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STEM graduates aren't ending up in STEM jobs. Why?

 January 16, 2024 at 1:07 PM PST

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on Kpbs. Today we're talking about the many ways science touches our lives. I'm Jade Hindman. Here's the conversations that keep you informed , inspired , and make you think. For years , there's been a push for more people to work in Stem fields.


S1: Plus , how our fascination and fear of aliens reflects our society. Then NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce joins us to talk about her new book. That's Ahead on Midday Edition. There's a big emphasis on Stem education across the country , with billions of dollars invested into classes and programs each year. It's a priority for the Biden administration. Their 2024 budget sets aside 1.4 billion for the National Science Foundation to expand our Stem workforce and improve racial equity. However , data shows that many Stem graduates aren't actually ending up in Stem occupations. In 2021 , only 28% of grads were working these in-demand jobs , according to the Census Bureau. So why does that disconnect exist ? John Skretny is here to explain. He's a sociology professor at UC San Diego and author of the book Wasted Education How We Fail Our Graduates in Science , technology , engineering , and Math. Professor Skretny welcome.

S2: It's good to be here. Happy to be here.

S1: Thank you. Glad you're here. So much of your current research is focused on how to develop our workforce , particularly in Stem fields.

S2: And one of the big themes in research on immigration and in media coverage of immigration is that America does not have enough Stem workers. And there's a lot of media coverage and academic research on how we can get more Stem workers to come here from abroad India , China , Eastern Europe , all over the place. We want to attract the best and the brightest and the underlying presumption of of that research and a lot of the media coverage and the the complaints of corporate leaders that we don't have enough Stem workers is that there's just this dire crisis level shortage and that the universities are not churning out enough Stem graduates for corporate America to hire. And I had a conference , I was organizing a conference on immigration. We were comparing the US and Japan. Japan famously has very few immigrants , and we were looking at the question of skilled immigrants. And one of the speakers came and and just laid out the statistic that blew my mind. Um , he said that , uh , only about a third of American Stem grads work in Stem jobs in the United States , and I , I mean , maybe this shows them a little bit of a nerd for my subject , but my jaw dropped and I was just stunned , and I was , oh , what are you talking about ? What are you talking about ? And I knew right then and there I had to find the answer to this. I had to figure out why it was that despite the supposed scarcity , that despite the messages that we receive all the time about how great Stem jobs are , how highly paid they are , that the majority of Stem grads don't work in Stem jobs in the United States. So that's where that's where it came about.

S1: Hmhm that's a burning question right there , but I want to talk about the role Stem companies play here in all this. So why is it difficult for them to find and retain Stem employees and what's driving graduates away ? Yeah.

S2: So this is um , let me say a couple just a couple of things at the outset. You know , San Diego has a vibrant innovation economy with a lot of Stem workers. And there may be some listening who are thinking , uh , what is this guy talking about ? I love my career. I've been in it for decades. Stem is wonderful. I want my children to be in Stem , and I want to say at the outset that , you know , individual results may vary. I'm looking at the aggregate statistics that showed that the majority of Stem grads don't work in Stem jobs. And I'm starting with the premise that a lot of the government programs that invest in Stem education do , which is that there is this shortage , that we need Stem workers to innovate to grow the economy , boost American competitiveness and help American national security. So that's all in the background there. And I have to say , a lot of the discourse in , in Washington and in state capitals around the country is focused on the supply side. We need to have more. We need to have more. We need to have more. How can we get kids to be interested in Stem ? How can we retain them in the Stem pipeline ? That's a metaphor that's often used. And I wanted to , you know , because so many Stem grads don't work in Stem jobs , I wanted to look at the demand side and see what the employers are doing , see what the investors are doing , who typically drive employer behavior. And a lot of stuff I found suggested that a big part of the answer to the puzzle , why so few Stem grads work in Stem jobs , has to do with employer practices. One of the ones that I like to point out at the outset is that employers in the aggregate are moving away from training , training their workers. This is true in Stem and Non-stem in general , but it's especially a problem in Stem fields because if your skills are linked to technologies and the technologies that you use are constantly changing , you have to spend a lot of time training yourself. To keep up to date , I. I call it the Stem skills treadmill. You have to keep training. You have to keep moving just to stay in place. This is well-established , especially in fields like computer science and engineering. And companies are moving away from that. And you know , if you're young and you don't have a family yet , you might have a lot of time to do this self training. But life gets a little bit more complicated as you get older. I've heard from some Stem workers that it gets tiring to have to kind of reboot your skill base every few years when the technology changes. And research shows that in fields where the technology changes the fastest , that that's those are where some workers tend to leave and go do something else. They go get an MBA. They move into the practice of medicine , which also changes pretty rapidly , but they're very well compensated. Just this question of maintaining the skill base in a in an industry where the technology is constantly changing and the employers and I know there's some good ones out there , many in San Diego who train their workers , but overall , fewer and fewer are training their workers. It's just hard to keep those skills up to date.

