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Should You Pursue an MBA to Advance Your STEM Career?

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Does an MBA pay off in my field? Like many STEM professionals, you may be asking yourself this question and wondering if you should pursue an MBA to advance your career.

Despite the benefits of having an MBA degree, you might have reservations about the financial investment, the time commitment, or maintaining a work-life balance. With the range of program formats available, however, an MBA is feasible for working professionals and can have invaluable long-term payoffs. In fact, many universities worldwide have established STEM MBA programs because of the rewarding mix of business and technical education that they offer.

Since it affords you with opportunities for increased compensation and leadership roles, an MBA can be a worthwhile investment for several professions beyond finance or consulting. To make the most of it, however, you need to find a program that’s right for you. Below are three things to figure out before deciding on an MBA program.

1. Establish your long-term STEM career objectives

When determining the next steps in advancing your career, consider your long-term STEM career objectives. If you have a clear sense of those, it will help you determine if you should pursue an MBA. Should you decide to earn a STEM-based MBA, clearly established goals will help you find a program that’s best suited for your specific objectives. Ask yourself the questions below to help identify your STEM career goals and find an MBA program that supports those aspirations:

What sector within STEM am I interested in? There are a ton of industries where STEM professionals are in demand, such as biomedical engineering, pharma, tech, and manufacturing. Are you interested in a specific industry? If so, research typical careers and MBA programs that have a strong reputation in that industry. As you evaluate career opportunities, consider top hiring sectors for STEM professionals and common careers for MBA graduates, such as manufacturing, consulting, and financial services.

What job function do I want to pursue?Has your work experience helped you narrow down the type of job function you’re interested in, such as sourcing, operations, or sales? Would you prefer a front-office role, such as sales, or a back-office role, like manufacturing? By answering these questions, you can find functional MBA tracks to help you tap into your area of interest.

Do I have a particular geographic region or company in mind? Depending on your sector of interest, a specific geographic region may have more opportunities for career advancement. Or perhaps there’s a particular company you’re interested in. Once you’ve determined where you want to be, look into STEM-based MBA programs in that region and see what kind of internships are available at those schools. Internships help you gain practical experience, and they can often lead to full-time positions once you graduate.

Knowing the answers to these questions is an essential first step in evaluating how an MBA program can advance your career.

2. Determine how an MBA will advance your STEM career

As a STEM undergraduate degree holder, you’re typically hired for positions that require more technical expertise. These roles are largely autonomous, so you’re not expected to manage others. But, assuming you perform well, you may be eligible for a promotion that may include management responsibilities. Progressing from an individual contributor to a manager is more than just a title change; it requires you to transition from relying on your technical abilities to using relational skills to manage people and projects.

In a management role, you’ll need to develop key competencies outside of your core technical skills, including client cultivation, team leadership and growth, and project management. Sometimes, professionals can evolve these competencies with on-the-job training. In many cases though, an MBA is a prerequisite for promotionsince it gives professionals comprehensive, experiential training in management and leadership. Furthermore, an MBA expands your opportunities if you want to pursue a management role outside of your current company. Discover how an MBA pays off in helping you develop practical management and leadership skills— research and evaluate available MBA programs.

3. Know the truth behind common MBA misconceptions

While many STEM professionals are interested in an MBA, they may have concerns due to common misconceptions, including:

"An MBA only translates into business careers like finance or working on Wall Street.” While an MBA provides you with a solid foundation for more traditional business careers such as finance, it also enables you to break into other lucrative fields like manufacturing and consulting. If you combine an MBA with your STEM degree, it can open up opportunities for management and leadership roles in major Fortune 500 companies, management consulting firms, and startups.

"It's too hard to pursue an MBA education while working.” Many MBA programs cater to working professionals by providing online and part-time classes. These programs allow professionals to complete an MBA at a part-time pace that works for them—while also earning a full-time income and maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

"An MBA isn’t worth the investment.” While it may feel like a significant investment up front, it’s important to evaluate the long-term return on investment. An MBA opens up opportunities for career advancement that you may not otherwise have, which will pay off in the long run. You can also reduce the cost with scholarships, and if you’re working for an organization that values MBAs (as many do), it’s possible they will help with tuition reimbursement.

What’s next for advancing your STEM career?

Once you’ve carefully evaluated your career objectives and the competencies needed to advance your career, you can decide if there’s an MBA program that’s right for you. If you’re thinking about transitioning your STEM career to a role in leadership and management but want more insights, download our complimentary guide: Three Steps to a Successful Job Transition. It includes a self-assessment to identify your values, motivation, and priorities and an analysis of potential job sources. It also helps you determine additional skills you may need to expand your career options.