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Like Science? STEM Jobs at Nonprofits are More Common Than You May Think, Part 2

Glasses and a pen on a table.

Not all scientists work for labs or academia. In fact, in the public impact space, many folks are out there are using their knowledge of STEM to provide medical care in the developing world or to encourage civic engagement here in the United States.

If you can’t wait to binge watch the next episode of “Bill Nye Saves the World” or are on the library waiting list for Neil Degrasse Tyson’s latest book, than read on to see how you can use your knowledge and passion for the sciences to contribute to the social impact space.

This is the second part in a two-part series about STEM jobs. To read about other science-based opportunities, check out our earlier story.

Ashley Birkett, Malaria Vaccine Initiative Program Leader for PATH

Twenty years ago, Ashley Birkett's area of specialization didn’t yet exist. Birkett leads a team at PATH, a Seattle-based global organization that works with partner groups to provide vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations to countries in Africa and Asia. Together with his colleagues, Birkett is developing and refining a malaria vaccine for use in endemic countries.. His background is in biotechnology and vaccine development, a field that was almost entirely corporate until a few years ago.

Many people with biotechnology experience end up working for a large pharmaceutical company, and that is exactly where Birkett began his career nearly three decades ago. He has a BSc in Applied Biological Sciences from the University of the West of England in the United Kingdom in 1990 and earned his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1994. He spent the first half of his career working in a lab in the private sector, but has been with PATH for ten years. Now, rather than working in a lab, he spends most of his time meeting with partner organizations and funders, and traveling.

“What makes it most rewarding is the population that we are aiming to serve are some of the most impoverished children in some of the most impoverished nations in the world,” Birkett said. “By preventing infections and preventing disease, vaccines are one of the most cost effective health interventions.”

If you’re interested in vaccine or drug development, Birkett suggests starting off at a pharmaceutical company to get your training and then transitioning to the nonprofit space. Because of grants from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there are plenty of opportunities to work on medical product development for underdeveloped countries. PATH usually has job openings as well as internship and fellowship opportunities.

Pro Tip: Public health is a growing and diverse field and offers opportunities with nonprofits, academia, and local, state, federal agencies. Jobs in healthcare are expected to grow faster than any other field, with about 2 million jobs expected to be added by 2024. And among nonprofit jobs, 57% of them are in health care. Be sure to visit Idealist for new job postings. As of the date of this article, a search for public health turns up more than 300 jobs.

Emily Ross, Director of Data and Research, Mi Familia Vota

Data science is one of those fields that seems to be hiring all the time; and that applies to the nonprofit world, too. Almost all large nonprofits hire data people, and even smaller organization are starting to see the benefit in employees who can crunch numbers.

Emily Ross says she fell into data science. The 2015 Northern Arizona University graduate majored in political science and international relations and always knew she wanted to work in the public impact space. Today, she works for Mi Familia Vota in Las Vegas, where she is helping the organization empower Latinxs to become citizens and get involved in government.

“With data, we can find people who want to become citizens,” she said. “We can help them become citizens, and then we can help them learn how to vote. Then those people are able to become engaged in their local governments and maybe even run for office one day.”

Data is such a new field that many universities aren’t yet offering related courses or majors. But Ross says to learn what you can on your own and talk to other data people to learn how to get involved. And if you are already at a nonprofit and interested in data, helping your organization practice good data policies will help them use their resources better. Check out more tips on how to work in data with “Get the Experience to Land the Job: Data Analyst,” right here on Idealist Careers.

Pro Tip: There are tons of free data and learn to code classes online. There are also a variety of organizations geared toward getting more women and people of color interested in computer science. Check out Girls Who Code, Women Who Code, Code For Progress, ScriptEd, Per Scholas, and Coalition for Queens (C4Q).

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About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.

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