Why everyone, even STEM majors, can benefit from a humanities education
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Why everyone, even STEM majors, can benefit from a humanities education


Pic: Shutterstock.

By Natalie Southwick

The death knell for studies in the humanities has been ringing for years, it seems. Everywhere you look, some pundit or academic is expounding on why we need more STEM majors and fewer people reading books or analyzing the brains of others.

While it’s true that there are many jobs that require employees with a background in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), that’s not to say it’s mutually exclusive with studies in the humanities. In fact, many hiring managers and academic and business leaders are now arguing for a comprehensive education that includes humanities studies for everyone – yes, even engineering majors.

The reality is that, while computing, technology and mathematical skills are vital for employment in a world that increasingly runs on digital technology, there are other skills that simply can’t be replaced. Even within tech-oriented fields, employers are still looking for multitalented workers, who can not only design a killer product but also write the winning pitch to sell it at the investors’ meeting.

In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes, an associate professor of chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, writes that what the world really needs is “more STEM majors with liberal arts training.”

“If American STEM grads are going to lead the world in innovation, then their science education cannot be divorced from the liberal arts,” she wrote.

Despite the doomsday predictors, there’s evidence that studying the humanities can be just as good – if not better – for job prospects and earning potential as professional degrees. A 2014 report co-published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that, at peak earnings ages, workers who graduated with an undergraduate degree in the humanities or social sciences earned annually on average about $2,000 more than those who majored in professional or pre-professional fields.

Beyond the number-crunching, there’s no denying that individuals who study the humanities often pursue careers in fields like counseling, education, development and social services. Though these “saving-the-world” careers don’t bring in the same paychecks as doctors, lawyers or movie stars, they provide crucial services and skills without which the world wouldn’t function nearly as well.

“We need the Humanities majors to run our schools, social services, and political centers,” writes Cal Berkeley student Elaina Provencio on the Huffington Post.

Many successful entrepreneurs and innovators are already well aware of the added dimension an education in the humanities brings to creative spaces.


Steve Jobs, a master of design. Pic: AP.

When introducing the iPad 2 back in 2011, Apple founder Steve Jobs remarked, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Even the mind behind the iPod, the original holy grail of personal technology, recognized that such achievements could never be accomplished without a solid basis in and commitment to the humanities.

The ISSUE is similar in the worlds of science and medicine. In Scientific American, David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, laments the fact that most scientists lack the skills or know-how to effectively communicate their findings, and what they mean, to the general public – leading to serious problems like the current anti-vaccination movement.

“Many of us never received the education in the humanities or social sciences that would allow us to explain to nonscientists what we do and why it is important,” Skorton mourns.

As a solution, he suggest a “broader humanistic education for scientists (and nonscientists),” beginning in kindergarten and continuing through secondary school, university and graduate and advanced degrees.

“It is through the study of art, music, literature, history and other humanities and social sciences that we gain a greater understanding of the human condition than biological or physical science alone can provide,” concludes Skorton.

Read on to learn about some institutions which offer world-class courses in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.


Students in the studio, University of Western Sydney. Pic: University of Western Sydney.


The University of Western Sydney (UWS) is a multi-campus university in the Greater Western region of Sydney, ranked among the world’s best 100 universities under the age of 50 in the Times Higher Education rankings, and in the top 400 in the world in the 2014 QS World University Rankings. The School of Humanities and Communication Arts, located across three of UWS’s campuses,  is a leader in cultural research as well as literary studies, performing arts and creative writing. Internationally, the School is ranked 247th in the 2014 QS Faculty Rankings. Research carried out at the School involves collaboration with a number of research Institutes and Centres at the University, and aims to achieve advances in knowledge and produce innovative solutions to improve the well-being of Greater Western Sydney, Australia and the international community. Read the full profile…


The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) has an outstanding reputation for research and teaching, and is located in one of the most spectacular higher education settings in the country. The University provides unrivaled opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students across a wide range of academic programs. All undergraduates at UCSC are affiliated with one of the institution’s colleges, the core courses of which provide a common academic base for first year and transfer students. Each college provides academic support, organizes student activities, and sponsors events that enhance the intellectual and social life of the campus in addition to housing students in small-scale residential communities.


The University of Bath is one of the best in the UK. Consistently appearing in the top 10 of all major league tables, they have also been rated as the best UK university for Student Satisfaction. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences offers opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaboration and supports the largest student intake of the university. International students are welcome in Bath where they will find a well-established cosmopolitan community and a friendly learning environment. The Faculty offers a range of graduate programs and access to comprehensive research skills training.


Pic: University of Bath.


The University of Warwick in Coventry is located at the heart of England and has, in fewer than 50 years, gained a global reputation for excellence. Encouraging independent thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, the University of Warwick produces graduates with a passion for and comprehensive understanding of their chosen subject. Their Social Sciences Faculty, which is home to eight departments and four independent research centers, offers courses ranging from Economics and Law to Politics and Philosophy. The University welcomes around 23,400 full-time students and consistently appears within the top 10 of all major British league tables.


Curtin University’s Faculty of Humanities, which comprises the Schools of Built Environment, Design and Art, Education, and Media, Culture and Creative Arts, offers its students degree options that are applied, creative and relevant to contemporary society. Dedicated to equipping graduates with key transferable skills which will facilitate their success within industry, the Faculty runs a large number of programmes which are supported by professional accreditation. Many of these programs are also taught in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Mauritius and Vietnam, where Curtin has gained a reputation as a leader in Higher Education.