Do STEM Studies Prepare Students to Excel in the Humanities . . . Or Is It the Other Way Around?

“The more our labs and engineers innovate, the more jobs we create for people who can make the human dimension work. Technology may be a job killer in warehouses or on the factory floor. There’s no denying robots excel at predictable chores, carrying them out faster, cheaper, and more reliably than we can. Yet in so many other aspects of life, the machines (and even software-based artificial intelligence) are clumsy intruders. They don’t know how to handle subtler situations, where feelings matter and the rules haven’t been written. We do.”

– George Anders writing in his book You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education (Little, Brown and Company) 2017

For years now, the standard wisdom has held that STEM studies offer a highly effective way – perhaps the best way – to prepare students to succeed in careers that require good cognitive thinking. You want to be a more effective marketer, a more creative graphic artist, or a better developer of systems for patient care? Good, the common wisdom has said, start with technical studies and then add the “softer” human skills later.

But now, an author and journalist named George Anders has had the gumption to say that exactly the opposite holds true too . . . that students who study non-technical subjects like anthropology, the fine arts, creative writing, and even much-maligned English, are equipping themselves to excel in technical professions.

Interestingly, it seems that it is entirely possible that both beliefs are true. Yes, STEM studies prepare students to excel in non-technical fields . . . but non-technical majors perform better in technical professions too. The fact that one of those things is true does not mean the other is false. A psych major who understands how people make decisions might be a better data analyst than someone who majored in statistics, for example. It could just be true, and sometimes it actually is.

Another Insight from George Anders

And if you think that either or both of those viewpoints are purely theoretical, you could be wrong. In his book, Anders points out that while 541,000 new American jobs were created in the computing sector between May 2012 and May 2016, about 2.3 million new jobs were created in management, legal work, sales, finance . . . and teaching.

Ready to see bigger issues about the relationship between college majors and career success? Participate in a Student Research Foundation Career Pathway Study and you will be empowered with new information to make career and educational decisions that ultimately align with your interests, passions, and aptitudes.

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