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Science vs Humanities

October 26, 2007

People struggle with different kinds of prejudice in society, but there is one which is very deeply entrenched and it shows no sign of letting up…the belief that science is ‘better’ than Arts or Humanities. That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘intelligent’ than those who study languages or design. That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘hard-working’ that those who study history or architecture. And so on and so forth.

This year a brilliant girl whom we know chose to study architecture and her parents, both doctors, disapproved. They let her though, because they were convinced that their brilliant daughter had chosen architecture because she didn’t want to work hard. After she was a few months into her course they found that she was working very hard indeed and often stayed up till three in the morning to work. The reaction of her parents? But if we knew you weren’t averse to hard work we would have persuaded you to take up medicine. The fact that she was doing something she loved (the reason for her hard work) or that even students of architecture studied hard was something that hadn’t struck them.

But this girl is lucky. Because there are umpteen examples of parents forcing their children to take up science (followed by engineering) even if aptitude tests reveal that their children are better suited to the Humanities. Boys are pressurised far more than girls. It is strange that this attitude of parents hasn’t changed all that much inspite of the economy opening up and well-paying career options for Humanities students being available. From advertising and architecture to law, management or even the airlines, the fashion industry, TV, publishing….the list is endless…

Old attitudes are dying hard. Naturally. It’s not just society which is giving out these science is holier-than-humanities vibes. The prejudice has been well institutionalised. Why, entrance tests to management institutes are biased in favour of of those who score high on mathematical and scientific ability! But why? Isn’t people management the basics of good management? And studying the humanities can give you that extra edge. And if some people want to disagree, tell me how many questions does a CAT entrance exam have that tests the ability to work in teams, potential leadership skills or even judgment in real-life situations? You may be a cat in mathematics, but hey if you turn out to be the Hari from the Naukri advertisement, then you aren’t a good enough to be a manager. Sure, humanities students can turn into Hari’s too, but we’ll only know if entrance exams test these abilities, give weightage to them and reduce the emphasis on scientific and mathematical ability.

Prejudices exist in the west too. There are people who believe that engineering, mathematics, and science is “much more difficult and important and useful.”

While a basic knowledge of science and mathematics may be required in certain disciplines, so are people skills! Take medicine. Medicine needs something more than even people skills, it needs some amount of innate compassion for human beings. People who have an abundance of this quality may not all want to do social work…some of them might want to become doctors too. And they may not be brilliant in mathematics or science. In India particularly many good people lose out on medical careers even though they are passionate about the field because of high levels of competition. Getting into a government medical college (where fees are affordable) is impossible unless you are a brain, academically speaking. And good private colleges are beyond the reach of the middle class.

I read a very interesting report (unfortunately could not find it online) about how medical schools in America are trying to attract Humanities students and are altering the criteria for admission. In any case, the education system out there does allow combinations (of subjects) that we can only dream of here in India.

Our education system does not allow a combination of Humanities and Science subjects after the 10th grade. It’s either ‘Arts’ or ‘Science.’ In the 11th and 12th grade if you take Science its Chemistry/Physics/Mathematics/Biology plus a language or two. That’s what they call pre-med. There are no options of taking other subjects, with a lower/minor or higher/major category tag.

No wonder science courses are thought to be more ‘useful.’ It’s the system. The entrance tests, even for design institutes are biased in favour of science students. How then can we expect society to change?

UPDATE: Snigdha has provided the link which I wanted. The one which talked about how medical schools in the US are trying to attract humanities students. It is a Newsweek article and this is the link. Just quoting an except (which is a quote from two people interviewed in the article:

We’re living in an increasingly complex world, and the liberal arts give you the skills to understand that better…the students who come in with a humanities background see patients more as a whole patient…these students often outperform their peers, with higher rates of competitive residency placements.

But if anyone wants to react to this please read the whole article! And remember it talks of skills related to medicine, not engineering or other technical tasks.

Related Reading: Busting the IQ test myth
Indian parents take the role of ‘career counselors’
Study on the correlation between early schooling and professional success
What makes children score well at school
The connection between Emotional Intelligence and Academic Performance

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54 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2007 9:02 am

    Yeah, I know what you mean. I had taken up Science in 11th and 12th, only to shift to law during my undergrad years. Nothing can be more annoying than parents, relatives and older siblings playing the role of ‘career counselors’. My school didn’t even consider Arts important enough. So, we had only two choices- Commerce and Science. I took up the latter because I could always switch to Commerce and Arts if I wanted, but people in Commerce and Arts cannot make a shift to Science subjects during undergrad.

    Anyway, good post :)

  2. October 26, 2007 9:58 am

    I came to your page for the first time and reading was real fun and informative
    Hope to come back!

  3. October 26, 2007 11:26 am

    Nita:

    Alas, the nature of science studies is such that once one moves away from it, it is extremely hard to get back to it later in life without making substantial investment of time and money. The role of prior art is more substantial in the Sciences. I know this from experience – my undergraduate is in engineering, my MBA majors were a mix of hardcore stats/ maths and softer aspects of marketing; my further 2 graduate degrees included a lot of economics (which requires a lot of maths at an intuitive level of comprehension) and mathematical and statistical modelling (some problem solving such as scheduling of aircraft at a busy airport requires modelling and not people skills) as well as non-maths/ non-quant things such as philosophy and politics. In all 3 graduate degrees, I have undertaken considerable writing and earned – so far while I wait for the doctoral viva – kudos for my ability to present arguments. I have been a people manager as well as a member of many teams, and not a mediocre one on either side.

