Navigating personal development in STEM


Navigating personal development in STEM

If you’re studying for a Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths career, this is the helpful advice on building soft skills, networking, time management and maintaining work-life balance that you need to carve out a successful professional path. As an inclusive and supportive University, we’re here to help you gather all the tools you need to achieve; beyond just classroom learning. So, dive into this guide on personal development in STEM to prioritise essential extracurricular skill-building.

Why personal development matters

The importance of personal development in a STEM field can’t be overstated. From networking to work-life balance, building soft skills in STEM and enriching yourself has incredible benefits like:

Career advancement - enhance your employability by developing both technical and soft skills

Personal evolution - stay relevant in fast-paced fields where things change a lot

Solution focused - improve your critical thinking and analytical abilities so you can solve the world’s greatest STEM challenges

Better teamwork -  interdisciplinary communication is a crucial skill to hone if you want a long-term career in STEM

More resilience - fortify your mental and physical well-being so you can weather all of life's challenges 

Lifelong learning - develop the mindset of continuous learning and innovation that STEM employers expect

Useful soft skills in STEM

By participating in group projects and collaborative research, seeking leadership opportunities in STEM-related clubs or organisations and engaging in workshops or courses focused on communication and interpersonal skills: 

● Collaboration - finding effective ways to work together
● Problem-solving - brainstorming and creating solutions
● Creativity - thinking of fresh ways to approach a problem
● Time management - ensuring everything gets done in the right priority order
● Attention to detail - crossing all the t’s and dotting the i’s so nothing is missed
● Emotional intelligence - learning how to work more effectively with feeling humans
● Leadership - being someone others want to follow
● Resilience - learning from the highs and overcoming the lows of your career
● Conflict resolution - finding a way through disagreement into progress
● Presentation skills - succinctly and clearly sharing your thoughts and ideas
● Flexibility - not becoming rigid in your habits or methods
● Self-motivation - having the internal drive to make things happen
● Stress management - not letting yourself become too overwhelmed by work or life
● Tolerance for ambiguity - being okay with not knowing everything right now
● Self-awareness - knowing your own strengths and weaknesses
● Feedback receptivity - being willing to hear criticism from others and looking for value in those comments

Working Smart

Now, while all of these skills are important and something you’ll begin to hone during your time at the University of Bolton, we’re going to explore three of them in greater detail - networking, time management and work-life balance. That’s because these three skills are usually harder to get right and need a concerted effort on your part to effectively deploy as you progress in your career.

Developing your networking skills

To create a profitable and long-term career, you need to connect with other people in and outside of your field. You can do this by getting active on LinkedIn, by attending conferences, seminars and workshops or by joining professional organisations and online communities that are relevant to your chosen path. Share things you’re working on and contribute to conversations about trends and discoveries. This can help position you for thought leadership spaces as you progress like speaking engagements, podcast guest slots and webinar hosting opportunities. Also think about gaining more credibility signals like a significant and relevant social media following, certifications and awards in STEM or further education with a postgrad degree.

Getting better at managing your time

There are some unique challenges inherent to time management in STEM studies and careers. The learning aspect of a STEM career is often very demanding, even when working a full-time job. But, if you learn simple techniques for effective time management now, enhance your success. The first step is prioritising tasks and setting realistic goals for what you can do in a day, week, month and year. Try using productivity tools like Asana or and techniques like time-blocking or eating the frog. And practise delegating tasks and saying ‘no’ when necessary; this might be to social engagements or additional out-of-scope workload. Finding a strategy for maintaining focus that works for you, will see you thrive in any STEM environment, no matter how fast-paced.

Enjoying a work-life balance

In other fields, you might hear someone exclaim, “we’re not curing cancer here” as a rationale for why their work-life balance needs to come to the forefront. But, with a STEM career, you may very well be doing just that. And the impact of your work can make stepping away - even in healthy amounts - incredibly hard to do. But work-life balance is important for your overall well-being and productivity. You simply must find effective ways to switch off or you’ll get burnt out. You can get used to stepping away in purposeful ways by using some of the strategies below as you enjoy studying at the University of Bolton.

Some practical tips for maintaining (school-life or) work-life balance are:

● Setting boundaries between your work and personal life like not checking work emails or continuing to work on tasks after a certain time each evening
● Prioritising self-care activities such as exercise, hobbies and spending time with loved ones that you schedule in advance and don’t cancel for work demands
● Learning to manage stress effectively through mindfulness and relaxation techniques like body scanning or daily affirmations and meditations
● Ensuring you take all the allocated days off, breaks and holiday time that you are entitled to and use this space to recharge yourself
● Investing in proper support if you are going through a tough time including talking to counsellors like the ones we provide for you or booking regular time with a therapist

Key take-aways

It’s clear from everything above that you need to prioritise personal development as part of your STEM journey. Doing so now, while you’re still studying will help you create great habits that carry on far into your professional career. This is especially true for networking, maintaining work-life balance and deploying effective time management strategies. If you want to learn more about this, here are some additional online resources for students enrolled or considering a STEM pathway. And remember, we’re always here to support you, so don’t be afraid to reach out to Student Services Team with any questions you might have.

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Help Centre

We have the answers to your questions, find all the advice and support in one place.

Part of the University of Bolton Group

Bolton college
Alliance learning
Anderton centre2
QQA Scheme Participant