Contributor Charles Choi
After Monica Mogilewsky completed her baccalaureate thesis on the calls of the ring-tailed lemur, she worked for the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, Florida, for nearly 10 years, eventually becoming its associate executive director. She wanted to earn a masters degree in biodiversity conservation and management during her time with the foundation, “but the nearest universities were at least two hours away, so earning my masters there wasn’t really a feasible option,” she recalled.
Instead, Mogilewsky did her entire masters via an online and distance learning programme with the University of London, graduating in 2009. “I wouldn’t have gained my masters any other way, and I think I got as good an education as I would in a traditional setting.” She is now a doctoral student at Portland State University studying conservation biology and ecology.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are among the few areas experiencing a rapid surge in job opportunities. According to a 2011 study from the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM job growth rose by 7.9 percent from 2000 to 2010, roughly three times more than other occupations during that time, and STEM workers commanded higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.
At the same time, educational opportunities are widening due to online learning. Online course enrolment has increased year on year for at least a decade, with the number of students taking at least one online course surpassing 6.7 million, or about a third of total enrolment in higher education, according to findings reported in 2013 from the Babson Survey Research Group.
“It’s an exciting time for science – there is more and more offered online,” says Nicolas Benedict, founder, president and CEO of eScience Labs in Sheridan, Colorado. “There will always be a need for brick-and-mortar facilities, but online science education is really exploding – it’s the wave of the future.”
Qualified scientists take online courses as well. Julie Goodliffe was an assistant professor leading a biomedical research laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but she wanted to become an entrepreneur. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler online MBA program in 2013, and is now CEO of Sustainable Ethanol Technologies, a start-up company developing a process to produce ethanol from any kind of biomass, such as waste material from lumber, construction and farms.
“I was leaving science to enter the business world, and I wanted a general education programme that would help me become familiar with the jargon and concepts of business,” Goodliffe says. “I also wanted a credential that would help show some knowledge of and dedication to business.”
There are now many options for doing science online, and for established scientists to step outside their field online. Over the next few weeks we’ll be giving tips on convenience, credits, reputation and more.