5 weird and wonderful STEM careers you’ve never heard of

Your future STEM career? Pictured, wildlife conservationist Tim Faulkner milking a tiger snake. Credit: The Australian Reptile Park

1. Snake milker

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Yes, this is a thing, yes it requires STEM qualifications and no snakes do not produce milk. Snake milkers are specialist herpetologists (reptile biologists) who extract snake venom, which can then be used to produce antivenom – a serum that is given to bite victims to reverse the effects of the venom.

The Australian Reptile Park in NSW has had a venom milking program for over 50 years – scientists there milk hundreds of snakes and spiders every week. The venom is then sent to a lab where the life-saving antivenom is produced.

2. Space archaeologist

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No, unfortunately this career won’t see you digging for ancient alien pottery on Mars… but space archaeology is a cool and relatively new career nonetheless.

Space archaeologists bring the traditional career of archaeology – the study of human history through ancient artifacts – into the 21st century. They analyse satellite imagery to search for and map ancient artifacts and landmarks on Earth. And while a career in this field will usually require post-graduate qualifications, US space archaeologist Sarah Parcak (who has discovered – all from her computer screen – 7 potential pyramids, 3,100 potential forgotten settlements and 1000 potential lost tombs in Egypt) launched a citizen science platform, called GlobalXplorer that invites members of the public to make the next big archaeological discovery themselves. Cool!

Meanwhile, an Aussie space archaeologist, Dr Alice Gorman, has come up with an even more cutting-edge interpretation of this cool STEM career, pioneering the concept of space as a cultural landscape, and of space junk (like old satellites still in orbit) as therefore having cultural significance – just like ancient tombs or pyramids.

3. Ethical hacker

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‘Hacker’ is usually associated with either outright criminal activity, or at least vigilantes working outside the law – but have you heard of ethical hackers? Also known as ‘white hat hackers’, this is a legitimate cyber security role in which someone uses hacking skills to expose vulnerabilities in an organisation’s digital infrastructure by attacking it just like a hacker would, also known as penetration testing, or ‘pen testing’.

4. Mathematical psychologist

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This sounds like someone you’d call up when you’ve spent way too long stumped by a maths problem, but that’s not quite what a mathematical psychologist is or does. Instead, mathematical psychologists study behaviour through a mathematical lens – for example predicting people’s behaviour by using statistics and formulas. An example of this career applied in real life is in marketing, where a mathematical formula for how people will behave and the choices they make has obvious money making implications!

5. Flavour chemist

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This one’s for foodies who also want a career in science. Flavour chemists do pretty much what it says on the pack – they use complex chemistry to engineer natural or synthetic flavours. An example of a real-life application of food chemistry (other than, well, Mountain Dew and MSG in dodgy take-away food) is making low-alcohol wine taste more like the real thing.

Gemma Chilton

Author: Gemma Chilton

Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.

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