Freshman year of college, in introductary lectures, between waves of crowds in Turlington, and between bites of Krishna Lunch, everyone’s favorite ice breaker was, “So what’s your major?” As soon as “I’m a Spanish major” slipped through my clenched jaw, faces of my peers twisted in confusion. They pitied my choice; even my family judgingly asked the most common follow-up: “Uh, so what are you supposed to do with that degree?” I don’t blame them. I had never heard of anyone with a degree in Spanish either, or in any of my other passions for that matter, like international relations, history, or visual arts.
Sure, lots of Bachelor's of Arts students exist, but they’re portrayed as uppity, stuck-up, bike-riding, craft beer drinking hippies. The serious students are the one's on a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics track, valiantly working through their rigorous courses. And then there is their antithesis, the non-STEM major, too busy to go to their liberal arts classes between socialist rallies and food truck events downtown.
Something needs to change about this dynamic, though, because not only is the dichotomy false and stereotypical, but it is hurtful to students and their areas of study that deserve to be respected along with their STEM counterparts. To begin, the very definition of this “STEM” sector needs to be criticized. Many occupations like lab technicians and STEM teachers are considered part of the field, while the skilled labor of STEM plants and their mechanisms are not. Why is manual labor not normally considered a component of the industry, while a college professor is? How does this term hold any value if its definition seems to be so arbitrary, based on what society finds more valuable than other professions?
A huge misconception is the lack of demand for skills and careers not in the STEM fields. This assumption could not be more wrong, though. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, some non-STEM areas of extreme growth in the future include careers in foreign language and translation, international communications and public relations, law, and other fields. Furthermore, there is this conception that technology will replace the work of "less skilled" humans through technology advances. However, researchers challenge this notion as many predict job prospects will increase, just like they always have through major technological advances (i.e. the industrial revolution, the internet age). Explore the theory that automation frees up time for consumers, making more time than ever for people to spend their income on new innovations as explained by a professor of economics at MIT, David Autor.
Adaptation to the new types of work we will do in the future is indeed important, but current trends do not indicate that artists, communicators, educators, political scientists, translators, and other non-STEM professions will be going away anytime soon. On the contrary, many fields of communication are rapidly growing with the technology used to connect international audiences.
One area in which the STEM field lacks is a focus on communication and personal connections with clients, colleagues, and peers. Coursework does not usually focus on the importance of being a communicator in these areas, but the reality is that through all the automation and technology, connection and communication will remain, be it virtually or in person. If it is only for a day in the office, STEM majors need to have communication skills to collaborate and negotiate with colleagues, to appear confident during interviews and meetings, and to pitch their work to their peers in the field. Professionals in the field agree that effective communication is a key skill who those who work with scientific work and other related fields.
Family members may have mentioned poor prospects in terms of artistic, social-science, or liberal arts-based career paths, and while the “money isn’t everything” is a valid argument worth some thought, the whole notion that one cannot make money unless they are involved in tech is simply untrue. If money is the motive, consider work on electrical plants or oil rigs, as a transportation management, or several other high-paying, less glamorous blue-collar work. All are making an average of close to six figures.
Let’s be real though. This is not just about the money. It’s about the prestige that society gives to doctors, engineers, scientists, and other STEM careers. It seems glamorous, secure in an automated future, and in-demand as technology grows. While some of that may be true, it gives no right to the area or society in general to shame students passionate about other fields.