However, there are lots of reasons why they can be an ideal way to start a career in STEM. Here are a few:
1. Endless training on the job
… because you’ll be wearing so many hats. Life is never dull in a small structure, so even if you were hired to do a certain job, you may very well find that your time is balanced between that and other tasks equally necessary. It will be up to you to see the opportunities and make the most of this informal training.
2. Quick impact
Even undergraduate summer placement students can have a strong impact because every person counts. By definition, there might not be many employees in this SME, so every brain, every pair of hands is important regardless of their age or job title.
3. Being able to take initiatives
Do you have an idea? Great, prove its value to the boss and get to work. Independence will be valued so that people can balance training you and getting on with their own work.
4. Access to the decision-makers
The hierarchy ladder is usually quite short because again, there aren’t that many people after all. So chances are that you’ll meet or even have a chat with the decision-makers regularly. They tend to drop mentoring gems in the conversation, so listen well and don’t hesitate to share your ideas.
5. Agile structure
Need something? Let’s get it. An idea for a rapid prototype? Let’s do it. Or not. Decisions tend to be made quickly because the organisation is smaller and the competition is usually fierce.
All the flexibility hinted at above must not distract from the company’s mission: resources cannot be wasted on a wild goose chase. But I would say that this mission gives the overarching structure of the company, and by extension of your working day.
Like every type of work or career, not everything is for everyone. I am not suggesting that all graduates should apply to an SME because it wouldn’t be the right fit for some. In particular, you may not be as comfortable in an SME if:
- you need to know very clearly what to expect from the job from day 1, as well as what is expected of you
- you have very strong ideas about what you will enjoy doing and what you will not
- you are after the prestige of the big names
Once again, there is no shame either way, the world needs all of us. The most important is that you know yourself well enough so you don’t end up in a place that is not the right fit for you. One way to find out more about STEM-based SMEs is through a placement, like those organised by SEPnet.