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I’m missing it

April 21, 2008

In this spring’s LS&A magazine they had a little booklet that told the stories of five outstanding graduate students, and then asked for your financial support.  All well and good, right?
I have issues, though, with the students highlighted.  The five areas of study are: environmentally friendly farming practices in Brazil, working with Head Start (and showing that parents are important in how a kid turns out…how much did we pay for another study that states the obvious?), cultural response to lack of free speech in Kazakhstan, the role of guns in Africa, and taking undergrads to Europe for hiking adventures.
While these are wonderful areas of study, and many of them of vital importance to the world, did you notice something missing from that list?  Those people study: social science/ecology, social science/education, social science, social science, and – you guessed it – social science.  How many tech jobs are there in social science?  How many billions of dollars are generated in the economy each year because of social science?  How many life changing plastics, drugs, or inventions are created each year because of social science?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not important.  I think it’s absolutely vital for an advanced culture to have social sciences, humanities, and the arts.  I think that cutting these programs is insane, and fully support them.
But they don’t pay the bills.
Michigan is in a localized recession.  America is struggling to learn to compete in the global economy.  And we’re hyping our…social science grad students.  The best way to fix the Michigan economy will be to shift it from the defunct manufacturing based economy to a (probably university centered) knowledge based economy.   On a national level, the influx of foreign scientists right now means that Americans are getting are butts handed to us on a daily basis by the international kids in all our classes; in ten or twenty years it means we’ll be going to school over there, because that’s where all the jobs and good schools will be.  We wish to compete in a global economy, but we tell our youngsters continually that science is hard and only dorks do it.  By senior year, most students don’t believe they are able to do hard sciences, and many have lost all joy in them because of their perceived ineptitude.
Lemme tell you something about hard science grad students though.  We’re not smarter than anyone else.  Really, we’re not.  I’ve got friends here that have issues with some really low level math, and most of us struggle with most of our classes.  What we have, I think, that got us in to chemistry/physics is that we’re not afraid of a challenge.  We’re not afraid to find out if something is too hard for us, and along the way we’ve found that we can do basically anything.
I refuse to believe that hard science is harder than soft science.  It’s just more mathematical.  I refuse to believe that we can’t train up an entire generation of American’s to love science and engineering (which is, lets face it, phenomenally more useful than pure science) and to make it their careers.  I think everyone is capable of this kind of thinking, and I wish we would encourage more people to do it.
Why do we make social science sound easy when they’re the ones taking seven years to a PhD, whereas a chemist is out in five?  Why do we glorify a field which is so impossible to get into, because there are so few jobs, while at the same time making hard sciences look as if they’re composed of a bunch of nerds which never get laid?  (Granted, the only people we DO get laid by are also nerds…but we like it that way.)  Yeah social sciences are important, but lets also encourage people to go into a field where they’re guaranteed a fantastic job with just a BS, and where they can go on to make millions if they start their own company.  Lets also encourage people to study subjects which help us compete on the international level and which stimulate the economy (remember the morning when Pfizer left?  That was hard science jobs leaving Ann Arbor.)  Lets also encourage people to study the subjects which will give us the tool we need to fix the environment and cure AIDS.

A note which I realized during the class I went to halfway through this entry.  Maybe social science students were highlighted because their funding situation does suck royally.  *shrugs* I dunno.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2008 9:15 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, I just got a letter in the mail today from the Cell and Molecular Bio department, hitting me up for money to pay for their grad students. Yeah.

  2. April 28, 2008 9:45 pm

    Re: Funding
    Hah that’s funny. I thought bio was better funded than that.

  3. April 29, 2008 2:32 pm

    Re: Funding
    I also thought it was amusing that the form letter asks for “anything from $1 to $1,000,000.” Because, while I know it’s a form letter sent to all alumni, it’s ever so likely that less than a year out of school I actually have $1,000,000. I know they go on and on about the value of a Michigan degree, but… :-p

  4. April 29, 2008 6:20 pm

    Re: Funding
    Ironically, I got the same form letter last night from the Chem department. But seriously, you haven’t managed to earn a spare million you could give to the school? What have you been doing with all your time since graduation? *laughs* oi.

  5. April 29, 2008 11:44 pm

    Re: Funding
    *sings* If I had a million dollars/If I had a million dollars…I sure as hell wouldn’t be giving it to the school. And I have to say, even if I was a gazillionaire and wanted to give to U-M, I’d fund the classics department first.

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