tech industry (and world). Should I start calling myself a “writing technician?” Or does that sound so much like “technical writer,” a totally different career, that it will simply confuse people? Does just having the word “tech” in a title, regardless of the actual meaning, help others see writers as more than poets and novelists? Sure, I’m a poet and novelist, too, but that certainly doesn’t pay the bills. Occasionally, it’ll buy Taco Bell.
It’s time to either actively re-work what STEM is or let it hunker down and cannibalize itself. We must no longer partition people off into a neat, cubed, four-part system that eschews creativity. What’s wrong with creativity in STEM? Or STEM in creativity? Diversification is the key to riches, after all. I believe someone from the M in STEM said that.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable.
Jessica MehtaJessica (Tyner) Mehta is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. Jessica is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.

Jessica Mehta