    CAT may be biased in favour of numeracy but the numeracy required is of year 10 level in India. Speed and accuracy are both tested. This is how many business decisions involving numbers are made – with speed. It is only fair to try and test for the ability in a low-pressure situation.

    Science and Technology graduates can study all areas of management with ease and become good managers with practice in people management, but a Humanities graduate with no maths training can not supervise with confidence those who do numbers better than he does. In my experience, they also had to work extra hard to understand the statistics and quant classes.

    Also in some businesses, it is vital to understand the science of the core product offering, before one can do much with it including market it within the bounds of the complex regulations that surround it (science-based industries are amongst the most closely regulated ones in the world). This is also true in UK politics. A large % of MPs are non-Science graduates. Their staffers have to work very hard at making them understand things they will legislate upon as part of their job. It is scary to imagine that they do not, for instance, what on earth gene therapy is, but they will legislate to regulate it.

    It is also true that a vast majority – not all but a vast majority – in school select humanities for the apparent, relative ease. Maths and Science are seen as difficult subjects. Why? A combination of teaching, home environment and the person’s own predilection.

    As I often say and have blogged about, parents really do not know so much about the modern world as they think; children should too bring their parents up by discussing things with them. Many families in India still practise – children should be seen not heard. So there is lack of communication. Is there any surprise parents say they are disappointed with the child’s choices? What does that say about their own lack of awareness, prejudices and then ‘we would have asked you to do medical’ shows that they really are beyond improvement. They are so prejudiced and narrow in their views that the child had no chance. Why blame the system? Why do not we see first at our own families and changing their ways?

    What I think you are saying is that a utilitarian perspective drives what we choose to study and I do not see anything wrong with that. That said investment banks in the UK recruit even medieval history and philosophy graduates but they have to work extra hard to come up to par with their science/ tech colleagues.

    The thing is that many science/ tech courses have humanities core and elective courses on offer; quant courses on offer in humanities degrees is rarer. Why is that, you think?

  4. October 26, 2007 12:09 pm

    Ruhi, S, thanks for your response . :)

    Shefaly, you certainly have made a comprehensive argument but I can’t say I agree with you. I agree a basic math is important but that is taught at the 10th grade level in India.
    Firstly, I don’t even advocate the giving up of maths altogetherl. Humanities students in india have no chance to learn maths at a ‘lower’ levels and science students here have no chance to learn humanities subjects either…in India. It’s very separate here.
    Also when you say about teamwork abilities etc, I am saying test them in the entry level exam itself. Also working in academic groups is slightly different than working in teams in real life. I am not talking about you, I am speaking generally.
    Also I do not agree with this statement:
    “a Humanities graduate with no maths training can not supervise with confidence those who do numbers better than he does. ”
    The essence of good leadership and management is to be able to lead and motivate people in technical and financial fields. I would say a manger better hire specialists who do better technical work than he does!
    Nor do I agree with your statement that people select the humanities for their relative ease. It’s a person liking for say psychology or French or philosoply which may make them feel that science and maths is ‘difficult’. They might articulate this. Science students are generally more confident and at times arrogant. I have some very good friends who did science and their ego prevented them from admitting it but they were miserable at languages and found them difficult. They felt comfortable only with science subjects. They were also quite at sea while discussing philosophy or literature and were often very bookish. They felt better laughing at those who studied humanities/arts.
    That always made me wonder….!

  5. October 26, 2007 12:23 pm

    Very happy birthday!
    Today, at least, you should have posted something different. :-)
    (hungry just thinking of chocolate cake!)

    Thanks. :) now why do I think you’ve just come over from Madhuri’s place? – Nita.

  6. October 26, 2007 12:51 pm

    Nita:

    “Humanities students in india have no chance to learn maths at a ‘lower’ levels and science students here have no chance to learn humanities subjects either…in India. It’s very separate here.”

    I have done 2 of my degrees in India. In engineering colleges of any standing, economics, entrepreneurship and other humanities subjects are part of the curriculum. Even at IIM-A, there was much scope for reflection oriented courses such as Power and Politics in Strategy Implementation, and Leadership Vision courses. The latter made us read a whole range from Samuel Beckett to Irawati Karwe (yes she, the daughter in law of the man after whom Pune’s Karwe Road is named).

    So I have to disagree on experiential basis that it is very separate in India.

    In non-Science streams, my friends who studied economics, have all studied Maths at undergraduate level despite not being science students at +2 levels.

    So on anecdotal basis – and I have a rather lot of economics graduate friends both from Delhi Uni and Presidency Calcutta, admittedly both high quality schools.

    “The essence of good leadership and management is to be able to lead and motivate people in technical and financial fields. I would say a manger better hire specialists who do better technical work than he does!”

    Indeed. However a source of a manager’s authority is both technical and organisational. What one cannot understand is a bit difficult to manage (and it extends to what one cannot manage, one cannot outsource). And believe me, having managed techie nerds who only knew of my IIM-A MBA and not my engineering degree, I have heard a lot of BS. After hearing it all, I reminded them that they should not try it again because I know which bits were BS and which were not. Sheepish grins all around. People do take advantage of their managers’ Achilles’ heels. It is human.

    “Science students are generally more confident and at times arrogant. I have some very good friends who did science and their ego prevented them from admitting it but they were miserable at languages and found them difficult.”

    Well partly that is the fault of their training and partly their own predilections and inability to learn. People who are good at maths are generally good at Indo-Germanic languages and music and chess. You will agree that is a wide range of possibilities. If someone does not wish to take advantage of all of them, then it is a mix of things at work including their own wish to remain in their narrow fields. (I speak 7-8 languages to varying degrees of fluency other than English and Hindi and I know how my structured thinking as well as my wide reading helped me learn these languages).

