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Michael Price , ,

Phil Mickelson Weighs in on STEM Training

On CNN this morning, golfer Phil Mickelson swung by the set of the morning news program Starting Point to talk about the supposed need to train more American students in STEM skills. The points he raised were typical: that STEM workers earn more and are hired more frequently than non-STEM peers, and that there are thousands of unfilled jobs just waiting for people trained enough in STEM to fill them. (For a more enlightened understanding of the so-called skills gap, read this book.) In fact, Mickelson noted, a student who graduates with a STEM degree today would have no trouble finding a job.

Tell that to the many highly trained Ph.D. scientists who were scouring the classifieds that very second. Many of them would be happy to accept one of those jobs, even if they’re intended for recent college grads.

It was the same old story we’ve heard elsewhere, only this time via a professional athlete with only a tangential connection to the world of STEM. (Just a few weeks ago, it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar delivering the keynote address at a STEM conference in Dallas attended by this writer.) When celebrity spokespeople go to bat (or tee, or to the basket) for an idea, that seems to be a good indication that the public and media have accepted the idea as an established fact.

But as Science Careers and others have noted, it’s not that training more students in STEM skills is a bad thing; a more scientifically literate population can only be beneficial. But to make the most effective and efficient use of those skills, we need also to promote policies that lead to jobs that take full advantage of those skills. We need policies that encourage companies to do more in-house research and to hire STEM graduates to do that work, and that make that it easier for scientists and engineers to start companies. We need to pay for more fundamental and translational research, and put in place new policies that prioritize employment over advanced training. It’s great for the world to have more scientists–but those scientists need good jobs.

A few celebrities promoting these ideas wouldn’t hurt, either.