S1: And then , you know , time is always an issue too , right ? What is this management style of crunch time ? Yeah.


S2: So this is , um , there's a sociologist named Oprah Sharon , who got access to a to a major high tech company. He keeps it anonymous , but it's a , it's a big fortune 500 company. And he describes what is common in , in tech. I think I think workers in the life sciences have a little bit easier , maybe chemicals as well. But in tech you're constantly having to upgrade your software. I mean , this morning I , I took out my smartphone and I upgraded like seven apps. It's happening all the time. Operating systems change all the time. The technology and the hardware changes all the time. And for most tech companies , especially software companies , every year , not only are they churning out new products , but they're upgrading their existing products. And they they they usually spend a few weeks out of the year where they kind of figure out what they want to do , what the goals are , and then they start planning how that's going to happen. And then for many , many months of the year , it is what they call crunch time where they're trying to get this thing done. It's like a crisis mentality. They're they're putting in like 70 hours a week , um , during during crunch time , which again is many , many hours or many , many months of the year. In order to get these products out the door , they inevitably find problems with them. You know the metaphor bugs in the software , they scramble to fix those. They're put on all this pressure because the salespeople are overpromising what the tech can do. And the end result is that it's a it's a high pressure , high anxiety , stressful workplace. And the workers , the workers suffer for it. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S2: And it has data on that. And you can if you look at that data , what you see is that they tend to go , well , first thing to say is they go to a wide variety of places. It's a it's not like 80% go into certain fields , but if you had to generalize where they tend to go , they tend to go to fields that are more high paying than Stem jobs. Now , this may seem odd to many listeners who would say , you know , well , hey , wait a second. I hear Stem jobs are really high paying and they're doing better than the history majors right out of college. So what are they complaining about ? That is true that right out of college Stem jobs do pay pretty well. But , uh , there's there's a lot of other jobs that pay better. A lot of them , if you have life sciences skills or scientific skills , going into medicine is one thing you can do. The government does not consider practicing medicine to be a Stem job. The the logic of investing in Stem education is geared toward alleviating these shortages in computer science , engineering , and life sciences. Chemicals , those sorts of things , but not practicing medicine. So moving to practicing medicine is losing Stem workers , in the government's view.

S1: And you recently penned an op ed for the LA times on why pushing Stem majors has been a terrible investment. You mentioned that investors are really driving the behavior of companies.

S2: And that typically means shedding workers regularly. And so Stem workers , just along with all the other workers in the workforce , tend to be shed. And Stem workers are especially vulnerable to this because there's a there's kind of a boom and bust cycle that you see in a lot of sectors of the innovation economy. After my op ed came out , I had an engineer email me and and and he said that I nailed it and said he feels like an engineering. He's like a prospector and a miner in the 1800s looking for gold. And certain industries get hot for a while , and there's a lot of hiring , and then they're not hot. And then there's a lot of layoffs. And the investors , they they want those workers to be laid off. They don't want those workers to be retrained. They they want those costs to be shed. They want profits to be to be maximized. It also leads a lot of investments into software firms rather than firms that actually manufacture a product. Because the from the investor's perspective , software is is great. You don't have to worry about factories , you don't have to worry about raw materials , like , for example , the rare earths that are in the batteries that power our electronic devices. So there's all this money that goes into software. Other kind of industries sort of are left starving for for investment. And the innovation economy has to kind of respond to where the money is. And so they end up developing products that tend to be more in software , which , again , tend to have these crunch time kind of product cycles.

