We don’t all want to be scientists

 

By Alice Phillips

Is it true that there is a general dearth of knowledge about careers in science, technology, engineering and math as compared to knowledge about careers in the humanities? Or is it the case that society in general has decided that students in STEM fields are better fit for the “21st century” and therefore those students should be given more encouragement? Or maybe not society in general so much as the Harvard-Westlake community.

During spring break I visited too many colleges to count. Their viewbooks postulated that they were all unique, but one of the more interesting trends could be found in their Class of 2013 Profile section. Here, colleges love to report high diversity percentages and numbers of students who stated an interest in earning a Ph.D. in a field other than science.

So, if colleges feel that being able to boast of high interest in advanced humanities degrees is more interesting than being able to boast of undoubtedly high interest in advanced science degrees, why does Harvard-Westlake leap to promote knowledge of careers in STEM but not to promote knowledge of careers in the humanities? If you were to ask, a lot of kids would tell you that they want to be lawyers, doctors, politicians, engineers, businesspeople and other “professionals” as adults. Something tells me that the number of students who would tell you that they want to earn an M.A. or Ph.D. in Russian literature or Colonial History would not be overwhelmingly high as compared to the number of students interested in earning an advanced degree in physics.

The science department is possibly one of the most highly publicized departments on campus. They have frequent guest speakers, a comparatively robust selection of electives for a core subject area and a class devoted to scientific research (whose students’ findings are published in a 24 page full-color magazine) while the foreign language department has neither the money nor the student interest to publish its foreign language magazine. Why spend our time and budget encouraging the student body to become computer scientists and biochemical engineers when F. Scott Fitzgerald and Richard Hofstadter play just as integral roles in the progression and development of American society as their scientific and mathematical contemporaries? The issue isn’t whether or not STEM fields are important, the issue is that those fields shouldn’t be so heavily valued over the humanities. We can because we think we can, but apparently we didn’t think we could become engineers or mathematicians.

Am I missing something? Where is the next great political scientist or the next great literary critic if not among the youth? And who in their right minds would say that we are more interested in becoming an academic in the humanities than we are in becoming a doctor?