July 20, 2016
Analytical or imaginative? Rational or intuitive? Precise or random? When asked, most people identify with one or the other. In other words, they're either left-brained or right-brained.
Today, the line between those two distinct ways of thinking is blurring. In fact, career fields that were once the sole domain of mathematicians and scientists are getting-and more and more requiring-an infusion of creativity.
At first blush, creativity may seem like the antithesis of STEM, and educators see this as a big problem as they help prepare students for careers in the real world. Teaching students to memorize facts and formulas in order to arrive at the "right" answer no longer serves them well. Instead, today's educators find that providing students with the skills they need to create and solve problems on a free-form basis and without an expected outcome is the foundation for innovation and discovery.
This spirit of discovery fueled one such Nobel-prize-winning science insight. As a chemist, Dudley Herschbach had never heard of the psychics technique, "molecular beams." Having no preconceived ideas about how this technique should be used, he crossed two beams of different molecules.
Herschbach said, "People thought it would not be feasible. It was called the lunatic fringe of chemistry, which I just loved." If he had followed the rules, Herschbach might not have uncovered how colliding molecules behave and gone on to win one of science's highest awards.1
As famed computer programmer and Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs once said, "Creativity is just connecting things." Like figuring out how colliding molecules behave, creative fueled connections are responsible for major advances in everything from disease research to weather forecasting.
Dr. David Sze, online faculty lead in the Mathematics department at SNHU, shares two examples of how creativity helps us prep for our morning routine and even the way we choose stock options.
"Although everybody jokes about weather forecasting, advances in highly powerful computers and highly sophisticated models have made both shorter-term forecasts (hour-by hour or even minute-by-minute) and longer-term forecasts (one week or further into the future) much more accurate than they were even a few years ago. This is despite the 'butterfly effect,' a mathematical concept that shows why weather prediction is an incredibly difficult problem."
Sze cites another example from the financial sector called "the Black Sholes model" that is still used today. As he explains, "This was a new creative approach to calculate the values of stock options, which then can be compared to their actual market prices. In the multi-trillion-dollar financial markets, a model that is more accurate by just a fraction of one percent can lead to millions of dollars of profits."
Whether his students go on to have a meteorological tool named for them or develop a financial model that revolutionizes the stock market, Sze stresses the importance of being creative in your chosen profession.
"One of the goals of applied math and data analytics, is to build models that analyze and predict the behavior of complex systems - financial indicators, online advertising and purchasing, geological analysis, etc. These are not 'textbook' problems, but instead rely on analysts to create new models based on uncertain factors and uncertain data. Successful analysts can answer not only the how-to-do type questions, but also think deeply about the 'Why are we doing it this way?' and 'What can be done better?' types of creative questions."
What you don't have to question is if one of these fields might be right for you. For right-brain types, here are some traditionally left-brained fields where your creativity can put you in high demand and offer you an attractive salary.
While "data analyst" is broad, the career outlook is specific. Experts predict one specialty field that will emerge under this banner is artist-explorers, the creative types who find actionable insights others don't see.
It's estimated the current talent pool of data analysts only makes up 20 percent of the overall demand. What's more, qualified analysts earned an average of $62,150 in May 2015, with the top 10 percent earning more than $120,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.2 In a special report, CNBC.com even called the role of a data analyst "the sexiest job of the 21st century."3
Another data-heavy field with a creative bent is geospatial technology, an emerging green industry that's worth an estimated $270 billion a year.4 Within this industry are professionals who utilize geographic information systems - essential planning, analytic and management tools used to turn geographic data into models and maps. According to O*NET, GIS technicians, geospatial technicians and remote sensing technologists earn more than $85,000 on average per year.5 From companies like Hello Health that help doctors create better engagement with their patients through telemedicine tools (two-way videos, texts, apps)6 to Tableau, a business intelligence software that helps people understand their data in a visual way, there's never been more of a need for creative minds in math, science and data analytics.
Put your creativity to good use with an online BA in Mathematics, BS in Data Analytics or MS in Data Analytics.
Sources: 1Student Science, 2Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3CNBC.com, 4Esri, 5O*NET, 6Fast Company
*Job market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook and other sources is intended to provide insight on occupational opportunities and is not to be construed as a guarantee of salary or job title. SNHU cannot guarantee employment.
This article was originally published in Stem Journal Issue 4, The Art of Technology.
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Timothy Woodward grew up in a small town in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in film and writing in California and an MFA in Fiction from SNHU.