    “They were also quite at sea while discussing philosophy or literature and were often very bookish. They felt better laughing at those who studied humanities/arts.”

    I have to say that this can equally apply to humanities graduates, who do not understand basic phenomena and make things seem like rocket science. I know a few hundred engineering graduates – all products of Indian schools – who are well-read, linguistically gifted, articulate, broadly aware and very interesting people. I also know a few hundred Humanities graduates who are not totally scientifically illiterate in the way that their lives are worse off for it. The need is for balance, not for proving one is superior to the other.

    Alas, the way of work places is such that non-science and non-numerate people have a harder life.

    PS: I did not know it was your birthday. Happy Birthday! :-)

    No chocolate cake for me. Please let Rambodoc have my share… I am taking the day out to visit a 400-year old Wealden town and plan to have burger for lunch.

  7. October 26, 2007 1:17 pm

    You are talking of engineering colleges Shefaly and I am talking of 11th and 12th which means getting into professional colleges so I think we are talking of two different things entirely. Also getting into mgt institutes, but not everyone will go into a technical field! There is advertising too!
    The point i made was that talented people in the 11th adn 12th grade are being denied opportunities.
    And I talked about prejudice too…one of the reasons why “non-science and non-numerate people have a harder life.”
    Also Shefaly you give the example of yourself and perhaps the elite IIM crowd you studied with. Sure even I know some brillant people with all round personalities. I am talking of the average person Shefaly. I really feel we are talking of two different things entirely.
    Ofcourse “a source of a manager’s authority is both technical and organisational.” there is not doubt about that. One cannot go without the other. The point I am making is that the first is not neglected but the second is.
    Also when you say “the need is for balance, not for proving one is superior to the other.” that is exactly what i am saying. There is no balance that I see.

  8. October 26, 2007 1:36 pm

    Happy Birthday Nita!

    Great post. I donot understand why our system don’t allow a 12th pass(commerce or art) student to take part in engineering or medical entrance? I am sure many are desperate to apply & can score really well.. like an engineering grad can score CAT exam.

    But in Today’s Business… Employer would always prefer Technology savvy Business manager.

  9. October 26, 2007 1:57 pm

    Thanks Bharath.
    I can at least understand it if a strong base in math is required for engineering and even if these engineering grads do mgt later and join fields in their own technical speciality but there are many fields open today which do not require technical knowledge, and this was one of my main points.
    unfortunately people who head mgt institutes seem to think that only industries which are ‘technical’ need good managers!! Coming to think of it, does the head of an IIM need to be an engineer? Does he even require to be very advanced in mathematical ability?
    It’s seems like a joke, but it’s a fact that engineers have an edge over others while getting into mgt. institutes…there is an article discussing this in the link in my post. This was there during my time and it exists today too.
    an employer in a technical field might prefer a tech savvy manager Bharath…but in the textile industry they prefer someone who is familiar with the technicalities of textile design and in advertising creative people have gone on to become heads of agencies. And so on.
    In fact very often people in technical fields can make pretty bad managers…there is nothing which says that a person with technical knowledge is a better manager!! he has to have knowledge about his own industry PLUS organisational and leadership ability PLUS ability to communicate if he has to be a good manager. Often humanities grads are good in the latter.
    But the prejudice exists…and will continue to do so as long as people with science/math backgrounds continue to be favoured for various professions even though these subjects are not required in their fields.

  10. October 26, 2007 3:59 pm

    I agree with you.. We have so many loopholes in our current education system which usually favours science background students.

    I am not saying a non-technical cannot be a great performer.. But in Today’s business being technology savvy brings huge edge. Technology is a critical tool in the performance of any business functions regardless of the industry that you are in.

  11. October 26, 2007 6:22 pm

    Happy Birthday Nita.
    Wish you a very happy, prosperous and long life.
    //the belief that science is ‘better’ than Arts or Humanities. That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘intelligent’ than those who study languages or design.// I suffered Science for 5 extra years due to this.

  12. madhurisinha permalink
    October 26, 2007 6:35 pm

    Hi Nita,
    I think curiosity and original thinking is more important in any field of study. One has to look at history to find that arts and science go hand in hand (Da Vinci, Michelangelo).
    I am sad that the educational system in India today snips out a child’s thinking on his/her own capability by being more of memory tests.
    The main point is that one has to work hard in anything they do.
    I think most of the parents go with phases of career opportunities.
    Engineering and Medicine was the phase in the 80s and 90s but now commerce and humanities have equal opportunities like that of science.
    Parental pressure will always be there in India. One has to stand outside a mere kindergarten and overhear the group of moms and dads to know how much pressure a small child can face.
    But times are changing. More families( not all) are listening and giving in to their children.
    Do I personally think that science is better than humanities. No.
    But I am for a wholesome education. A humanities student should learn basic level math and science likewise, a science graduate should have compulsory language classes.

  13. October 26, 2007 11:21 pm

    Bharath, I am not sure how technology can help in all fields. What about law for instance?

    Prerna, thanks. I know quite a few people who suffer science to please their parents…it’s sad.

    Madhuri, yes humanities and commerce today have a lot of opportunities, but people still haven’t got used to the idea.
    I agree with you on the wholesome and balanced education which gives the students a good base up till the 12th.
    Science students do have compulsory language classes but I don’t think languages are enough. They need proper subjects, at least 6-7 a mix of both science and humanities, with some at a higher level and some at a lower level. Like the IB system for example.

