Very good! You've given a reason, but it's based on an argument from authority: BUSINESS and GOVERNMENT say the nation needs more STEM people. I find that entire type of argument unconvincing. Businesses usually say they need more people with some quality when they find the existing people with that quality are too expensive. As an employee, if I had a quality in demand, I'd seek to keep the supply of people with that quality as low as possible. Lawyers and doctors do that (in the USA) why can't STEM people?
That's to say: I'm unconvinced.
My parents are actually doctors and we used to get in debates about this all the time. They of course follow the party line about how an influx into the medical field would lower quality of service. But of course they say that because they want their own earning potential to remain very high.
Considering that 1)Scientific knowledge is so important for everything in our global society and 2)The US stats in science education are below those in other developed economies, I'd say probably the demand is real.
I actually do agree with the article, I just think it is hopelessly vague. As a math major who frequently programs and has a great interest in chemistry in physics, it is not "liberal arts" that I find helpful, but philosophy, ethics, and things that were, until recently, considered sciences as well. (I love the metaphysical ramifications of Godel because my favorite part of philosophy is epistemology)
Analyzing a poem or learning about diversity or whathaveyou won't help me - not necesarily because it can't but because liberal arts education at the undergraduate level is hopelessly useless. There are two extremes I see in it: hopeless rigidity (you can't end a sentence with a preposition or your interpretation of this piece is wrong because I disagree with it) and incompetent formlessness where every opinion is valid and has merit - even when it doesn't.
It is too rare that I see education that accepts diversity of opinion while maintaining rigour in anything.
Even more annoying is the frequent assumption that if a person works with computers it's inconceivable that they might have a clue about design, writing, or art.
As time goes on it becomes more and more irritating to respond to that question, although I suppose given someone's resume and told to interview them for a job, it's a natural starting place.
You run the risk of sacrificing depth for breadth. With finite educational resources (time and money in real dollars that are likely borrowed), most people are attempting to maximize their earning potential post-graduation.
Part of the problem is that profit seeking companies don't favor the renaissance man / woman because they need people down in the trenches, implementing the mundane details of the grand ideas dreamt up by innovators. The reality is that most people are not a da Vinci or Jobs (both would have made significant contributions to society without diverse educations--there's likely no shortage of examples of hyper-focused authors, scientists, artists, etc. who were equally successful).
Although I'm not a huge fan of argument by personal anecdote I think it applies here. As an undergraduate engineering student, I spent a large portion of my educational resources, 20-50% of my time / energy, on policy debate . Each year, I intensely researched, organized, presented, and actively debated international politics, economics, philosophy, sociology, and literary criticism in the context of a specific topic. At the conclusion of each year, I could have written a thesis on a relevant subset of each topic--I say this as someone who has written and defended an engineering thesis. Post-graduation, however, I find myself working for an engineering firm, doing engineering work. During the interview and continuing to this day (4+ years later), no one cares how much I know about West Africa agricultural problems, biopolitics, feminism, Ex parte Quirin, or the AUMF. It's simply not relevant to work I do. I would love a job that uses all of my interests and talents, but, especially in this case, that seems unlikely. "Looking for candidate with strong background in Structural Dynamics, Aeroelasticity, Feminism, and Middle Eastern politics!" Maybe I'm just not creative enough.
Am I well read? Sure. Do I sound intelligent over a beer or two? Absolutely. Am I a contributing member of a well-informed electorate? You betcha! But would that time / effort been better spent on engineering-specific extracurricular activities? I know what the hiring manager at my company and my boss would probably tell you.
Sure I retained the research, organization, presentation, and public speaking skills, but they're really only marginally relevant to my current work. I also would have probably developed those skills if I was involved in DBF .
My particular program combined liberal arts and engineering and had institutional support and a student group to help.
Of course, many other students still thought we were crazy to do both. I'm glad I did. Many of my Plan II instructors did a better job of teaching critical thinking and scholarship than most of my engineering professors.
Why not make liberal arts students, who are the ones who can't get jobs and whose educations aren't doing much for society, take science classes? They're the ones who end up working at Starbucks. That's the part of the education system that's _broken_, but we're supposed to ask the most productive part of education to follow suit?
It's not really that simple. Recent liberal arts graduates have about the same unemployment rate as recent computer science and maths graduates. Physical science graduates have a much better chance of finding a job, but so do education majors. And there isn't a big glut of unfilled STEM jobs which would be available to these liberal arts students if they just took STEM courses. The idea that the liberal arts are "broken" and STEM is "productive" isn't supported by the evidence.
You don't get to just cherry-pick the easy comparisons. Your link suggests technical educations have, as a whole, lower unemployment. In addition to that, average salaries for recent STEM grads are 25-50% higher than their liberal arts counterparts.
Maybe it's not fair of me to say that one is awesome and the other is horrible, but if we're going to make one of them more like the other it seems clear which one is falling behind.
