STEM education series: Your comments

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Our series on science and technology education generated quite a few interesting comments from readers. Many of you evidently have strong ideas about the shortage of developers in many cities and a lack of interest in STEM fields among college students. Here are a few of your own policy prescriptions.

First, some of you suggested that school teachers and administrators stop putting reading and math on the same playing field:

“The assistant director of admissions at MIT once said “everyone in this room has a math SAT score of 750 or more. As for the english score... well, we don’t care about the english score.” If every school had that attitude, we’d have more kids interested in STEM,” wrote longjohns.

But others argue that relegating English to second-class status might be overdoing it:

“English score as it relates to communication is quite important. Most technical job interviews are extensive and focus on the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively. Most technical jobs are a team effort and the team isn’t helped by someone who can’t get their ideas and problems across to the other members,” wrote edbyronadams.

College major flame wars

Others propose a market-based solution to choosing college majors: Simply tell students how much they can expect to earn, and they’ll follow the money:

“Tell students how much each major will help them make when they graduate and let students decide what to take,” wrote jfv123

Another commenter, edbyronadams offers some evidence:

“My computer engineering son had no problem finding well paid internships during the summers and other times.”

Others say studying one’s interest can serve as a gateway to a university education, even if it won’t necessarily result in the most high-paying job.

“Of course, really studying one’s “hobby” is not as easy as it seems on the surface, but at least the university would have succeeded in attracting the student’s attention. In other words, the university has the unenviable task of lowering the barrier to entry (at least appear to lower) even as they have to make the educational standards stringent,” writes chickenlover.

Others agreed with Michelle Crumm, who said that engineers don’t get the same respect in the business world that executives do. Some commenters said they wouldn’t encourage their children to major in engineering at all:

“I urged my children not to pursue the butt busting engineering curriculum I followed, but to chose a business oriented career. They followed a business oriented college education and they have careers today that are a lot more rewarding than engineering careers. Read “rewarding” as making a helluva lot more money than an engineer,” wrote Dawg62.

On the topic of why there are so few women and minority STEM majors, one reader posited:

“Everyone knows that a lot of women just DON’T WANT to be scientists, mathematicians, or engineers. You can’t make more women enjoy typing code all day long just like you can’t make more guys enjoy marketing, customer-service, and sales,” wrote objectiveChill, only to be called out by a female scientist: “I’m a chemical engineer, I work with male and female scientists and mathematicians, and we all do fine. Some of our best coders are women.”

 Previously...

A blog post earlier this year cited a study by the Business Higher-Education Forum, which found that “only 17 percent of high school seniors were both proficient in math and interested in the STEM fields. In fact, many students — 27 percent — weren’t interested in math or science degrees even if they were math proficient. The results led the studies’ authors to conclude: ‘Current interest in STEM fields and proficiency in math are not sufficient to meet U.S. workforce demand.’

 

But while college students might not be interested in these professions, commenters certainly were. Readers, many of whom have degrees in the sciences, posited a variety of reasons of why they’re so rare:

First, there’s the obvious reason: STEM majors are difficult, and at least on the surface, sometimes seem like more of a hurdle to a high GPA than a path to a good career.

“The real difference is that STEM questions have actual definable answers that are definitely wrong or right. 

History and literary analysis have no facts except the useless specificity of dates. All theories of human interaction and symbolic meaning are opinion, not fact. That makes it easier to get a better grade if you can substitute writing for thinking,” wrote minstrelmike

Commenter jeffreysachs puts it more bluntly:

“STEM is not SEXY,” he writes. “You do not see many role models of good engineers making a difference in people’s lives. You see a few crime scene investigators, but not the sanitation engineers, the power company engineers, the civil engineers stabilizing the Washington Monument or the National Cathedral on the Television and in the movies. You see MBAs making millions on Wall Street and at Corporations, but not the Engineer making $100K who makes things happen.”

He also cautioned that the sudden national computer science craze might just be history repeating itself, given evidence from past decades when too many graduates flooded other professions:

“Yes, there are occasional disconnects when we wanted Chemistry PhDs to help us get to the moon in the early 60s, then saw a crash in market demand in the late 60s. A few years back we needed Architects, now they are lumped in with the liberal arts struggling to find jobs.”

Another commenter, who got his chemistry PhD in the ’60s, confirmed the less-than-stellar situation many of his cohorts faced:

“Many of my colleagues in the same and similar specialties were unable to get jobs in those specialties and often did several post doc hoping the employment situation would improve. I know of one who gave up and ended up managing a movie theater,” wrote billsecure. “Several ended up driving ice cream trucks.”

 
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