  14. October 26, 2007 11:36 pm

    Nita,

    Prefer reading this

  15. October 27, 2007 1:05 am

    Happy Birthday Nita!! And many more to come.

    I think that some basic education about issues that affect everyone irrespective of our profession, like environment, food, food nutrition, politics, should be imparted in schools, along with basic maths, science and humanities.

  16. October 27, 2007 4:22 am

    I’m delighted to find that I chose to read your blog on your birthday because now I can send you my wish for many happy returns.

    There’s no doubt about the bias we experience in North America. Our friends were astonished when we chose to pursue art rather than brain surgery or bean counting …lol . :)

    The presumption that all university graduates make great salaries and live great lifestyles proved to be off base at a recent dinner party. recently. Two of my friends who have Masters Degrees in Art but who choose to work as carpenters and house painters compared their lifestyles, income and benefits packages to those of with two other friends who chose to be doctors and we all raised our eyebrows.

  17. October 27, 2007 7:10 am

    Bharath I am not saying that IT is not required in different industries but that these jobs are speclialised. Even a textile firm will have an IT department but a top lawyer is not expected to be an expert and same goes in other firms. As you head a business, surely you too must be hiring people of different specialities.

    Amit, Brightfeather, thanks, :)

  18. October 27, 2007 10:36 am

    It would also be interesting to find out who the top ten most successful people in every field are, except the IT/mathematics/scientific fields and find out how many of them have an IT/mathematics/Scientific background. If any researcher is reading this, I hope you consider this. It’s time to bust some myths.

  19. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 27, 2007 11:36 am

    Nita,

    I am glad you raised the issue of IT. In this day and age, no one in their right mind will deny that it is important. But I do feel its importance is very hyped up in India today. So much so that, in terms of preferred careers, young people today don’t seem to recognise that there are several more choices available now than there were 20 years ago. I really worry about the serious gaps in many areas of learning that threaten to make India a very lopsided knowledge society.

    First it was engineering and medicine that attracted bright students, at the cost of the social sciences and the humanities. Now it is IT and management.

    The worst thing happening is the excessive narrow specialisation that is creeping into the education system at all levels. It is like a vortex that swallows up youngsters even before they have acquired a worldview.

  20. October 27, 2007 12:27 pm

    Nita:

    As it happens, I had a few months ago conducted a search on Fortune 100 companies for a discussion with a friend and here I cut and paste from that mail. Fortune publishes a cross-industry list and keen individuals can go to the latest data and extend the research, if they so wish.

    The list suggests that an overwhelming number of head honchos are science/ technology qualified and those, who have humanities degrees, have utilitarian degrees in finance or law. Of the latter, most have MBAs from top-notch schools which gives them a more generalisation based platform to propel their careers forward.

    Fortune 10 from 500:

    Walmart – Eduardo Castro-Wright, a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University.

    Exxon – Rex Tillerson, UTexas Austin, civil engg

    General Motors – Richard Wagner, bachelor’s degree in economics from Duke University in 1975 and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1977.

    Chevron – David O’Reilly, bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1968 from University College, Dublin,

    Conoco – James Mulva, University of Texas in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration finance

    General Electric – jeff immelt, B.A. degree in applied mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1978 and an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1982.

    Ford Motor – Alan Mullally, University of Kansas with Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Master’s degree in Management (S.M.) as a Sloan Fellow from the MIT Sloan School of Management

    Citigroup – Charles Prince, bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees from the University of Southern California, as well as a Master of Laws degree from Georgetown University.

    BofA – Ken Lewis, bachelor’s degree in finance from Georgia State University, and is a graduate of the Executive Program at Stanford University.

    JP Morgan Chase – Jamie Dimon, biology and economics at Tufts University, before earning an Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.

    Of the highest valued tech firms at present and in the past that I can think of at 2 am:

    Google (2 students who struck upon the idea during their technology PhD),

    Sun (one Indian engineer and one American engineer), HP (2 engineers).

    Microsoft is an exception where Bill G didnt finish at
    Harvard but Apple founders Wozniak and Jobs are both Uni educated in science/ technology.

    The highest value biotech firms – Amgen, Myriad etc – were founded by people with PhDs collaborating across academic boundaries.

    Thanks.

  21. October 27, 2007 1:50 pm

    Shefaly, but aren’t some of these companies engineering and/or finance firms? In fact to me it seems that more than half are. These cannot be counted.
    And I don’t mean research into top companies either. I mean companies from across the spectrum. Oil companies etc definitely make more money. it depends on the industry. We need a broad spectrum of industries, that’s what I meant.
    I think we are talking at cross-purposes! Because I did not say that people from engineering/tech backgrounds do not do well or head companies and in fact it’s quite clear that someone from a finance background will succeed in a finance firm!

  22. Shefaly permalink
    October 27, 2007 2:03 pm

    Nita:

    You wrote: “t would also be interesting to find out who the top ten most successful people in every field are, except the IT/mathematics/scientific fields and find out how many of them have an IT/mathematics/Scientific background. If any researcher is reading this, I hope you consider this. It’s time to bust some myths.”

    Saying “top ten most successful people” is highly subjective without defining what the definition of success is, over what time frame is it measured (are we allowed to pick dead people or should we focus on living ones) etc.

    Choosing people who are the leaders in the most successful companies globally is a good way to remove the industry bias and other kinds of selection bias, and also to address definitional agreement issues.

    What alternative basis – with even lesser selection bias – would you suggest for finding these people?

    My list is just the top-10 firms from Fortune 500 so the selection bias is limited to the number/ rank picked rather than any other kind of bias. Fortune 500 defines success as profits made and shareholder value generated. The DJSI measures success on sustainability measures and can provide another metric to include.

