Heal the rift between STEM and the humanities
It’s been nearly two months since I started school at Brandeis. In my conversations with numerous people on campus, I began to discover a pattern among students’ majors. I cannot count how many times I have asked an individual about their interests and am greeted with the same series of responses: “Biology,” “pre-med,” “HSSP” or some other STEM-related field. I understand that Brandeis is a research institution geared towards producing the best results within each of its research labs, but I thought that in a big university such as Brandeis there would be more diversity among what students are studying. It seems as if the more people are geared towards the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors and that those interested in humanities fields are dwindling.
Choosing a major can be a stressful time for any college student. However, I believe that many students equate their major with a particular job they hope to have in the future. As a result, the rush to pursue a STEM major suggests a preconceived notion that a job will be guaranteed in the future. Those who dare to step out of the popular realm and pursue a major in the humanities may not be given the same respect compared to their peers pursuing STEM majors. Whether this is attributed to career prospects, financial security or job availability, STEM fields seem to be gaining a perception of superiority compared to other majors. When did this competition between STEM and humanities majors emerge? And why are so many college students flocking to pursue a STEM major when no one’s future is guaranteed regardless of what you receive a degree in?
It is no secret that the United States is falling behind in education; in 2015, the Program for International Student Assessment reported that U.S students are ranked 40th in math literacy and 25th in science literacy. The insecurity behind such rankings prompted former President Barack Obama, as well as President Donald Trump, to create initiatives that expand STEM education around the country. While I understand the importance of the United States’ image in the global sphere, I do believe that it is unfair to expose the younger generation to STEM when it becomes disproportionately taught in comparison to other subject areas. Within each of their plans, both Obama and Trump allocated millions of federal dollars to the development of STEM programs in schools and colleges, as well as working to ensure diversity and inclusion in the science fields. Once federal funds were given to schools, it became obvious the curriculum was skewed towards promoting a STEM education. While I respect the push to diversify the field of STEM, I am also concerned about the younger generation of students and whether they are given the opportunity to discover the broad range of possibilities that a holistic education can offer.
Throughout my high school career, I was convinced that I wanted to enter into the STEM field. I was fascinated by the experiments and presentations I was exposed to during my science and math classes. However, when I arrived at Brandeis and was met with the core University requirements, such as the University Writing Seminar, one class in social sciences and another in the humanities, among many others, I began to remember what I was passionate about before my education became geared towards STEM. In the midst of my ambition of wanting to become a neuroscientist, I forgot why I wanted to become a neuroscientist in the first place. By wishing for generations of successful doctors, engineers and researchers, are we simultaneously denying society successful and talented journalists, novelists and psychologists?
As I began to advance further and further in my education, I stopped hearing the phrase, “a well-rounded individual,” and what replaced it was incessant chattering about federal funds being allocated to schools all over the country to promote STEM. Suddenly, high school guidance counselors, advisors and even school officials are eager to know if students are interested in STEM, and I began to wonder that as well. Are all those individuals that I spoke to during my first few weeks at Brandeis genuinely passionate about STEM or did they trick themselves into loving something that was repeatedly exposed to them?
Many will argue that individuals with a STEM background have a lower chance of being unemployed after graduation. However, those with a humanities background only have a slighter higher risk of unemployment than their science major counterparts; in the United States, those graduating with a humanities degree face a 4% unemployment rate while those with engineering degrees face just over a 3% unemployment rate. As for salaries, it is true that individuals graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and sciences earn about $10,000 or $30,000 more when compared to those graduating with a degree in the humanities, but there are other things to consider when pursuing a career besides income. What about flexibility, time commitment, job satisfaction or opportunities to advance within that specified field? Financial security is an understandably important part of any career but other aspects can make or break an individual’s overall career experience. What’s even more disturbing is that unsastification in a job can leak into other parts of an individual's life.
Pursuing a STEM major or career is portrayed as an intelligent, safe, financially secure and respected option. However, an individual’s respectability and intelligence should not be based off the major or ultimate career path they choose to pursue. Society would not function effectively if the only employees present were engineers, researchers or doctors. A variety of skills are needed in order to enhance the world we live in. Furthermore, the debate goes beyond STEM versus humanities, but is really STEM versus all other career choices. Without most forms of employment ranging from custodial, construction to managerial positions, the universities we attend, regardless of our majors, will cease to exist. Therefore, I urge individuals to push beyond the boundaries that they or society have set forth. While the advancement of STEM is important, it is not everything.