S1: You also mentioned in the piece that Stem companies aren't doing enough to provide a safe , inclusive space for women and marginalized communities. In 2020 , after George Floyd's murder , companies across all different fields made this commitment to diversity , equity and inclusion. But it seems like for many of those companies , it was performative.

S2: It's it's especially surprising , given that many of these employers are complaining about a scarcity of workers , that they do not do more to make their workplaces feel inclusive , especially to women , especially to women in engineering and computer science. Um , also , older workers feel alienated from many of these workplaces. People of color , especially African Americans , feel alienated from any of these places. And we're talking here about rich companies. Some of these companies are basically monopolies Amazon , Google , Facebook. They have dominant market shares. And yet their numbers , their diversity numbers are very poor. And they have a tendency , which I criticize in the book , to blame society for not graduating enough , especially women engineers and computer science majors. And yet the women at their own companies complain about a chilly , unwelcoming environment , an environment that's geared toward the tastes and the culture of young men , especially young white , to a lesser extent , Asian American men. And so these workplaces , they tend to hire only some of them only hire about 17% of their technical workers are women. And they complain , they they yell at the universities , they yell at society , give us more , give us more. But if you're a female engineering major , you might look at those numbers of only 17% of , for example , Facebook technical workers being being female and think , well , maybe I'm not going to be welcomed there. So it's kind of a catch 22 situation where the employers , they really should be bending over backwards. If the scarcity of Stem workers is as bad as it is. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. And speaking of Facebook , there's there's also that concern that these companies aren't focused on promoting a social good or that they're causing more harm.

S2: And this has become especially prevalent in some sectors , and again , some very rich and heavily invested in sectors of the innovation economy , where what the companies are doing does not fit with the workers values. So , for example , I do discuss in the book how some workers I pick on Facebook a lot because frankly , they've been involved in a lot of a lot of , uh , dysfunctional sorts of things in society. They've been blamed for increasing polarization and conflict in society , using their algorithms to to enrage workers. There's a phrase enrichment equals engagement. They're more likely to use Facebook or social media , YouTube if they're if they're enraged. And so their algorithms get people really ginned up and upset. And this generates polarization and conflict in society. Um , some research indicates not 100% , but there's a strong reason to suspect that some of these companies are contributing to depression in people , especially young people , especially young girls. And some of these workers don't feel comfortable with this. They don't feel they feel a moral stress to. Be working at these places. I quote one worker whose job it was was to kind of look at some of the impacts of what Facebook was doing in different countries , and she said that she felt she had blood on her hands because of the way Facebook was promoting conflict in different societies. So you can imagine that's a pretty dramatic kind of moral injury.


S2: I think we have to understand that a stable society requires including the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. That's going to be a hard sell. But there's there's some movements to kind of move toward a multiple stakeholder value of investing. I think that we need to have stronger moral limits on investors and what they choose to invest their money in. I think that companies that do create so much damage should be should be left begging for investment. And I think that one of the things that workers should do to protect themselves Stem grads is to make sure that they take a wide variety of courses. This sounds self-serving as a sociology professor at UC San Diego , but I do tell my students that a combination of technical skills as well as skills in teamwork and in writing ability and speaking ability and communication , analytical thinking outside of technical thinking , that a well-rounded kind of college education with a wide variety of skills is the best bet to set you up for success long term. Because the statistics show you won't be doing technical work forever , and you will want to have the skills that will allow you to plug into different positions in the economy.

S1: I've been speaking with Jon Skretny , a sociology professor at UC San Diego and author of the book Wasted Education How We Fail Our Graduates in Science , technology , engineering , and Math. Professor Skretny , thank you so much for your insight and for joining us.

S2: Thanks so much. I appreciate the chance to share the research.

S1: If you work in a Stem field. Tell us about your job satisfaction. Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. Leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , a conversation about how the sci fi world of aliens and pop culture reflect our society.

S4: Just feels like , yeah , as in different eras , we have a different attitude to aliens.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. There's long been a fascination with beings who are not of this world. Throughout history , aliens have been the stars of our movies , TV shows and even comics. But belief in them , whether in real life or as depicted in art , has usually been the hallmark of fringe thinking and maybe even mental illness. But that seemed to change this past summer , when the U.S. Congress held hearings on UFOs , potentially from outer space , including testimony that the U.S. recovered non-human biologics from sites of UFO crashes. Just this month , a supposed extraterrestrial sighting in a Florida mall since social media into a frenzy. Of course , those sightings were later debunked , but our next guest is interested in how our attitude about aliens is reflected in our pop culture. June Thomas is a reporter and co-host of Slate's working podcast. She wrote a story for The New York Times entitled Aliens Have Never Been More Alluring Why Pop Culture now flirts with extraterrestrials as much as it fears them. June , welcome.