    If anyone wishes to extend this list, they can take on the next 10, another can take on the next 10 and before long we shall have a sample of 100 and your hypothesis can be tested across a fairly general, broad-based set.

    I do not know how else one might ever find agreement on “top 10 most successful people” in non-science.

    Indeed if you feel that this method selection of firms itself is biased, it may actually illustrate that the most profitable and successful businesses are essentially rooted in science and mathematics, which brings us back to the question about why science/ maths are preferred choices and seen more favourably.

    Thanks.

  23. October 27, 2007 2:04 pm

    Nita:

    Sorry to budge into your discussion with Shefaly. I think what Shefaly is trying to say is that it will be quite an exception to climb the corporate ladder and reach the executive level with a degree in English Literature or History or Geography or any other humanities related subject. Any public company, even if it’s not in engineering/science/IT/Maths area, will have finance/mathematics/accounting involved because of the size of the corporation. They need people who specialize in all areas, and are headed by executives who are well acquainted with the business and the industry.

    If you take a look at the leaders in non-Science field such as Law, Fashion Designing, and stuff like that, obviously, you will find people who don’t have engineering/science/IT/Math degrees. In other words, your job to a great extent will be related to your degree and qualifications.

    It would also be interesting to find out who the top ten most successful people in every field are, except the IT/mathematics/scientific fields and find out how many of them have an IT/mathematics/Scientific background

    I don’t think anyone in Law or Fashion Designing or English Literature or Creative Writing would give any importance to an IT/Maths/Science degree.

    Every stream has its own value and it doesn’t make sense to compare Humanities with Commerce or Science.

  24. October 27, 2007 2:08 pm

    Ruhi,
    you say:

    I don’t think anyone in Law or Fashion Designing or English Literature or Creative Writing would give any importance to an IT/Maths/Science degree.

    But that is what I am saying Ruhi so therefore I failed to understand what Shefaly was saying! I can add a lot of other similar fields to this too, like journalism and advertising and publishing and so on…!

  25. October 27, 2007 2:17 pm

    Example 1: JM Coetzee (Nobel Prize Winner for Eng. Lit) has a degree in Computer Sc.

    #2. Arundhati Roy is an architect but is a well known writer and social activist.

    #3. Orhan Pamuk has a degree in Architecture, which needs a strong foundation in Sciene, but won a Nobel in Lit. too.

    #4. William Carlos Williams- one of the greatest American Poets of all times, was a physician.

    #5. Isaac Asimov- Former Prof of Biochemistry

    #6. H.G Wells- B.Sc in Biology.

    We can get examples for people who studied sciences and ended up in Humanities and vice versa.

  26. October 27, 2007 2:25 pm

    Nita:

    Yes, I agree with you. If you look at these pure humanities-based fields, a Science degree has little value. What Shefaly gave was a list of Fortune 100 firms and the academic background of the top executives, all of whom are in management and obviously need to have knowledge about Finance/Accounting/Law at the very least, if not various kinds of Sciences.

    What we need is more awareness amongst people that we need to study what we enjoy. In India, traditionally, people look down upon people in Humanities because they are “over shadowed” by the IT/Management guys. I know the flak that I faced when I chose Law over Computer Engineering. Right now, I’m doing my MBA in Finance in the US. So, this negates the argument that I’m speaking for Humanities because I studied law. In fact, lawyers command one of the highest salaries in the US.

    It’s stupidity to compare one degree with another. A basis in Science is totally irrelevant if the student wants to pursue a purely Humanities-based field. In fact, I applaud those people who dedicate their lives to fields such as Literature and Journalism, because most of them don’t earn much compared to people in IT/Finance.

  27. October 27, 2007 2:32 pm

    Thank you Ruhi. Yes, I agree with what you say.
    In fact I believe that mgt institutes should give a chance to people from non-tech and non-finance backgrounds as well…also I believe that too much emphasis is given for science and math for pre-med admissions. While bio will always be supreme, the entrant can have a balanced mix of the other subjects. This gives a chance to those who are not science oriented to get into medicine, mgt etc.
    That was the whole point of the post.
    But old biases die hard like I said.

  28. October 27, 2007 6:21 pm

    Happy birthday nita ..

    And about your post.. I agree upon the “prejudice” you mentioned there are numerous things that you generalized

    First of all .. Management schools just ask for basic mathematics and good English (eg. CAT). Aspirants work much harder for improvement in English then they do in data interpretation and Maths because they are more or less trivial. And once you are through preliminary rounds you are tested not on basis of your mathematical geekness but on your overall smartness.

    Moreover as you say engineers are not good at humanities you may be wrong again. Atleast in my ENGINEERING college I had a number of humanities related courses along with regular main stream engineering. And those people you are talking about in end of your post cant be smart and good at language even if they studied humanity/art.

    It is stupid to compare one degree with another. And to generalize your opinion on the basis of few people you met.

