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Is it really that bad?

  1. Mar 30, 2012 #1
    Is liberal arts really that bad in terms of marketability? I know that it varies with the individual and of course with the field of study, but how would you say is the market for mathematical economics and computer science (both together) relative to other liberal arts degrees as well as relative to electrical engineering?

    I have to make a decision very soon because I'm a high school senior who has to choose between

    1) double bachelors (of arts) in mathematical econ and comp sci. and then pursue a PhD in one of these (or some field strongly related to the two).
    2) masters in electrical engineering and stop there
    3) master in electrical engineering and PhD in econ/comp sci

    Is option 3 even possible? If not, how should I go about choosing between options 1 and 2? I love history, math, and science (only physics, computer science and chemistry that does not have organic in its name). I despise biology. Also, most importantly, I love to pick up things myself from textbooks. I'm willing to do this with passion whatever I end up doing. So I am not concerned about professor's quality or things like that. I only wish textbooks were cheaper.

    The problem is the programs I got into are a one-way ticket. No switching majors. I am either in the field or not in. There are no ways to test either option empirically to make an informed judgment, so I can only hope to learn from your advice and expertise and possibly your mistakes.

    Also, does anyone know any online video lectures that provide a good "introduction to electrical engineering?" It would give me a real feel for engineering!

    Thanks for your time guys. You've all been here for me (and countless other individuals) always. This is where I really need an answer since this is a once-in-a-lifetime decision that cannot be undone. I have a month to make the final decision.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2012 #2
    usually liberal arts refers to social sciences and humanities.

    my school has math, physics, chemistry, etc. in a school of physical sciences and compsci in a school of information sciences.
  4. Mar 30, 2012 #3
    The degree I earn in comp sci and econ will still be considered an arts degree, although it will be heavily mathematical (although on the theoretical side of things). But thanks for your feedback.

  5. Mar 30, 2012 #4
    It also includes physical sciences, life sciences and math.
  6. Mar 30, 2012 #5
    I think your confusing 'Liberal Arts' as used in different contexts. Yes, technically nearly any pure math/science degree earned in the US is a Liberal Arts degree (ie: not engineering or something professional-based). But, I think many see a 'Liberal Arts' degree to be more focused on softer subjects such as Social Sciences, English, Lit, etc. Right or wrong - there is a difference in interpretation to some. A History major will likely have a harder time finding a job in their field than a Computer Science major (even though both may technically be considered 'Liberal arts').

    On your degree choice - I had a similar mindset to you: I did well in high school Physics, Math and Chemistry, but despised biology (and the squishy sides of Chemistry). I eventually decided to go to school for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science as a double-major. This decision was partially driven by my family (my dad's whole family are engineers, my mom is, etc...) so it felt natural to try the engineering route. I eventually dropped out after 2 years, realizing that it was not what I wanted to do (I'm close to finishing a BS Physics over 10 years later). Over the last decade, I was seriously considering different routes to take when I went back to school. I thought about Computer Science (alone), Economics, Math, finishing Engineering, History, and eventually realized that Physics had a little bit of everything in it for me. (I'm not trying to convince you to persue Physics, but just illustrating that I have gone through lots of different 'ideas' in my search for an education path as well)

    Some things I've learned from that search: know what you're getting into. My initial goal was to get into IC design. I felt that, hey, I had a goal - many of my classmates don't even really know what they want to do! However, the reality of it set in when I took my Intro EE courses and I realized that it wasn't as I expected (I don't know how to articulate it any more since I don't know your expectations). The same with Computer Science - I enjoy working with computers, I taught myself programming languages early on and I was constantly making little apps for different menials tasks. Learning about these topics in an organized fashion ruined part of my interest. I no longer enjoy 'messing around' with programming (I enjoy using it as a tool for larger-problems - however, so not all was lost!), and I no longer have an intense interest in how electronics work.

    My hobbies did not translate well to an education choice. I took my pool of interests and looked at what would be the most marketable (like you're asking now) and came up with Electrical Engineering at the time. It seemed natural. However, I caution about making a decision solely on 'marketability of your interests'. I am not advocating to just 'go for your dreams, screw how much you make' (I have far to many friends whom majored in English that get to speak it a lot through a drive-thru window), but instead suggest a tempered approach. Ask yourself: are your interests truely academic or are they hobbies that you wish to remain as such? My skills gained from my 'hobbies' (intense interest in electronics and a capability for programming) have come in handy in my current studies for sure. But - they are a wrench in my personal tool box, rather than my identity.
  7. Mar 30, 2012 #6
    mege, thank you for your post! That is why I am very much searching for an online lecture series (from whatever college) for electrical engineering. Then at least I will have an idea about things.

