The STEM-based liars

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

There is nothing quite like being a humanities major at a STEM-focused school. Whether it be the culture of teasing business majors for having no work or feeling jealous of students who do not have to take Physics, Georgia Tech is chock–full of these “friendly” comparisons.

When a game of “Hot Seat” results in the question, “Who has the higher GPA” or “Who does more work on a group project,” the academic focus and rigor of the school are hard to ignore. However, these categories often forget about a large group living, sometimes in secret, among their STEM-loving peers: the humanities-oriented students in STEM. 

You may be wondering: If a person hates STEM, why in the world would they pursue it for their degree?

There is no simple answer to this question. One possible reason is the cultural implication of going into STEM. Children of immigrants face familial obligations and the weight of their expectations often affects them when choosing a career path. It is no secret that parents are comforted by engineering and other STEM degrees, especially since the industry is booming and the job market is vast.

In their eyes, with the sacrifices they made to leave their lives behind to seek a future in the United States, the least their children could do is pursue a career where there is job security, good pay and benefits. To my own parents, for example, any career in humanities other than law seems like a risk. Even so, they are liberal in what they allow my sister and me to pursue, but other family situations and dynamics are far more rigid.

Another possible explanation could be based on existing skill sets. Some students are simply good at STEM. It is easy to go through life pursuing success at a collegiate level and mistaking skill for enjoyment. Both high school and college are structured in such a way that students seek high GPAs and equate achievement to good grades, as opposed to learning and understanding. 

Due to this, students who succeed in STEM-based classes may confuse their high grades and accolades for interest and passion in a subject. Alternatively, there is a subset of students who are keenly aware of this phenomenon, myself included. We are aware of our ability to do well in STEM-based classes; in fact, on paper, we appear to be some of the most passionate and driven students. However, we are not blind to our boredom and distaste for the subject matter. There is a reason you see me here, writing this article instead of studying for my Organic Chemistry II exam. 

All of this boils down to a single question: is it important to be passionate about your career, or is this a westernized myth society has trained us to believe?

My mother would say the latter. She sees a job as a means to money and benefits and places importance on using free time to pursue passions and hobbies. Meanwhile, my sister believes that if her 9-5 is something she despises, her mental health will diminish, rendering her disinterested and unable to spend time on hobbies. One can only imagine their intensive debates over the dinner table. However, in truth, there may not be a right answer. While this does not resolve my (or anyone else’s) mid-college existential academic crisis, there is comfort in knowing we are not alone.