  29. October 27, 2007 9:47 pm

    Nishu, Thanks for your wishes.
    I think you have not read the link I gave in my post. Mgt institutes do not test easy maths. I have not given the mgt exam at iim so i cannot say for sure, i am simply going by the times of india story which discussed this. please do read that article. but i am sure that those who are good at maths might find the maths easy and the english difficult.
    also i am not sure what you mean by saying that i said that engineers are not good at humanities?? I don’t remember saying that. In fact I didn’t say that. so what’s your point?
    also i am not talking not talking of engineering courses, but 11th and 12th. In fact shefaly has raised a similar point and I answered it…i am NOT talking of engineering curriculum at all.
    Also when you say that:
    //nd those people you are talking about in end of your post cant be smart and good at language even if they studied humanity/art.//
    I have no idea what you mean.
    Also this statement of yours:
    // It is stupid to compare one degree with another. And to generalize your opinion on the basis of few people you met.//
    doesn’t make much sense to me either. You say you agree with me that the prejedice exists and then you say that I shouldn’t generalize. But the prejudice does exist Nishu, there is no denying that. even though it is a general statement you cannot deny it.
    Also I have recommended a mix of subjects in the 11 and 12th grade so I am confused about people saying I have compared the two degrees. is teaching a mix of subject in 11th and 12 th grade mixing of degrees? If not, then please explain where I have made a stupid comparison. Give an specific example, by quoting a sentence from my post so I will understand.

    I have a feeling that people have not understood my post. I don’t know why. I thought I was very clear but clearly it’s been completely misinterpreted. Amazing…!

  30. October 27, 2007 11:56 pm

    Nita:

    Students in our country are forced to make career choices when they are barely 15-16. I think this needs to be changed totally. If we borrow a leaf from our western counterparts, then we’ll observe that the differentiation should start only during undergrads. Medical/law schools should be post-graduate schools (like in the US) and the undergrad courses (and not 11th and 12th) should provide the students with the foundation. Even during our undergrad years, we hardly have subjects to take up. I would be interested in learning about subjects that are not directly related to my major. (something like what they do in the US, where the student can take up anything, as long as they have the credits to graduate). While in 11th and 12th, we should be given the liberty to experiment more and take up whatever minimum number of courses that are required to sit for the Boards. People who’re sure that they want to do Engineering can take up Maths/Physics/Chem/Comp. Sc in the 11th and 12th. The others shouldn’t be forced to make such choices. Perhaps, India will learn 20-30 years down the line the importance of this issue. The country always lags behind when it comes to the education system.

  31. October 28, 2007 1:21 am

    ruhi, while I agree that the education system in the US is more flexible and gives students much more options to explore than the Indian system does, is there proof that the flexibility of the system actually results in better-equipped and better-informed US citizens? I doubt it.

    There’s so much innumeracy and lack of understanding of basic scientific issues that people (college grads) are not sufficiently equipped to follow a debate in the social arena, and hence it’s so much easier to fool people by PR campaigns. I haven’t done any studies, but I don’t really see the US society significantly better informed as a result of the flexible education system, something I’d expect.

    At an individual level, yes the US education system is better because if tomorrow, I want to switch careers, that option is available to me by going back to school – age is not a barrier. My cousin moved here after an MSc from India and then switched careers, went to medical school and now has his own practice. This wouldn’t have been possible if he’d stayed in India. My initial courses in the grad school in the US were a repeat of what I’d already learned during BTech in India. There are pros and cons of each system and depending on what we value, opinions will differ. And I’m coming at it from a philosophical angle regarding the purpose of an education. :)
    While the Indian education system has faults which need to be fixed, replacing it with a US system will bring its own faults. IMO.

  32. October 28, 2007 5:43 am

    Amit:

    I didn’t say that the US system results in better-informed and better-educated US citizens. I merely drew the reader’s attention to some of the merits of the US education system, which I think are quite relevant, else we wouldn’t have come to the US to study, right?

    Being well-informed and educated has a lot to do with yourself. Going to Columbia or Stanford or even IIT has nothing to do with your all round knowledge. This post was about the flexibility of the Indian education system and how compartmentalized everything is right from the 11th-12th grade. So, I made the comparison and said that we should be given more time to decide and a wider variety of subjects. At least in this matter, I have to point out the supremacy of the US education system.

    Even if we try, we won’t be able to replace the Indian system with the US’s. Why? Because there is no infrastructure and no money. There is no understanding. Plus, most of the people back home are too narrow minded to open their minds to newer ideas. Because we don’t encourage full time students to work in India either. Most of the students here in the US have part time jobs. The faculty’s highly educated, and don’t shout the students down (like they do in India). There is an entire attitude change when it comes to education in India. In India, nobody gives a dime if you’re studying or not. The Government especially doesn’t! There are too many people to care about.

    While there are faults inherent in the Indian Education system, it is still quite sturdy and does provide a good foundation. I agree to that :) But I do wish that it were more flexible and people would open up to innovative thinking.

  33. October 28, 2007 7:03 am

    I didn’t say that the US system results in better-informed and better-educated US citizens. I merely drew the reader’s attention to some of the merits of the US education system, which I think are quite relevant, else we wouldn’t have come to the US to study, right?
    ruhi, correct. I should have phrased my sentence differently, and I didn’t intend to imply that you’d said that.

    Well, I found out some of the pros and cons of the US system after I came here and experienced it first-hand. Sitting in India, all I heard or read was how great it is. :)

    Being well-informed and educated has a lot to do with yourself.
    True, and this is independent of the education system then – US or Indian. :)

  34. October 28, 2007 8:37 am

    Thanks Amit, Ruhi.
    Ruhi, I agree with your points entirely. I feel that forcing people to choose their streams at 15 is not practical. Specially as at that age in India parents can bully their kids!

    Amit. I too have heard about these problems with the US education system where I believe students are pushed upward without proper and rigorous testing. It’s the same in the UK too I think as Shefaly had mentioned it. I guess it’s equivalent to our municipal schools where students pass out as educated illiterates ;) although for different reasons. Here because of the pressure to show high literacy rates teachers in municipal schools pass people who can barely read and write up till the 5th and 6th. Ofcourse these students don’t really make it beyond the 8th grade and if they do they fail in the state board exams in the 10th grade
    I am just guessing why it happens in the US ofcourse.

    vivek, sorry for not responding to your comment earlier! just got so involved with my discussion with Shefaly! thanks vivek and you echo my sentiments.