    For example I previously thought I would major in mathematics, but now I know that it not what I want to do. I watched some videos on chemical engineering, and left that out as well. So I am left with economics, computer science, and EE.

    Would you say there is a lot of memorization involved in EE?

    However, I didn't really understand your last question, are your interests truely academic or are they hobbies that you wish to remain as such?. For example, I love to study things through books that are not offered in my school, so I will likely do that for comp sci and econ if I take the EE route, but if I take the comp sci/econ route I will actually be able to do research in those fields, but then I wouldn't be able to self-study EE (nor would I want to). But then comes the very question of marketability.

    For instance suppose I take the econ-comp sci route. The LAC will be a four years of fun as well as research, and I will probably end up going to graduate school assuming I maintain my passion for these fields. But suppose I don't go to graduate school (out of whatever reason), will my degree in these subjects still be marketable? I don't want to offend anyone but I fail to see a mathematical economics/computer science/physics degree in the same light as an English/history/philosophy/fine arts degree. But will my employer be smart enough to make that distinction, considering the degrees still have the same name (i.e. Bachelor of Arts).

    If I take the EE route, I will probably not enjoy it as much per se but I will still pursue econ/comp sci as a hobby. But hobby does not compound to real research so there is still the issue of some lost passion. But employers will surely recognize the degree?

    In any case I still appreciate anymore comments and/or advice.

  8. Mar 30, 2012 #7
    This is the norm in my country and some others. It's annoying that you can't change major, but it's ok. I suggest you just start with either comps-sci or ee and take courses/minor from other majors. Figure out which direction you want to move, figure out what basic courses you must have to move in that direction, and make the switch in grad school. I have friends go from physics undergrad to graduate cs/ee/econ/ie. Not without some active jumping through hoops, but we were all on one-way ticket in undergrad.

    I also think it's better to keep in mind that, even if you do figure out all these fields and do make a well-informed switch, you might still change your mind some time, or the world might still crash in some way that makes your choice a bad one. BS->MS->PhD might take a decade. I think it's quite unreasonable to ask me to predict a decade; I think it's even less reasonable to ask a high school senior to predict a decade.
  9. Mar 30, 2012 #8
    I see. I just acquired a book on electrical engineering and am hoping to gain a better understanding of the field by the end of this month by readin it.

  10. Mar 30, 2012 #9
    Thanks for your feedback. The problem is that the engineering school I was accepted to is very specialized. There are no non-engineering majors in the school. There are a few social science/humanities courses, but no major/minor in them. It is a school designed exclusively for prospective engineers.

  11. Mar 30, 2012 #10
    Allow me to point out that literacy in the liberal arts is not optional for someone to become a successful engineer. If you write poorly, if you have poor knowledge of the cultural mythologies, if you can not express yourself so that someone without your background can understand you; you will be someone's pet idiot savant. They'll feed you jobs and you'll do them for a pittance because you will be utterly incapable of explaining your work to others.

    But if you can sell your abilities to the world, you can lead others, you can take charge, and you can be a much more successful person.

    I can recall many undergraduate engineering students grumbling about liberal arts electives, wondering why they had to take courses on art, literature, or creative writing. The reason is so that you can understand the people you will work with.

    As for getting a PhD, well, it is a wonderful exercise of taking a person to the edge of human knowledge, learning something new, and then documenting the discovery. That doesn't necessarily make you valuable, and particularly for fields such as Engineering, it isn't particularly relevant. You can do this with or without the PhD. It's just that the PhD is a recognition that you have been there, whereas in the other case, you'll have to describe your work.

    In general, I do not recommend the sciences or engineering for any but those with that nerdly itch that they can't help scratch. There are many drones in this field who can go through the motions, but whose heart just isn't in it. They work every day and they typically either burn out, or go on to other things. Don't pursue any field for the prestige of being one. Pursue it because you like it. The prestige comes with being excited and enthusiastic. Your peers will see the enthusiasm and you'll be an excellent educator and well regarded for your work.

    If you pursue a field because you perceive that the prestige is there (such as the reason many choose for the professions of medicine or law), you will discover that it is not all that people think it is. It can be a soul-crushing experience.

    Take the time to talk to some real engineers. You might find the field to be wonderful, or you may find reasons to be dismayed and to choose something else. But don't choose a profession because your parents want you to. That is the worst of all worlds.
  12. Mar 30, 2012 #11
    Thanks for your feedback Jake but I think you misunderstand my question. I'm not whining about liberal arts. I like history, mythology, psychology, those things. But they don't have anything to do with my question.

    My parents aren't pressuring me at all. I have passion in all my options. If I didn't I would not be posting about those subjects on these forums. So assume that "passion" is a constant for all my options. I'm talking strictly in terms of employability. Not prestige either. I don't care about that. I'm just talking about employability with a job that actually lets you raise a family.

