Liberal Arts vs. STEM

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Kizmet, Jun 20, 2015.

  1. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

  2. Filmmaker2Be

    Filmmaker2Be Active Member

    I don't think it's a false dichotomy. The economy in the United States has been transitioning to a high tech "knowledge economy" for a while now and those who have been slow to adapt, or who have refused to adapt, have been left behind. That said, there is a place for tech savvy liberal arts majors. I think the days of the "pure" liberal arts major has passed.

    I've counseled college students for years now to make their intended liberal arts major their minor or to double major with a business discipline or a STEM major. I don't think most listened. Kids think they're going to be the exception to the rule.

    BTW, is there a way to change my username? As DI knows I had to wash out of film school. I'm on to something else, now.
  3. dfreybur

    dfreybur New Member

    The difference is a bit floating point. Mathematics is one of the seven traditional liberal arts and sciences.

    That said I think the fields are marketed wrong. When I was a young student I resisted the liberal arts classes wanting to take more STEM courses in my major. As a young student I had a short term point of view. Trade schools are the place you go for all courses in your major, but try to tell that to my 25 year old self.

    In the long run the liberal arts classes that I took gave me a significant but subtle long term advantage in my work. Extra perspective. Knowing what happens in various situations.

    I should have targeted a major in STEM plus a minor in LA. I actually ended up qualifying for more than one minor (Excelsior Liberal Studies back when it was Regents College) but that was more because I took such an inefficient path. If the degree had listed minors I could have listed Computer Science, Mathematics and either English or Anthropology depending on how I declare one dual-department course. Instead of targeting a major in STEM plus a minor in LA I stumbled on it by mistake. I have benefited over the years from that "mistake".
  4. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    The false dichotomy is that most STEM majors aren't liberal arts. The natural sciences and mathematics are liberal arts. Some schools even classify computer science as a liberal art. I think these distinctions are important because many students enter STEM fields thinking they will receive job training. An undergraduate degree in a natural science or mathematics is not meant to lead to a specific occupation. That's why you have many biology majors struggling to find more than a temp job that pays $11-15 an hour. That's why you have employers and students complaining that computer science programs don't provide enough practical training in areas such as programming. It should be made clear that computer science is most theoretical. If people want more practical training, then they should major in information technology.
  5. novadar

    novadar Member

    I for one greatly appreciate the fact that I have a Liberal Arts Bachelors degree (History). I learned how to properly express myself in writing (over and over and over and over). I also felt that my cultural and obviously historical awareness was broadened with the program. The foundation I received served me well as I progressed through a Masters (MPA) and finally a PhD (IT Management).

    Frankly much of the STEM work in IT does not require an IT degree. I see many, many examples of Liberal Arts folks like myself who learned by doing, gained certifications, and then pursued more specialized advanced degrees.
  6. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    The problem is that your assertion here presupposes that a liberal arts major damns you to a life of unemployment. Or, even worse, that this reality represents a dramatic shift in our society. It doesn't.

    A liberal arts education has never been a source of vocational training. This hasn't changed. While people who major in government/political science sometimes go to work in the government it is far more common that they simply seek work elsewhere or continue on to professional or graduate programs.

    When I was a recruiter we had an insurance company that routinely hired field adjusters. This was an entry level position ($30-$35k-ish). They had three requirements: 1) Breathing 2) Bachelors Degree 3) Clean Criminal Record. Easy day.

    Even though business majors were an obvious fit for an insurance company we tended to stay away from them. Business majors tended to become disillusioned with the idea of working out of a (company) car all day. They wanted offices and power suits and all that fancy Wall Street cred. Our favorites were the English and Theater majors (occasionally you'd get a Philosophy major in there and that was also good).

    We'd swoop in in the Fall during job fairs. They would laugh at us and roll their eyes. Then our phones would ring off the hook come spring. A $30k job with full medical and dental (and a future, if you stuck with it) started to sound a lot better to these students when faced with the prospect of working in a Barnes and Noble or signing up with Teach America to teach Shakespeare to the inner city kids of Detroit.

    My point is that there are jobs for liberal arts majors. They just aren't jobs in the liberal arts.

    I'm glad they didn't listen. Though well-intentioned it was really, really bad advice to give kids. Sadly, advice like that is what leads to so much career dissatisfaction.

    When I was in high school the trending career was pharmacist. In Wilkes-Barre, PA the clearest path to becoming a pharmacist was the six year program at Wilkes University. So every guidance and academic counselor within ear shot told everyone to run out and become a pharmacist. These recommendations weren't based on personal interest at all. They were based primarily on things like average to above average math SAT scores and how well you did in high school chemistry. Oh, you pulled a B+ in chemistry? Obviously you should be a pharmacist.

