What Are STEM Subjects in the UK?

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The acronym STEM has become much more common over the last few years, and many people will have heard it being used. However, what this term actually means can be more confusing. STEM subjects and careers are becoming more and more popular each year, as the skills involved are widely applicable and relevant in the current working world.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is an acronym used to refer to the wide variety of topics and careers related to one or more of these subject areas. The area of STEM is rapidly growing and changing, so there are many different subjects that this term can be used to refer to. From medicine, to accounting, to artificial intelligence, there are plenty of degree courses and career paths in the UK within these areas.

This article will explain what exactly the term STEM means, and the many subjects it covers. Keep reading for more information on STEM subjects in the UK, including the range of topics involved, and STEM related career options.

What is a STEM subject?

As mentioned, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. A STEM subject is therefore anything that involves one or more of these four topic areas. This article from What Uni has a full guide to STEM subjects for more information, including career routes and the benefits of studying a STEM-related degree.

There are usually some common STEM subjects that everyone has heard of. Any science that student’s study in school, whether this be combined, or separated into biology, chemistry and physics, is classed as a STEM subject.

See this article from Think Student for more information on how science can be studied as combined or separate in school.

However, there are many other, more obscure STEM subjects. For example, people studying or working with artificial intelligence are involved in a STEM subject, because a lot of technology in the form of computers and robotics is generally involved.

What STEM subjects are there in the UK?

There are a huge variety of subjects that come under the umbrella term of STEM. This makes people with training and qualifications in STEM subjects very much in demand, so schools and universities alike are putting more emphasis on these areas than ever before. As a result, there are far too many possible STEM subjects to study to list them all exhaustively!

This list gives you an idea of some of the most common and relevant STEM subjects available to study in many universities across the UK, organised by the four broad areas in the acronym.

S – Science

Science is often the first thing people think of when discussing STEM subjects. It is a huge area, with many disciplines to specialise in, including:

  • Astronomy – studying this subject to degree level is actually a popular choice of STEM subject.
  • Biology – this is one of the more familiar STEM subjects, with many of us having studied it in school. It is a broad subject – degrees can involve anything from conservation to biochemistry. Biotechnology is an example of a multidisciplinary STEM subject.
  • Chemistry – another common school subject, many universities offer chemistry degrees that can lead to a variety of scientific careers.
  • Medicine – one of the most popular and competitive courses offered in UK universities, medicine combines the scientific background that makes it a STEM subject with the care of patients. There are many specialties within medicine, as well as related STEM degrees such as pharmacy and biomedical sciences.
  • Natural Sciences – this is a fairly new degree available in some universities, which combines aspects of the three main science subjects to give you a wider understanding that can be used in a variety of careers.
  • Physics – the last of the three science subjects typically studied in school, physics graduates often have skills useful in other STEM areas, such as mathematical reasoning and engineering.
  • Psychology – many students first get a chance to study this subject at A-Level and can then continue with it at university. It is actually one of the most popular degree choices, according to the UCAS website.

T – Technology

  • Artificial Intelligence – this is a cutting-edge area of STEM research that could have huge implications, both positive and negative, for the future of our society.
  • Computer science – computers and similar technology have become vital to our everyday lives, meaning people trained in this area of STEM are often highly valued by employers.
  • Information technology – this course allows you to study how you use computers to deal with this volume of data, a field that is becoming increasingly important as we become more reliant on the internet.
  • Web development – along with the growth of the internet, new and updated websites are in high demand. This area of STEM involves lots of coding.

E – Engineering

  • Aerospace engineering – this area of engineering is all to do with the design, creation and upkeep of aeroplanes and spacecraft.
  • Civil engineering – this area of engineering is hugely important in our daily lives, as it deals with the infrastructure all around us – roads, water supplies, airports and more.
  • Chemical engineering – this is one of the most multidisciplinary areas of STEM, including aspects of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and, of course, engineering. Chemical engineers generally work to turn raw materials into useful, efficient end products.
  • Electrical engineering – electricity is another part of our daily lives we would struggle to live without. Electrical engineering is therefore a very relevant degree, with lots of careers generally available to graduates.

M – Mathematics

  • Accounting – this is a highly mathematical degree, with plenty of career options after graduation to do with processing and communicating financial information, with individuals or businesses.
  • Finance – jobs related to economics, such as investment banking, are typically among the most competitive of the STEM subjects. While finance may seem unconnected to science, there is a lot of maths involved in these jobs, making it a clear STEM subject.
  • Mathematics – many straight mathematics courses are offered at universities across the UK, for those who particularly enjoyed or excelled at maths as a compulsory subject in school.
  • Statistics – statistical data collection and analysis is an important skill to have, particularly in the modern day, where so much information can be collected with technology. This has applications in a range of subjects, from clinical drug trials to computer coding.

What are STEM fields?

Generally, STEM fields are very similar to the subjects listed above and offer a wide range of possible degrees and careers. However, this may not always be clear cut. For example, architects must be skilled in mathematics when designing buildings, but a significant skill in art is also used in their daily work.

In fact, there has been debate as to whether the acronym should be changed from STEM to STEAM, to include the Arts. This article from the Stem Education Guide has more information.

What career options do STEM subjects provide?

Many of the degrees above lead to specific careers – for example, most people will become a doctor after completing their medical degree. However, the opportunities for STEM graduates can be much wider than this.

As mentioned, the many subject areas within STEM are becoming increasingly popular and important to the workings of our modern world, and there are countless opportunities for those looking to study or work in STEM.

This page from STEM Learning has plenty of guidance for those thinking of a job in a STEM field. You can also explore their website for lots more information and advice to do with STEM subjects and careers. Alternatively, this page from Degrees and Careers is a great place to start looking at all the STEM careers possible in the UK.

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