S4: Hello there. Thanks so much for having me.

S1: Glad to have you here. So let's go back a bit. In your story , you chronicle how aliens are depicted in pop culture during different eras in American history , which is an interesting and accessible jumping off point for this topic. So can you break that down for us ? Yeah.

S4: So obviously and this we're talking in general trends here because there's always outliers. But it sure feels like we respond to stories of extraterrestrials differently depending on what's happening in the world. So in 1938 there's this sense that there's going to be war in Europe. There's a lot of discomfort and anxiety , and a Sunday night broadcast of a kind of 19th century novel on the radio. War of the worlds turns into a panic inducing news event all across the country. I just don't think that would have happened at a more calm time. In the McCarthy era , when people were stirring up paranoia about communists , there were a lot of movies with titles like invasion of the Body Snatchers or I married a monster from Outer Space. There's this sense that , you know , people are coming for us , that they're people are invading our space and are invading our culture. Uh , in the era of the Cold War , we had movies like alien. I think actually they climax with alien , uh , which , you know , sure , it's a space movie , but it's also a particularly a creature who has no conscience , who is just absolutely determined that its survival is the most important thing. And it has no cares. It just simply does not care what happens to the rest of us. And , you know , that was , as I say , 1979 , the end of the Cold War. And there's just this terror. And then I think we kind of move into a , you know , a gentler error. We move into an era of more curiosity and , and also the idea that these beings , these beings from outer space are adorable , that they they need our help. They're vulnerable. I'm thinking , of course , of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. That's from 1982. And then we get into TV shows like , you know , the X-Files or Star Trek The Next Generation , where we're just more open to to curiosity and we're open minded. We we want to learn to understand and to get along with these beings. So it just feels like , yeah , as in different eras , we have a different attitude to aliens. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S4: I think , you know , every era has a particular mood. And it also , along with many other things , has a particular attitude to aliens. Yeah.

S1: And I mean , the title of your story suggests we flirt and fear extraterrestrials.

S4: We had shows like My Favorite Martian , Mork and Mindy was big in the late 70s. We've had more shows like that of late. You know , The neighbors was was on ABC a few years ago. Uh , third Rock from the sun shows like that. You know , aliens are just something that we can laugh at , something that point things out about our own lives. It's a fun way of seeing our own culture. But , yeah , there's a lot of fear. I mean , things like aliens , the whole idea that we're going to be invaded from , from from outer space and our entire culture , you know , maybe we'll all be annihilated. There's definitely an element of fear. Um , and that is played out , I think , in a lot of not only in TV. In movies , but also in art. There's this sense of this is interesting , and maybe we as consumers are interested in this because it appeals to both our sense of curiosity or our sense of , wow , we don't really understand the world , but what we're interested in learning more. But it is it is also scary.

S1: Right ? And in this moment in time , there seems to be a peak in interest around aliens and UFOs.

S4: You know , we saw there were hearings in Congress last year. There was a story in the Wall Street Journal last week about how now , clubs for people who are interested in talking about alien life and UFOs , where they used to be , maybe six people showing up at those meetings , there are now hundreds because we are just more open to admitting that we're interested , that we think there might be something in it , whereas a few years ago that might be considered not only kind of kooky , but also might make people think that we were crazy , I think maybe even things like I this idea , you know , that you can go to a website and you can ask a computer a question. You know , we've been putting our questions into search engines for a while , but now we're getting we're there's a sort of an intelligence that's speaking to us. And that could give us our answers in poetic form. Or , you know , we could write a greeting to our parents , you know , for their birthday. In poetry , there's this sense , I think , that there's just things that we don't necessarily understand , but that appear to be able to help us. I also think perhaps , that the pandemic really shook us all up and made us think our routines , our the things that we just accepted were no longer just the natural way , the normal way of doing things. And I think people just did have more openness to wondering what was going on and also feeling isolated , wondering if there was someone or something out there that we could connect with.