  35. October 28, 2007 5:08 pm

    Belated happy birthday Nita.

    When I studied my pre university, literature, or language we used to call was so neglected that I felt that it was there just to please linguists.. and I hate myself for not enjoying literature when I had time to read and enjoy..

    The same goes with work too, how come fine arts like painting, interior decoration, or even writing for that matter is just considered alternate carrier?, I am fed up with people talking about software industry, there’s only so much an industry can take, just hoping people do realize there is life beyond one profession.

  36. Captain Sharks permalink
    October 28, 2007 5:47 pm

    //* That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘intelligent’ than those who study languages or design. That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘hard-working’ that those who study history or architecture *//

    i dont know about arts and humanities,but seriously believes that persons engaged in arts r very intelligent…..as far as hard working goes,cannot say anything about arts,but yes i know very well how much hard working v r doing here in engineering n that too from an elite institute…..i think b.tech program of 4 years is very much wastage of time……

  37. October 28, 2007 10:06 pm

    Rambler, thanks for the wishes.
    And about life beyond IT, well, there is a wonderful life outside IT… :) Er, I hope I am not talking to someone in the IT profession! (I couldn’t make out by looking at your blog)

    Captain Sharks, I too think that intelligence is not the prerogative of Science students! :) About hard work, a lot depends on the institute, like you mentioned. For example when I was studying English in Fergusson college Pune I had classes for 1-2 hours a day and half the time the teachers didn’t turn up. It was bad. Then when I was studying the same subject at Miranda house Delhi it was different. We had classes the whole day, plus had to write two assignments a week for which we had to do research. Original thinking got the most appreciation. To do well we had to work round the clock, and there wasn’t any ‘mugging’ at all. We had to write long, analytical answers and there was no way we could mug anything up. It was all thinking and writing.

  38. October 29, 2007 12:09 pm

    “I have some very good friends who did science and their ego prevented them from admitting it but they were miserable at languages and found them difficult. They felt comfortable only with science subjects. They were also quite at sea while discussing philosophy or literature and were often very bookish. They felt better laughing at those who studied humanities/arts.
    That always made me wonder….!”

    “Science students are generally more confident and at times arrogant. I have some very good friends who did science and their ego prevented them from admitting it but they were miserable at languages and found them difficult.”

    I read your post and comments and mixed then up while making reference. I just meant to say that people who make fun of others do that because they have nothing better to do in their own life. If they are at sea in philosophy they would [i]surely[/i] be at sea in Science too…

    It is wrong to say that science students are [i]generally[/i] arrogant.

    “That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘intelligent’ than those who study languages or design. ”

    I called this prejudice stupid and irrational .. Expert of one field cannot be termed as intelligent than an expert of other field. Both are good at their own place and are a part of society in their own roles.

    And about your not understanding my comment.. there might be few possible reasons:
    1) My English is incoherent and incomprehensible
    2) I was not able to convey my idea in correct sequence of thoughts
    3) I made wrong references to your posts and comments
    4) you had a presumption about my comment before reading it.
    :)

  39. October 29, 2007 12:14 pm

    @Rambler

    “I am fed up with people talking about software industry, there’s only so much an industry can take, just hoping people do realize there is life beyond one profession.”

    Depends on your perspective. Some people want to achieve success and money by doing ANY kind of work, even if they feel suffocated with their work. And One gets enough money, infact much more money than most of other professions, in software. While some people wants to do what they enjoy without giving any recognition to money or what other people think of them.

  40. October 29, 2007 12:29 pm

    Nishu, I still fail to understand your references! I have not said anywhere that science students are generally arrogant.
    Nor have I said that science people say that “people who study science and mathematics are more ‘intelligent’ than those who study languages or design. ”
    I was talking of SOCIETY.
    But if you want to twist my words, I have nothing more to say. I am not interested.
    you should atleast acknowlege that you have misunderstood my post, but well…shrug.

  41. October 29, 2007 5:45 pm

    thats what is called a [b]FOUNTAIN HEAD[/b] !..
    err… May be a politician.. anyways.. shrug!

  42. October 30, 2007 4:30 am

    Nita, great topic!

    I think the article you mentioned about U.S. med schools looking for humanities majors was published in a national magazine called Newsweek (correct?) Here’s the url for the story:
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/40747

    The comments here have covered a good number of issues.
    Yes, the nicest thing about higher (Note: Higher. College-level plus) education in the U.S. is that it is a forgiving system. It allows you to experiment — at any stage of your life — and find your true calling without any shame or fear of being snubbed for failing.

    There’s one thing I’d like to add: Follow the money.

    The two economies that we have largely referred to here are India and the U.S. Both are technology-driven economies, so most of the good jobs (and higher salaries) tend to be reserved for people with tech backgrounds (by tech, I mean pretty much all the sciences).
    Which also explains why parents tend to push children towards the Sciences, especially in India.
    The financial success of Humanities, in general, has been heavily dependent on the health of the economy, v.i.z people’s disposable income.

    Unfortunately, that has led to a vicious cycle of social hierarchy: Science gets the moolah–so everyone who can crack the “exam” goes for Science –so society feels Science equals brain, hence deserves the utmost respect–so parents and kids feel they MUST take up Science if they want to be socially relevant and respected (and rich) –so a whole lot of good brains (who would have done just as well or even better in other fields of their choice) land up opting for science — so tech field gains and progresses, thus drawing in more moolah –and the cycle continues…

    However, I am hopeful that with the economy now improving for all, more students will land up doing what they like best and hence make their respective fields attractive and rewarding.

