What to Study for Careers in New Technologies
STEM subjects are prime fields to study if you like the idea of building a career based around an exciting new technology, and a degree in any STEM subject (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can be the first step towards making a contribution to the next stage of technological innovation.
Perhaps you’d like to specialize in robotics engineering, nanoscience and nanotechnology, 3D printing, or maybe you want to earn a cyber security degree. Whichever area of new technology you’re interested in, read on to discover what you can expect from each specialization and how studying STEM subjects can lead on to careers in each area.
How to prepare for a career in new technology
Just because you want to pursue a career in new technologies, that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to study that exact technology right from the start. As with many areas of expertise, it is essential that you first learn the basics – the fundamentals of your area of interest. Depending on your desired specialization, this basic knowledge can be provided across STEM subjects and related technology degrees, including biological science, biomedical science, chemistry, computer science, engineering (electrical, mechanical, chemical, civil, aeronautical, etc.) materials science, math, medicine, pharmacy, pharmacology, and physics.
These initial pathways will define the way in which you study the new technology in question, so you should take time to consider which route to take. If you’re interested in innovating medical technology, then biology, chemistry and medicine would each give you foundational knowledge of the sector. Meanwhile, if you want to go into robotics engineering, a first degree in mechanical engineering could be a wise choice.
Although in the first year of most technology degrees you’ll be focusing on the fundamentals, when choosing a program it’s important to consider which universities offer advanced modules in your specific area of interest. Although not all technology degrees will offer modules with a specific focus on new technologies, most will offer some sort of specialization in your second and third years of study, giving you the chance to hone your studies towards a career in new technology.
This modular information will often be on the website of the university in question, alongside the overall program details.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology
While nanoscience and nanotechnology refer to the study of really tiny technologies, the field itself is (ironically) massive with vast growth projected over the coming years. This is due to the potential for innovation across a mind-boggling array of sectors, from sunscreen to military technology. By focusing on atomic-level processes, the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology has the ability to stop the effects of harmful chemicals and even to kill cancer cells in humans more efficiently. A food science or medical technology degree are two further avenues offering the chance to specialize in nanotechnology, where you can get involved in the development of medical equipment or the genetic modification of plants and food respectively.
How to study nanoscience and nanotechnology:
Although finding a dedicated nanotechnology degree is currently quite difficult, the field can be studied as a specialization across a wide range of degree subjects – including biology, chemical engineering, chemistry, electrical engineering, environmental science and physics. Other related cross-degree specializations include biochemistry, condensed-matter physics, electronic materials, micro- and nano-mechanics, molecular biology, nano-biosystems, nano-electronics, photonics and sensors and sensing technology.
Bionics, also known as bionical creativity engineering, is the name given to the application of engineering to recreate biological processes. Bionic technology can not only be used to recreate fully functioning mechanical limbs, it can also be used to recreate other natural processes such as the water-repellent coating on a lotus flower or the extra-thick skin of a dolphin. Whether you want to specialize in humans, animals or plants, bionic technology will appeal to students interested in the relationship between biology and technology. You’ll also be pleased to know that bionic research is seeing great increases in research funding; in the UK, for example, Newcastle University recently gained funding for a UK£14 million project to produce a new generation of intelligent prosthetics.
How to study bionic technology:
Useful subjects to study in order to get into bionic technology include biomedical engineering, chemistry, medicine, computer science and mechanical engineering. Specializations of interest could include artificial intelligence, biochemistry, biomimetics, bionics, cybernetics, macro and micro biology, medical technology, neural engineering, photonics, plant engineering and nanotechnology.
Where bionic technology replicates biological processes through manmade engineering, robotics engineering takes this one step further. Robots are created to complete all kinds of tasks, from folding laundry to manning a space mission. Society’s fascination with robotics, not to mention the fast progression of new technologies in the field in recent years, has seen interest in the study of robotics sky-rocket – alongside the growing availability of robotics degree programs. If you’re looking to study robotics, you may be able to undertake a dedicated robotics degree – but more often, robotics is offered via a mechatronics degree, which combines study of mechanics and electronics alongside robotics so students get a rounded knowledge. Robotics and mechatronics students will be interested in researching and developing autonomous machines using techniques to design, build and control their own robotics projects.
How to study robotics:
If a robotics or mechatronics degree is not an option, there are many other useful degree subjects for a career in robotics, including biomedical engineering, computer science, electronic engineering, information technology, materials engineering, mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics and structural engineering. Relevant specializations within these degrees include artificial intelligence, automation, computer programming, cybernetics, mechatronics and robotics software.
Bringing together elements of computer science, engineering and cognitive studies, artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer programming that programs computers to ‘think’ and act in certain ways in order to mimic human intelligence. Although involved in the creation of intelligent machines, artificial intelligence is largely concerned with the creation of intelligent computer programs that can be installed into machines. When talking of ‘intelligence’ in terms of computers, what’s meant is really human perceptions of intelligence, such as the capacity to store information, solve problems, use reasoning, communicate and interact with the physical world. Applications of programmed intelligence include search engines, networking applications and to stop online fraud. This idea of artificial intelligence is still in its early days, meaning the career potential may be greater than we can currently imagine.
How to study artificial intelligence:
A growing number of institutions are offering specializations in artificial intelligence, most notably within computer science and information systems degrees. Other STEM subjects you could approach artificial intelligence from include computer programming, psychology, cognitive science, mathematics, neural engineering and statistics. Relevant specializations include big data, mechatronics, natural computation, natural language processing, robotics and software engineering.
If the heavy investment from universities across the world is anything to go by, the future of 3D printing is huge. Harvard University, Cornell University and Nanyang Technological University are just a few of the many institutions which have recently launched research labs and centers dedicated to the development of 3D printing, with books, demonstrations and business agreements all linked to leading faculty members. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses processes taken from a range of STEM subjects, including manufacturing engineering, and there’s also the option to specialize in 3D printing from a design point of view. You might be interested in exploring the crossovers between 3D printing, bionics and nanotechnology, neatly demonstrated by the engineering department at Princeton University, which famously created the world’s first 3D printed bionic ear.
How to study 3D printing:
With such a new technology, it may be difficult to find a dedicated degree program in additive manufacturing/3D printing. Despite this, many universities are now offering the chance to learn about 3D printing on the following degrees: architecture, biomedical engineering, design, design engineering, manufacturing engineering, materials science and structural engineering.
Networking and cyber security
A networking and cyber security degree will introduce you to the world of forensic computing, enabling you to understand the latest new technologies used in controlling and protecting information on the web, introducing you to software and hardware technologies, as well as theoretical models. Students will gain in-depth knowledge of computer crime and awareness of how forensic methods are used to collect evidence against cyber criminals. A cyber security degree is not only a study of computer information systems; it’s also a study of how these systems fit in with societal laws and ethics. The constant development of this field, along with the tireless ingenuity of hackers worldwide, means that more and more institutions are offering dedicated cyber security degree programs, and new careers in this area continue to emerge at an incredible rate.
How to study cyber security:
If your chosen university doesn’t yet offer a cyber security degree program, consider taking the following subjects: computer programming, computer science, information systems and software engineering. Relevant specializations include architecture security, computer crime or computer/network forensics, information assurance, interactive data, internet technologies, IT auditing, IT security and software assurance.
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This article was originally published in March 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020