S1: And to your point there in your story , you highlight something astrophysicist Adam Frank said. And that is , we're closer than ever to being able to look for signs of civilization in outer space , just in time for a population that feels alienated from life on Earth.


S4: Know , again , it's just a trend. It's not necessarily every piece of evidence suggests this , but I was just aware that , for example , there was a movie that came out last year , it was called jewels. It was a small movie , but it also felt like it was kind of speaking to our moment. It's about an older fellow played by Ben Kingsley. He's in his 70s. He's actually maybe starting to show some signs of dementia. He's very lonely. He's alone the whole time. And then a creature comes from outer space , lands in his backyard , and , you know , it doesn't really freak him out that much. He finds it curious. He , you know , he invites the alien and tries to figure out what it wants to eat. Um , you know , shows him the rules of the house. Kind of makes him welcome. And this alien who he , you know , leads him to to form a community. It leads him to not be as alone. And also this alien , this creature who he and his friends , his new friends eventually call Jules , which is again the name of the movie. That alien helps them. They are vulnerable people , and the alien protects them in ways that the local cops haven't. You get this idea that there are people who are searching for extraterrestrials. They come and knock on his door , and the humans don't want to help the feds. They want to help the alien , because the alien really does seem like it has more of a kinship with them. It's been more supportive of them. You know , when you kind of think that now we just don't necessarily or , you know , some people just don't really have faith in in the establishment in the way that they do. The trust has been lost. There's a sense of just uncertainty. And it really does seem that , you know , maybe an alien is the most extreme example of that , but , you know , that we don't really have those certainties that were once so strong. They're not so strong anymore. And what was once unthinkable is now perhaps something that we're open to just exploring. Right.

S1: Right. You know , I feel like this curiosity and the idea of aliens existing was really a fringe thinking at one point , and now it's becoming mainstream and really , in many cases , is mainstream. Yeah. How did you feel about. Out for hearings in Congress this past summer.

S4: That's something that's in the the supermarket tabloids and then in Congress to to hear a discussion of non biologic material that's been found , uh , to just kind of yet for scientists and uh , soldiers and again , these very , you know , the absolute pillars of society to be to be having discussions of things like this , it is surprising , uh , and I think , um , the fact that , you know , we often hear that scientists are open to things , um , you know , scientists think we're closer , but , you know , that just seems kind of vague. But to to have people in Congress testifying , uh , well , you know , it's maybe not that strange. There are these reports , um , you know , even the terminology has changed. UFO , you know , unidentified flying object is now unidentified anomalous phenomena or unidentified aerial phenomena. You know , these are much less charged , uh , descriptions. The terms are more acceptable. Not as scary. So , yeah , it really does seem that the culture is changing and that the part of the news were these things are topics is just much broader than it ever was before. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.

S4: You know , it is certainly when you start to see things in lots of different areas in movies , in TV , in the visual arts. There was a major exhibition in the Sun Valley Museum of the Arts in Ketchum , Idaho this year. When you suddenly see that there's a just a shift in so many different parts of the culture , that seems interesting to me. I myself , I'm not a believer. Uh , you know , I don't leave signals for , uh , for alien life forms , but , um , it seems very interesting to me that we that there does seem to be a mood now where we just are so perhaps desperate. That's maybe a strong way of putting it. But there's just more where our hope is now being placed externally rather than internally. And I only expect that to get worse or to get stronger. Yeah.

S5: Yeah.

S1: So you mentioned a few TV shows and movies earlier. Yes.

S5: Yes.


S4: You know , that these aliens come from outer space. They , they they , uh , actually from the planet zebra. And they , they set up a community in a , in a gated community , and they're isolated. And then some people come from new Jersey and find themselves living in that community. And the reason I like that it was a very silly show. It wasn't a particularly popular show. But as someone who was an immigrant to the United States , uh , it felt really relatable to me that , you know , sure , these were people from another planet , but , you know , the American story is one of immigration and figuring out how to fit in and changing the , the the place where you move to , uh , and just feeling a little bit that you just need to figure this place out. And that felt like a really strong theme of that show , and that made me really enjoy it. And I think everybody has the reason why they why they attach themselves to a particular show. But that was why I found that one so very appealing.

S1: Yeah , yeah. And that one was is definitely a reflection on society in many ways.