  43. October 30, 2007 7:06 am

    Thanks Snigdha for that link. I am adding it to the main post.
    You have put it in nicely in a nutshell. Science=money=respect.

  44. October 30, 2007 7:38 am

    Anytime, Nita! Thanks for your fabulous blog :)

  45. October 30, 2007 7:49 am

    Belated Happy Birthday, Nita! I hope yours went well and you wolfed a lot of chocolate!

    I would like to add to the commentary here a somewhat different perspective:

    It seems to me people are more productive, creative, and happy at work they love than at work they are doing to get by. Furthermore, it seems that people are more likely to love work they have an aptitude for than they are to love work that comes difficult to them. So, if one is concerned with realizing human potentials as fully as possible, one should very seriously consider guiding young people into those fields for which they have the most aptitude — provided they can first make a living in those fields. If you can make a living at something you love, there is no sane reason to sacrifice your happiness doing something you don’t love — so far as I can see.

  46. October 30, 2007 8:07 am

    Thanks Paul. :) And yes I had plenty of chocolates as my kids presented me with a box! Still gorging! :)
    You have mentioned a point that I wish I had! You are absolutely bang on…we all need to do what we love and are suited for otherwise we are doomed to a life of misery or at the best, doomed to live a life where the job is just work which one wants to get over with as quickly as possible.
    Also money can become the sole objective in such cases.

  47. March 31, 2008 3:55 pm

    Just posted my reaction to this on my blog. My reaction was too long to post as a comment, and so decided I should put it on my own blog instead. check it out

  48. ugyen lhamo permalink
    May 20, 2008 5:52 pm

    i really liked this article because i am currently having the same type of trouble.i joined arts because i have passion for it and many of the people around me were expecting me to join science.i see no reason in such pressures bcuz i believe what is really important in what we do in life is that we have to love what we do because our success requires our passion.so i advise all those aspiring arts students to follow suit!!!

  49. jayati kalra permalink
    November 19, 2010 7:21 pm

    i really liked this article. i want to take humanities next year bt people arond me always discourage me for my decision. i am really confident now and would definitely like to do what i love!!!

  50. Edward permalink
    February 17, 2011 4:41 pm

    “Good management”, “potential leadership skills”. This is what higher education has come to, it would appear based on this article that universities should not strive be temples of education with planes of human knowledge being the currency of choice but in fact management programs designed to produce widget employees that can be readily slotted into a company upon graduation. I am scientist with many friends who are humanities gradates, I dread my next party with them where at some point a conversation will start with a tag line of “what is maths” or “does math really exist” and as the one sided humanities monster begins to rip apart modern science while I shed a quiet tear in the corner listening to them quoting Greek philosophers in an attempt to justify their rapacious statements. “let he who is ignorant of geometry not enter here” was the inscription above Plato’s temple, I think the Irony In antiquity is that it would be the humanities graduates who weren’t invited to the party, hell they weren’t even allowed in if they tried to gait crash, no that’s because the Greeks valued math’s above everything and rightly so. The truth is humanities graduates are scared they know fine well that Maths and science is the bedrock of western culture, Ideals and ultimately the modern world, they know it will continue push mankind forward in to the upper echelons of thinking and they simply won’t be invited, if you cant grasp this beautiful and yet highly abstract way of thinking maybe all humanities students should be a bit more tight lipped and pay homage to mathematics the single greatest human achievement.

  51. June 22, 2011 6:53 pm

    What I have noticed from Indian parents is that they just want their children earn a lot and keep the status in the society. Children have become like machines, wakes up and goes for tuition, after that school and in the evening again tuitions. Due to which the children don’t get the overall development, they don’t have the time to see this beautiful world, enjoy the nature, be in the society, human values, caring, love and perhaps physical strength. I should tell the parents that the child you have, has a different mind, let him study whatever he wants, he will be a much better person when he has his own choice, let him be himself.

    What India needs is honest people not robots, who has been told what ever he did.
    Well if you really look deeply I think there is much more study in humanities then in Science. It’s not a cup of tea for everybody. A person who has done a full study in humanity is the most educated person and a much better person.
    I feel my self to be very fortunate, because nobody told me what I have to do, not because they didn’t care but because they had faith in me. Nobody knows what is good for you, give your self some time and ask yourself and do what this “I” wants you to be. You will not have to regret in the future about your parents choice, because what ever you will be, will be because of you.

    We are humans we deserve to be happy and every wants to be free…

    My message to students is
    Be what you want to be
    and
    not others want you to be

  52. sahil permalink
    June 30, 2011 1:33 pm

    i am sahil from ggn i have got 6.6% in 10th i want to take humanities as my stream but i m nt getting adm.in any of the school plz suggest me gud school.

  53. Anon permalink
    February 26, 2013 3:42 pm

    Hi all,

    You people will really like this effort by IIIT to belend humanities and sciences :

    “Our Job is to train you for your last job”

    IIIT-H presents unique and most consequential courses of study, blending Computer Science at one of the best CS schools in India with.. well, any and everything you like :
    A.I. Artificial Intelligence,Natural Language Processing, Semantic Web (Web 3.0), Human–computer Interaction or be it Sanskrit, Ontology or Indian Culture And Tradition!

    Brainchild of IIIT’s most experianced think-tank, Come, Explore, Build and Prenuer!

    http://www.iiit.ac.in/academics/programmes/DualDegree

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