Yeah, allot of good she did to HP. Hewlett & Packard were engineers.
History was tons of fun, and remains one of my favorite types of reading to this day.
More practically, I highly recommend taking a number of courses on writing, because one of the things you'll need to do in your great CS career is communicate effectively to people, up and down your management chain, and to customers. Hell, good writing skills come into play when you're filling-in bug reports.
.. for the attention of a single audience, the compiler. The compiler demands accuracy and completeness yet also provides patient, useful and virtually infinite feedback to guide the writer. That's not typical of human audiences!
Creating prose for human audiences is challenging and yet is an essential skill in the corporate world.
A two-minute elevator pitch to a C-level officer is going to be a lot different than notes on a bug report. But I've worked with many people who can't make that context-switch and just overwhelm their audience with irrelevant details.
That's one of the interesting aspects of an education in history: analyse inputs, synthesise, evaluate and only output what is relevant to the argument.
- Understandability and maintainability. People are going to toss your code if it's bad. If the stuff you write is consistently bad, they're going to toss you.
- Syntax, as enforced by the compiler.
- Functional. Many sub-axis here, including efficiency, usability, resilience to failure, number of bugs, and so on.
... and so on.
The concept has been around forever, but modern education has put disciplines into silos. STEAM is trying to reintegrate things.
Medicine is also a good career choice for academically talented students with strength in both humanities and science. To get these students over to STEM you'll need to offer career prospects, pay, stability, and prestige comparable to dermatology or radiology.
In short, I can see why STEM employers would want these students, but the students have better options than STEM.
Liberal arts thoroughly enriched my understanding of the world when coupled with business (particularly the economics aspects of it). I use both when managing clients and projects in my IT job. I encourage all students to become multi-disciplinary even if you think your future focus will be only in one area.
But consider that software may be executed by machines, but it is written by humans. I once read a fascinating UCSC doctoral dissertation by an anthropologist who studied High Energy Physicists at SLAC.
Working at Apple was just like that for me. I didn't just write code, I studied my fellow employees.
I would rather we had chemistry that could impact the environment instead of thinkers who philosophized over its impact.
There might be an interesting argument about how liberal arts eduction contributes to STEM, or perhaps that STEM has low standards and anybody can decide to be a biologists on a whim, but the more interesting arguments are not made by the article. Perhaps the author could use an extra English class.
A scientist trained in the liberal arts has another huge advantage: writing ability.
It might not be an "interesting" argument, but I remember my best college professor expressly lamenting that engineering students no longer knew how to write.
I also remember discovering the steady decline in the quality of datasheet & manual technical writing, starting somewhere in the late 80's.
I'm not following... what do you mean by biologist? As far as I've been informed (perhaps biased by the difficult job market of recent years) it is VERY difficult to find actual jobs doing meaningful biology work.
Depends what you mean by meaningful. My department the EE/CS labs have ~5 people, the biology labs have double. Cells need to grow, protocols can take days. Most people I know in biology are doing some form of technician work. Indeed an undergrad can come in to a biology lab and become a biologist on a whim, I even know many highschool students who are productive with a week of training - I don't know any in remote sensing. So you are correct.
[Looks my rep is gonna take hit, but I work with these people every day, so w/e]
In all seriousness, there is a big difference between doing lab work, which can absolutely be done by high schoolers, and skilled, technical work in the biological / chemical fields. As pa5tabear said, there just aren't as many jobs out there for the skilled biologists or chemists, which is one reason you can usually see people with degrees doing jobs which they are "overqualified" for.
Are these people getting paid?
I knew exactly the kind of arguments I'd see on this thread. The same 'hurr durr STEM > liberal arts' I see on Reddit and elsewhere.
It's time we moved beyond a confrontational, antagonistic relationship between these two most fundamental pursuits of study.
STEM disciplines are in the analytic philosophy tradition (at least the ones that are any good).
For the most part, liberal arts are in the continental philosophy tradition (this wasn't always the case).
There can be no peace, or even understanding between the two schools of thought.
I do agree that the current (and hopefully transient) dominance of continental philosophy in the liberal arts makes it more difficult for people in those areas to grasp STEM fields, and would furthermore say that since "STEM people need more liberal arts training!" has been the call for my entire decades-long career (and likely before) there is unlikely to ever be anything that satisfies people. I've been in grad courses in philosophy where a solid minority of students were from the sciences, but never seen more than one or two people (always from philosophy) even in undergrad physics classes.
It's time to turn things around and say, "Liberal arts people need more STEM training! No one should be able to graduate from university who doesn't have at least some grounding in math, computing and a science." Unfortunately, if you extend this requirement beyond "physics for poets" the graduation rate drops to nearly zero, despite there being English, music, philosophy and history majors out there who make wickedly good software developers. But they are such a tiny minority as to barely count.
Of course - I still lack background in "continental philosophy", but this helps my understanding.