S4: Uh , I mean , I think there is something really powerful in aliens , um , as as a kind of a figure in , in art because of this complication there. Are they real ? Well , there's some evidence. You know , it's very easy to kind of move into conspiratorial thinking. Oh , things are being kept from us there. It's such a rich text. There's so much that we can project on them. There are very few things , um , in the sort of identified world that have so much to offer as a cultural topic. Um , so I don't know what we will switch to. Um , I suppose the aliens will have to tell us. Indeed.

S1: Indeed. June Thomas is a writer and co-host of the working podcast June. Fascinating stuff. Thank you so much for joining us.

S4: Oh , thank you for having me.

S1: Coming up , NPR's science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce joins us to talk about her new book , Transient and Strange.

S6: For me , a lot of the things that that are in this book are sort of , you know , personal narratives , but also have a lot to do with the history of science.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. Have you ever wondered about the likelihood of tornadoes passing through town ? How about the history of fleas and how big our time and space , really ? NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce explores these questions and more in her debut book , Transient and Strange Notes on the Science of Life. It's a powerfully intimate essay collection that weaves original science reporting with her personal insights on childhood , family and marriage. She joins me now to talk more about the book. Nell , welcome.

S6: Hey , thanks for having me on the show.

S1: So glad to have you. So I want to start with the title Transient and Strange , which is a phrase you borrowed from a Walt Whitman poem. Can you talk about that and why you used it for this book ? Sure.

S6: So the poem is about comets and meteors. Actually , Walt Whitman was writing about this procession of light in the sky that people saw in the 19th century. And , you know , he was sort of writing this poem about it , and he says , you know , you're you're transient and strange and , and and I am equally transient and strange. And I'm also going to flip through the universe like you , and I'll fall and I'll be gone. And , you know , he wrote , what is this book ? What am myself but one of your meteors ? And I had quoted this poem in one of the essays in the book , which is about , you know , getting older. And my editor at W.W. Norton , my publisher , suggested Transient and Strange as the title for the book because he thought it touched on a lot of the themes that keep reappearing in these essays. Yeah.

S1: I mean , and this is your first book , an essay collection.

S6: You know , I , I don't do this kind of writing in my day job , which is more straight science reporting , but I'm very interested in the history of science and science as a human enterprise , and also the sort of metaphorical use of science. So , you know , when things happen in my life , I find myself , you know , looking back at what scientists have done and how scientists look at the world. And so , for example , the first essay in the book talks about me having to cope with my son developing a real fear of tornadoes. And and it made me get really interested in tornadoes and trying to understand , you know , how we know what we know about them and what don't we know ? And , you know , how would a tornado expert deal with my kids questions ? So for me , a lot of the things that that are in this book are sort of , you know , personal narratives , but also have a lot to do with the history of science. Yeah.

S5: Yeah.


S6: You can make an essay as long or as short as you want , and you can throw in all different things , you know , um , personal events , historical events , quotes , poems. So , yeah , a lot of times I didn't really know going into the start what I was going to end up with. Like , there's one essay in here on fleas , um , that was sort of sparked by something Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick. And before I started writing that , I wouldn't have told you I had much personal experience with fleas or any sort of emotional thinking about them. But it turns out I did.

S1: Who would know ? You know ? In the book , you mentioned caring for a spider that built a web in your kitchen and writing about it for a blog.

S6: It's from a Victor Hugo quote , which is science says the first word on everything , in the last word on nothing. She , um , and her friends run this blog where science journalists write creatively , and she urged me to write something for it. And just at that time , I'd been getting really interested in this spider. And so I wrote this essay , which sort of was more revealing than I thought it would be , about what I thought about in the kitchen in the morning watching the spider. And I realized I actually kind of enjoyed this. I enjoy exploring my thoughts and combining them with science. And , you know , it was something different. It was a it was sort of a refreshing change of pace. And , and I kept writing essays on other stuff , too. And before you knew it , I had enough that someone was like , you should really put these together in a book. So that's what I did.

S5: Oh my. Gosh.

S1: Gosh. And you've reported on science and technology for decades , but throughout the book , you're often viewing science through your children's eyes , and you mention their fear of tornadoes. For example , when you hear them reflect on the world around them.

