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Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice)

  1. Jun 23, 2011 #1
    Hi guys. This will be my first post. After reading through some of the threads here, I decided to look through recommendations for beginning physics books, which led me to Isaac Asimov's https://www.amazon.com/Understandin...512/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308870184&sr=8-1". Asimov writes with such conciseness and clarity, and, to my understanding, he did not even study composition or English in college! I, very often, have thought of becoming an English major in the hopes that I would become a better communicator--in writing and in speaking. However, after reading five chapters of said book, I have found myself a new curiosity for physics. I can say that, after four high school years of reading through textbooks written in all sorts of fluffy language, I will never pick up a textbook unless required of me ever again. Having dropped an AP Physics course halfway through my senior year of high school (in part because I had never taken a physics course before), I wish I had laid my hands on this book sooner--which brings me to my topic.

    As an entering first-year student at a small liberal arts college this fall semester, I am looking for guidance as to whether I should pursue a path of study in the sciences or humanities. My broad goal is to become a better communicator and a better critical thinker, but I am also aware of the difficulty it is for some humanities majors, especially those in English, Art History, and ___ Studies, to find a sustaining career. I am aware too that, should I try to pursue law school and vie for spots to the top law schools (as it is hard to find a place in the legal profession without connections within the top 14 law schools), I will be faced with tough competition. Furthermore, should I, on a whim, perhaps, decide to study medicine, studying English Literature as an undergraduate is ill preparation for medical school, regardless of a high MCAT score.

    In short, I am very passionate about film and literature. The ideal path of study, without concerns of my future welfare, would be to double major in Film Studies and English in the hopes of becoming a screenwriter or director. Unfortunately, competition is fierce in the film industry, and, though a film degree is not required for opportunities in the film industry, I do not have the wherewithal or the connections to popular talent agencies or film studios.

    In our present economy, however, the supply of humanities majors is overwhelming, and the demand for them is low. I know that STEM majors are in increasing demand.

    My questions are: Given that I will take advantage of my college's career services with my academic major, should I play it safe with a BS or follow my passion? Does studying English Literature or any other humanity really have that allegedly intrinsic effect of making for highly articulate and literate individuals? Is money even a valid incentive for pursuing an education? (And why is there such a disparity between views of humanities and STEM majors in the workforce?)

    My goal in this thread is to provide ideas for prospective college students and to broaden our collective understanding of higher education, the workforce, and the economy.

    In case anyone is looking for statistics, Georgetown University has had the fortune of having researchers compile data of the earnings of respective majors: http://cew.georgetown.edu/whatsitworth/".
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2011 #2


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    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    It's not exactly a safe bet to go into a STEM field if you don't have an interest in it. If you even make it through the major, would you really want to find a job in something that doesn't interest you?

    No. On the other hand, STEM majors don't have any intrinsic ability to make someone a good critical thinker. They are all qualities that someone has to develop on their own.

    What do political scientists or history major or art majors produce that anyone wants to buy compared to a chemist or electrical engineer? The reality of the situation is that no one gives you money just for being smart and having a degree.[/QUOTE]
  4. Jun 23, 2011 #3
    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    Your communication skills seem fine, and you won't learn anything with a BA in English that you couldn't learn with a library card and a subscription to something like JSTOR. For film studies...screw school and get a Netflix account -- rent everything by Hitchcock, Kubrick, Herzog, Kurosawa, Bergman, etc. etc.

    College degrees are meaningless these days unless you specialize.

    "I am aware too that, should I try to pursue law school and vie for spots to the top law schools (as it is hard to find a place in the legal profession without connections within the top 14 law schools), I will be faced with tough competition."

    Law school is a numbers game. You can literally major in Dance Studies, and as long as you have a 4.0 and an LSAT above 170 (which is quite hard, admittedly), then you have a chance at Yale, Harvard and Stanford.
  5. Jun 28, 2011 #4
    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    Read this. Look at post #8.


    I was absolutely mortified. This, along with discussing with my summer advising counselor, my parents, and the internet, has pushed me to pursue mathematics and computer science, taking some physics classes for a concentration in computational science.

    Then I guess I have to force myself to like STEM, don't I? I think that, in our economic times, we must be humble and that we must ground ourselves. I definitely don't want to pursue my dreams only to have them broken when I must take two low-paying jobs to pay for my property and support my physical health. And that obviously precludes me from having any time to pursue my artistic endeavors, doesn't it?

