Are Creative and Inventive the Same Thing?

February 07, 2012

How do you know if you are inventive or an innovator — and whether you’re going to be the next Steve Jobs? Does labeling yourself really make a difference in which profession you go after?

It might, at least according to a new — and disturbing — study that suggests a strong lack of interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs among young Americans. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address stressed the need for a technical workforce, but the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which seeks to gauge young people’s perception of innovation, found that they misunderstand how new ideas are made into new realities.

While 26 percent of those who answered the survey noted that they’re motivated to choose careers based on overall stability, 22 percent said they want the chance to “change the world.” Almost three in four young women indicated that they are creative, yet fewer than one in three described themselves as inventive, the characteristic they associated most with original thinkers. Men didn’t seem to make this link either.

A New York Times article brings up another missed connection: About 40 percent of students planning to enter engineering and science majors end up switching or failing to get their degrees. “The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM,” says the article, the title of which indicates that science students don’t last because “it’s just so darn hard.”

AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics found that women are far less likely than men to enter STEM degrees in the first place despite higher average GPAs in high school STEM classes. Once in the major, they were just as likely as men to be driven out by discouraging college environments, which also tend to be void of female peers or mentors. This trend carries over into the workforce, where women remain severely underrepresented.

If our country needs more engineers, then we need to address the misperceptions of these young women and men. This generation recognizes that STEM careers offer the best opportunities for the future, according to a recent American Society for Quality study, but they don’t seem to be making the connection that invention and innovation in STEM have and can “change the world.” Need examples? Try Jane Goodall or Jill Tarter.

If students keep feeling like these majors are so challenging that they can’t even finish their degrees, our potential innovators will end up changing the world via communications or politics instead of new medical breakthroughs or more affordable computers. And if women continue to be put off by the professional climate and the perception that they don’t belong, we are cutting those chances in half.

This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.

Marie Lindberg By:   |   February 07, 2012

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.