S6: You know , sometimes I think about people listening to NPR in the car and the kids are , you know , strapped down in the back seat and I'm like , oh , let's do a story on sharks. You know , give them something to listen to. Um , but I do think that some of the questions kids have about. The universe and their own place in it are quite fearless and quite persistent , and they haven't quite learned yet how to how to sort of pretend like adults have and to sort of carry on. And so I yeah , I , I find my children to be inspirational. I think that like a lot of children , they are without preconceptions and without fear of inquiry. And I think that's useful for everyone to , to think about , or at least for me. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S6: And , you know , I think a lot of people are interested in that when they're kids just mucking around out in the woods or , you know , playing on a vacant lot and looking at the weeds. And as they get older , they continue to be interested in it , even if it's not their day job. And so I find that people are quite up for listening to quite esoteric science , like gravitational waves and stuff. People , people want to know. They're curious.

S1: Oh yeah. And I am also curious about your thoughts on all the ways science and technology continues to intersect with our everyday lives.


S6: Thought that science and technology has been really closely linked to the everyday. To me , it's not something that is distant or separate. It's like right there with us in the mix and , you know , the same way people are trying to figure out their lives is the same way that scientists are investigating the world , and science affects us and we affect science. And it's a it's a close connection to me.

S1: And you mentioned earlier some of the more esoteric things you were surprised people want to learn about. Tell me more about that.


S6: For example , love space. I mean , not everybody , but many people and , you know , black holes , black holes or something that even children know about and think about. And they are like a really hard core , seriously complicated , uh , part of astrophysics. But people want to know. They want to know , you know , what happens with the eclipse that's coming up this year ? People want to experience it themselves and and understand what's happening. And so , you know , I feel like no matter what , it is like anti-matter , you know , um , the shape of the universe , people are surprisingly willing to , to listen and engage , even if it has no direct , practical implications for their life in the day to day.

S1: Well , I mean , there's so many advances happening right now. We hear about quantum computing and aliens in the Miami mall. I don't know if you if you saw that or heard about that. Um , but there's so much to , to , to learn about , I think. And people are surely interested.

S6: And , you know , because everyone brings their own experiences to it. And so , um , you know , when you write something , you send it out in the world and it has its own life to a certain extent that's separate from you. And so as , as , as the book's getting more and more out in the world , I'm finding that happening more and more. And it's it's an interesting thing for me to experience.



S6: In just about everything. I mean , I really enjoy geology and planetary science. I enjoy learning about , um , planets around other stars. I think other solar systems are fascinating. Like when I was growing up and was a kid , we didn't know of any planets around other stars , and now we know of thousands. Um , and I'm interested in understanding , you know , just the basics of stuff we see around us every day. Like , you know , how do plants work ? They eat sunlight. It's miraculous. Um , and , you know , I think that everywhere you look , pretty much there's a potential story that could involve science in some way. So I try not to limit myself. I try to take a broad interest in the world and sort of see where the reporting will lead. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.


S6: Learn some stuff about the history of science. You know , there's a lot of different explorations in there about how we know what we know about black holes or tornadoes or , you know , meteorites or genetics. But at the same time , I hope people , if they read this , they feel a sort of , oh , I don't know , a kind of , you know , fellowship , a sort of feeling like , you know , we're all in this together trying to understand the universe and ourselves , whether we're scientists or kids or or just people reading a book.

S1: I've been speaking with Nell Greenfieldboyce , NPR science desk correspondent and author of Transient and Strange Notes on the Science of Life. Nell , thank you for joining us , and congratulations on your book.

S6: Thank you. Thank you so much.

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High School students participate in (STEM) 2 Exploration Day at SDSU,  April 6, 2018.
Ebone Monet
High School students participate in (STEM) 2 Exploration Day at SDSU, April 6, 2018.

STEM education is highly valued across the country, with billions of dollars invested into classes and programs each year. However, data shows that many STEM graduates aren’t actually ending up in STEM occupations. We dig into why that disconnect exists.

Also, there's an enduring fascination with aliens and extraterrestrial life. Even Congress is being briefed on UFOs. How does this fascination manifest in pop culture?

And finally, NPR Science Desk correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce is out with her debut book. "Transient and Strange: Notes on the Science of Life" is an intimate essay collection that merges explanatory science with personal insights on childhood, family and marriage.