A Matter of Intent

It is common that I would come across news articles about employment (or unemployment) rates. Some of them would argue that college students majoring in STEM topics are more likely to be employed than those that are in “useless” majors – i.e. a lot of the humanities. As student who transitioned from six year of involvement in the sciences to these past seven months of being a philosophy major, I had to ask myself what was the difference between being in STEM that makes it more employable than being in the humanities.

I will use scientific research as an example because that is the STEM field that I understand the best. My example of work in the humanities is what Legal Momentum does.

Having worked in both, I observed that there are surface level and fundamental similarities between a scientific laboratory and a non-profit organization. These similarities made me think that the transition from working in scientific research, a STEM field, and a non-profit is not as big of a jump as people would think.

My first internship was at a laboratory, researching to treat congenital heart defects. Structurally, like Legal Momentum, it sustained itself through federal grants. Furthermore, work was indirect service that was hard-to explain in layman terms. In addition, like LM, its spearhead was a charismatic, energetic leader who traveled and handled the business aspect. The workers were graduate students, whose pay-rate and grueling work hours that echoed at LM.

In terms of the day-to-day work, at Legal Momentum, the workers travel and then spend most of their time writing; the graduate students did that too. The writing components were crucial to the success of both organizations and required extensive research and pinpoint accurate diction. When not meeting and discussing their research, the graduate students worked on their own – whether it was on the computer or in the experimental tables; that’s not a huge difference from the way things operated at LM.

There was also competition. Other laboratories, at both the same university or at another, are studying the same thing. The laboratory struggled to distinguish its results from that of others and while competing for the same grants. Legal Momentum also has “rivals”, by the way.

The laboratory was essentially a non-profit organization. Both LM and the lab were stuck in a never ending cycle of: conduct experiments to get results -> results needed to apply for grants -> grants = money -> money fund experiments. Whenever an experiment failed, I felt the stress of this cycle. The dagger of lack of funding loomed overhead for all of us.

The biggest differences between the two were the methods of problem of solving and the jargons. The laboratory was much “wetter” because it focused on biological sciences. The reports were written in passive voice to express as much objectivity as possible. The dictions –  such as transforming growth factor receptors – and the specific skills required – e.g. microscopic dissection –are vastly different. The thing is: all of these things that can be learned and become accustomed to and nothing is an inherent ability. My point is: person can move between both fields of work as long as he or she spends time learning the specifics.

Most of all, success in both of these fields require logical, critical thinking as well as attention to detail and strong writing ability. Endurance in both fields necessitates personal qualities like the courage to fail, strong passionate feelings toward the topic, and a creative, positive mindset.  I hope don’t have to elaborate as to why writing legal papers or scientific reports require those things.

There are also a lot of similarity between scientific research and fields like engineering and computer science. There are engineering laboratories and computer laboratories. Researchers, engineers, and computer scientists definitely cooperate. In fact, the popular term for this is: interdisciplinary science.

There are ample connections within the STEM fields, but there are also connections between STEM and the humanities. So why does studying in one field makes a student more employable than if he or she studies the other?

I believe the answer is the demand for the product. We need more bridges and drugs – the products of lots of engineering and researching. There is not as much demand for solving domestic violence.

The topic of economics is beside the point. What’s important here is that: those that call humanity majors “useless” are not aware of the benefits of the skill sets that those studies offer and other qualities that a student can potentially gain from being in that area. Those skills are adaptable and necessary for any profession.

Topics like science, engineering, English, and history are just different approaches, and studying them equip students with different and similar skills. These skills are tools. The flexibility and effectiveness or a tool depends on the end goal of the user.

We need to be more open to the idea of letting people learn on the job. What they must enter the door with however, is a flexible, open-mind, a willingness to spend time, and the stamina to endure daily trial-and-error.

I think another problem is that employers do not have the time to training humanity majors in STEM jobs. It’s probably much more efficient if the employee came with the knowledge.

However, I wonder if company could benefit from diversity, not just in race, but in framework of thinking. New approaches and new ideas… I wonder where one could go from that.






One thought on “A Matter of Intent

  1. I think you’ve hit on the benefits of a well-rounded, liberal arts education. The thirst for knowledge, the ability to write effectively and think logically are important to almost any field and I do think companies and employers that think outside the engineering or humanities box have an advantage both in terms of the caliber of employee they attract but in the results those employees produce. Far too often, people are pigeon-holed by their degree or their recent background.

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