In Defence of STEM: Can We Just Admit We’re All Fucked

Us STEM students… We can be kind of assholes, can’t we? With our ‘relevant’ degrees and our ‘six figure a year’ jobs that await us at the end of this. I’ll be the first to admit we can come off as a bit aloof. But let’s be honest here, unless you’re an engineer or a computer science student, we’re as equally fucked as the art students.

For example, I study Astrophysics. I think the only question I’ve been asked more than, ‘Oh! I’m a Sagittarius, can you do my horoscope?’ is ‘Oh… So, what do you want to do with that?’. However, in about five years the number of times I have been asked both these questions will probably be outweighed by another question: ‘So, what was it like moving back in with your parents?’

I think I have feelings from both sides of the aisle with regards to this argument. I am a STEM student, and sometimes have the arrogance of one, but I am also doing such a niche subject that other STEM students look at me with a sort of disdain. A disdain of, ‘Oh sure, that’s interesting, but what are you actually going to do with that?’. But I counteract this by being one of the few people at University who actually has a plan. I have wanted to be a researcher in Astrophysics since I was about eleven, so when posed this question I can give a straight no-bullshit answer.

I think that the number of people who have a plan after University in STEM heavily outweigh those in the Arts. The thing that seems to super piss off art students is that condescending question so often asked: ‘And what do you want to do with that degree?’ or put more politely, and innocently, ‘So, what are your plans after University?’. To anyone with no plan or idea what they want to do, this can be a very stressful and often insulting question. I mean, we may not mean it this way – us ‘life-planned-out’ STEM students – but that is how it comes across.  

Now, of course, you do get those assholes who think that everything is coming to them because they do some subject or some degree. And trust me, I’ve met them, and they piss me off as much as the next person. But they are just that: assholes. They might be dis-proportionality spread between arts and STEM, but every subject has them. So, I think that blanketing all of one subject as assholes when we pose the prior question is a kind of shitty thing to do.

For myself, when I ask what subject someone is doing, I am just asking it as a matter of interest. Like, if someone tells me, ‘Oh, I do History of Art’, my instant reaction is ‘That’s fucking awesome! Who do you study? Where can I find out about them? Would you do research in it after?’ and I do genuinely have an interest. I’m not just being an arrogant tosser. Another example is finding someone who does Theology. Now that’s the kind of conversation I live for! Despite this, I think that art students find this arrogant, and as if we’re speaking down to them.

I suppose I was meant to be defending STEM students here, and I’ve gone a rather neutral/art student bias route here, but it is because I so get where they are coming from. It’s easy for us to forget that University is meant to be about our time here, and not so much about the end of it. I’d much rather have a conversation about what a person thinks of uni, or what they are doing now, than what their end goal is. And that is simply because all subjects at university are so damn interesting. We should talk about that more: how things are going and what we think of our subjects, not what ridiculous job is awaiting us at the end. Because, let’s face it, for 99.9% of us there isn’t one. Not to go all nihilist, but the job market’s shite. And even if you get a first and get your amazing six-figure job, you’ll probably be working for a morally bankrupt bank. Then, even your fellow STEM students will hate you.

But yeah, seriously, everyone – talk about the now. Talk about the subjects we’re doing and how fucking awesome university is. That’s way more interesting than that terrifying thought: the future.

[David O’Ryan]

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