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Why STEM Students Should Try Something New This Summer

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4 Reasons for High School STEM Students to Try Something New This Summer

It’s junior year in high school and you’re trying to figure out your plans for the summer. You’ve been told your whole life that the choices you make each summer can affect college admissions. So for students who’ve enjoyed STEM classes in high school, it probably feels natural to look for an internship in a doctor’s office or a research lab.

But thinking outside the box and choosing a non-STEM high school summer program can help STEM majors acquire some pretty amazing skills, which ultimately will help them in their chosen fields.

Here are some benefits that come with choosing to spend your summer pursuing something outside the STEM field.

1. Clinicians need to be good with people. Bedside manner goes a long way.

Although many jobs, including medical care, are increasingly being completed by machines, there is no replacement for human interaction. Think about the last time you were sick or perhaps preparing for surgery. Was the provider you interacted with cold and clinical, or warm and compassionate? It’s well documented that humans need support networks to survive and when you’re sick or facing recovery from surgery, the last thing you want is to feel alone. A good medical provider takes a moment to listen and to make patients feel heard. By participating in a summer program that asks you to work with children, or perhaps interact with the recipients of community relief, you can learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You learn compassion and empathy. And those traits can make all the difference when working with someone else.

2. Engineers need to be able to work in groups and negotiate the dynamics of group projects.

I teach a lesson to ninth-grade students about group dynamics and at the beginning of our time together, I take a poll: What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to group projects? Inevitably, the two biggest offenses are being too aggressive and not pulling your own weight.

Being able to work well in a group and utilize members’ strengths and weaknesses is an amazing skill but often one that comes only with lots of experience and exposure. Since many STEM careers require group work, it is essential to acquire these skills. Gone are the days of working alone in a lab.

One benefit to working as part of a group in the summer is that there are no grades attached. You need to make the members of the team fit together because you have a shared goal, not a shared grade. If you’re a STEM-focused high school student, selecting a humanities or social science summer program allows you to work in groups with students who have different ways of thinking, increasing your own ability to be open-minded and flexible.

3. STEM majors need to be able to write about their work and talk about it with others.

Communication is so important in every field, but when you’re conducting cutting-edge research or designing a new piece of technology or software, you need to be able to share that milestone with others. We innovate to make our lives and the lives of others better, right? It is essential that those ideas are clearly communicated to make sure they get to move beyond the lab.

STEM majors must be able to get their points across in a formal research paper, in an email, in a presentation or in a casual conversation. Taking a creative writing course or public-speaking class can allow STEM students to think outside the box when it comes to communication, and learn how to illustrate and illuminate in new ways.

4. Working outside your comfort zone helps you become a better problem-solver and experience failure outside the classroom.

Scientists, designers, engineers, researchers – they’re all problem-solvers. Adding some experience as, say, a debater, a camp counselor, a traveler or even a retail clerk can help you learn to solve different kinds of problems.

When I’m talking with students about college and brainstorming ideas for college essays, I often ask them to tell me about a time they failed and learned from that experience. Just losing a competition doesn’t count; I ask them to go deeper. We learn from real failure: a time when we planned and worked hard and things just didn’t go our way.

Without these rock-bottom experiences, we fail to learn how to navigate the obstacles in our lives. Take teaching, for example. Teaching younger kids to do something you love is a popular summer job or volunteer activity for high school students. What happens when those kids misbehave or the experiment or art project doesn’t work? Being able to think on your feet quickly and to manage those disappointments will make you a better college student, and you’ll know what to do next time.

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