    I've spoken to some engineers. None of them seem to complain about choosing engineering. I've also spoken to some PhDs in comp-sci/econ. None of them seem to complain either. But I feel the responses were biased... it seems people don't want to talk about the worse side of things.

    But that doesn't address the major point of my question. I am trying to make a decision. I can either do engineering, self-studying the economics/CS that I am passionate about, or I can major directly in those fields. Which is better?

    After all, I think there is an obvious difference between
    1) majoring in engineering while reading some Homer as a hobby
    2) majoring in Greek Mythology then receiving a PhD in Greek mythology
    in terms of job employment.

    But is the same difference present in
    1) majoring in engineering while reading econ/CS as a hobby
    2) majoring in econ/CS then receiving a PhD in either field
    in terms of employment?

  13. Mar 30, 2012 #12
    There are many things that I like that I chose not to make part of my profession.

    For example, I'm an incompetent Gentleman farmer. I like to tinker, but I'm not very good at it. I am taking up bee keeping. For the sake of the bees, I hope I'm good enough at it that I don't kill too many hives.

    I also enjoy aviation. I am an instrument rated private pilot. However, I will probably never do this commercially. Flying for food is an entirely different business. I like being able to look at a weather forecast and to decide to stay on the ground without having to worry about whether I'll still have a job.

    I enjoy brewing beer, but I'll never be a professional brewmaster. My beer is delightful in its own way, but it is nowhere near as good as the stuff you can buy from craft brewers such as Dogfish Head.

    I have messed around with ham radio gear since I was 12 years old. I have designed filters, I have built radios, antenna systems, and spread spectrum experiments. I have assembled stations and communicated around the world. But the commercial RF design world is quite different from what I do. I'm glad I don't have to make a living doing it or I probably wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much.

    My job is actually control systems engineering. I enjoy that too. I maintain and design every aspect of instrumentation and controls for a large utility's SCADA system. It is actually an intersection of many professions.

    I think you can see a pattern here. Not everything you love should or must become your profession.

    And as far as which professions will take you the furthest, well, as they say in all stock broker advertising: "Past performance is no indication of future returns." I have all sorts of opinions on the subject, but there is a very significant probability that my intuition on the subject is horribly wrong.

    Pick something and pursue it. You're not married to it. You can maintain other interests and your profession won't get angry in the same way as a spouse would.
  14. Apr 2, 2012 #13


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    You won't starve as an economist. In fact, you may earn a higher salary (6 figures) as a newly graduate of PhD in Econ in comparison to engineers with some experience, or with a PhD.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
  15. Apr 3, 2012 #14
    Go with Economy degree
  16. Apr 3, 2012 #15
    I like your response! It reminds me of what I read from the book "from good to great", specifically where it describes how a company should choose what to pursue. It's basically the intersection of 3 things: what you're passionate about, what pays, what you can be best in the world. Lacking any is not good.

    Also I think it's important to define "world" in "best in the world". If I open a restaurant, and I'm the best within 1hr driving radius, then I'm effectively best in the world. It's just the world is not so big.
  17. Apr 3, 2012 #16
    Flip a coin. Both will work. It may turn out that one is better than the other, but those involve factors that are outside of your control.

    It depends. There are some fields (civil engineering and power engineering) in which a credential is pretty much essential. There are other fields (software engineering and consumer electrical engineering) where it's not. Economics and CS are fields in whcih having a specific credentials aren't that important.

    Also economics and CS are fields in which the actual skill that someone has may be totally unrelated to something that the employer looks for. It's quite common to have a computer science Ph.D. that can't program, an economics Ph.D. that is incompetent at doing stock market analysis, or for that matter an education Ph.D. that can't give a decent lecture. It's not that the programs are useless, but rather that there is nothing in the computer science Ph.D. program that emphasize programming because that's not the point of the Ph.D.
  18. Apr 4, 2012 #17
    I see. Thank you twofish! That was exactly the reply I was looking for. I have decided to pursue electrical engineering but I hope to go to graduate school in computational economics.

  19. Apr 4, 2012 #18
    Liberal Arts here in Australia is like some have mentioned already, social sciences, languages, history, classical studies, etc. Although I'm sure you can elect to do more technical subjects, it's not really the point of a Liberal Arts degree.
  20. Apr 4, 2012 #19
    Why is this though?
  21. Apr 4, 2012 #20


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    Good choice!. I did similar myself. Proud engineer (BS) and economist (PhD).

    Btw, just to give you a flavor of Computational Economics, look for Applied Computational Economics and Finance by Miranda and Fackler. Also if you decide to do a PhD in CS, you can also do a lot of Computational Game theory
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2012
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