    If my graduating class didn't set a record for the highest number of pharmacy school dropouts then we must have been damn close. Those who couldn't get into the Wilkes program went as far as Philadelphia and New York to live the pharmaceutical dream. The vast majority of them were back home within a year studying some liberal art discipline. Of my graduating class of 155 (small Catholic school) nearly 25 went directly into pharmacy programs. Total number of pharmacists from my graduating class? Two. And one married a neurosurgeon and stopped practicing so she could raise a small army of kids.

    The point is that there are people inclined toward working in STEM fields. Then there are people who may have the ability to withstand the academic rigor but whose interests are so far off that they will never succeed in a STEM career.

    I have had a young woman apply to virtually every non-engineering job I've posted in the last four years. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. I tried to bring her in when we were on an engineer hiring blitz. She was very frank with me. Earning her degree was a struggle and she can't stand engineering work. She's applied to work in HR, marketing, logistics and even as an administrative assistant.

    There are very few college programs that directly translate to work post-graduation. Even fewer that don't require some sort of post-graduation education, preparation, certification or licensure.

    Part of the problem is a mindset tied to the sort of advice you admittedly gave students. You don't go to college and study whatever is trending so you can land in a job doing whatever when you graduate. Your course of study should follow some sort of life goal. For throngs of English majors that goal is as simple as "Earn my degree then get a job." None of them go into their programs imagining that they will become claims adjusters. But that's because many of them don't know what they want to do and would never have considered working claims for an insurance company. Some find the work interesting and stay. Most move on to their next adventure. But their degree in English or Theater didn't hurt them. The degree still meets the minimum requirement for many, many jobs. But it isn't a vocational program. Neither are STEM degrees. A degree in electrical engineering can mean that you design microprocessors or that you design electrical systems in cars. And such a degree is certainly no guarantee that you'll do either.

    It's a lovely notion that we're all going to become software engineers. But it isn't realistic. It wasn't realistic in 2003 that we could all quit our jobs and flip houses for a living. At the end of the day we need people to adjust our claims, drive our trucks, cook our meals and do massage therapy. The notion that some of these jobs belong in the domain of people who didn't go to college is an outdated elitist notion. You can make more as a plumber than you can as a marketing person at our company. So why can't a person who spent four years expanding their horizons decide to fit pipes for a living?

    We need to start separating the concepts of education and vocational training. Sometimes they cross over but often they do not. And that's OK.
  7. novadar

    novadar Member


    These are very good points and I agree completely.

    Dang man, you take a while to craft thoughtful replies. I am very impressed.
  8. lawrenceq

    lawrenceq Member

    Amen! He really brought it with that last post.
  9. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

  10. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    A lot of people going into nursing are now discovering that it's not the right job for them. So, what do you do with a nursing degree if you hate dealing with patients and don't have many years of experience? There are options, but not many. Petroleum engineering is hot right now, but it won't be forever. The last time we had a bust, a lot of petroleum engineers and geologists were out of work.
  11. GeeBee

    GeeBee Member

    My wife is a Clinical Research Associate. Her job consists primarily of visiting research locations and examining the paperwork to make sure the proper protocols are being followed and no one is going to get in trouble with the FDA. She says many of her colleagues have nursing degrees but hated being nurses.

    In my days as an Administrative Assistant in a medical office, I met a lot of nurses who were working in pharmaceutical sales.
  12. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Well, for starters, you shouldn't go into nursing just because it was trending. I'm not saying that is always the case but after pharmacy was trending hard while I was in HS I know, for a fact, that the same guidance counselor, who pushed everyone with a 3.0 or higher in a math course into pharmacy, started trying to guide everyone within earshot into either nursing programs or the physician assistant BS/MPAS program at Kings College. Not interested in medicine? Don't worry, you'll grow to love it, just like pharmacy.

    That was my point when talking about trying to forcefit students into "trending" career paths without regard for their interests and soft skill aptitude.

    So yeah, you have a BSN and basically a guaranteed job but the work makes you want to put your head in an oven. That's not a "win" in my book.

    But, to answer your question, I've seen many RNs go into claims work at insurance companies, workers compensation case management and even successfully transition into completely unrelated careers (and some only tangentially related). At my last job (as a recruiter) the healthcare recruiter was an RN. While it certainly helped her to be able to speak the lingo, you don't need tube an RN to hire nurses and physicians. A wife of a coworker has a BSN and works in pharmaceutical sales. In some New York counties, being an RN qualifies you to work as a social services caseworker.

    So, there are certainly options for those who heeded the bad advice of their guidance counselors.

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