    I think I played into the perception of science majors as not being communicative. You do bring up a good point. I figure I can use my insights in film as a sort of leeway into the video game industry (that's if it's still a viable industry in the next few years or so). I'm hoping to become a video game script writer or designer. I think video games can be as much an immersion into another world as a game.

    I guess I am arguing myself into a circle here. It really depends on the individual. Nobody can make me decide what to do. Only I can, it seems. Anyone care to add to the discussion? =D
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  6. Jun 28, 2011 #5


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    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    $30k is actually quite reasonable. You can EASILY hit 6-digit debt loads even at state schools. However, when I say reasonable, going into 5/6 figure debt is still something you want to avoid, especially with the economy and the future in utter disarray.

    If you force yourself to like a STEM major, it'll be just as bad or worse than going into huge amounts of debt for a humanities degree. There's a chance you may not like it and the thing with STEM fields is that you can't dislike what you're doing and expect to make a career out of it. You really should try out a community college and just try to talk to your instructors who have a decent idea of what everything is like and see if you might actually enjoy a field. The thing you have to think about above all is "what can I do that I will enjoy that will actually pay the bills".

    So when you start thinking there may be jobs you want, do some heavy research into what kinda pay can you actually get and whether or not jobs are really available. The video game industry and entertainment industry seem to be (at least they were last I ever really looked into them) ripe with these "dream" jobs that ended up either paying little for 60-80 hour work weeks or were with companies that were here one day and gone the next.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  7. Jun 28, 2011 #6
    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    You really need both.

    Also you need to read some of the horror stories about people that graduate from law school with monster debt and no job prospects.

    Your first "real world" lesson in critical thinking will involve figuring out what to do with your life. One reason that I think a strong background in humanities is useful is that you start asking deep questions about the world and your life. Like "why do I want to be a lawyer?" "what is this competition thing?" "why is knowledge divided into the sciences and humanities?"

    Something that you should think about is why is society so competitive? Is competition a good thing? What can we do (or what can you do) to change society?

    The question that you really should ask is "what do I want?" and "how do I get it?"

    Why do we have this "major" thing? What is the purpose of education?

    Something that I believe is that there is something basically broken in society and the economic system. I'm not sure what is broken, but there is something wrong. One thing I think is broken is that people are just in the "I get the degree and this will get me a job" and people don't seem to be *thinking* about things.

    One thing that I believe is that people are better off when they think and ask questions. (Note, that you don't have to ask questions out loud?)

    One thing that you find is that people that think that they are "playing it safe" really aren't. You have lots of doctors and lawyers that thought they were playing it safe but it turns out that they can't get jobs.

    Something that you should realize that one thing that you have to watch out for is debt. If it costs you $2000 to do something, that's different from costing $50K to do something.

    Good questions. You'll have a few years to find out the answers.

    The system is broken in a big way. I'm not sure how to fix it, and I'm not sure what is broken, but it's broke. I think one place that is it broken is that people have started becoming hyper-specialized.

    But these can be very misleading. One problem (which has happened with lawyers) is that people assume that they make money doing X, everyone does X, and no one makes money because you have a over-supply.

    Specialization makes things worse. One thing that has helped me is that since the skills that I have are general, I've moved quickly from field to field depending on where the grass is greenest.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  8. Jun 28, 2011 #7
    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    Except that isn't a guaranteed meal ticket.

    Personally, I think that in our economic times, we must get mad as hell. The people that run the economy won't do a damned thing unless they get the living daylights scared out of them.

    Perhaps, but what's worse than to have nothing after pursuing your dreams is to have nothing after not pursuing your dreams. Something that's cool about physics is that no matter how bad things get, I can still curl up with a book on algebraic topology and think about that.

    Also you are in better shape as long as you don't get into debt. I think people worry too much about income and not enough about debt. If you don't have debt, then you can get a really low paying job, and then paint your spare time.

    You need to be a little cynical. There are people that are trying to get you to believe that if you do X you will make a ton of money whereas if you do Y you won't.
  9. Jun 28, 2011 #8
    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    Actually they aren't. They indicate that you can deal with bureaucratic systems, which is important since employers are bureaucracies. One thing that is interesting is to see what English majors and majors in Russian literature end up doing, and they usually end up being a corporate bureaucrat of some sort.
  10. Jun 28, 2011 #9


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    Re: Isaac Asimov and not being an English major (requesting college and career advice

    Jfetrov, your OP comes across as a tumult of disorganized thoughts. My advice would be to start by trying to sort out your own feelings and ideas to the point where you can state them in a coherent form. If literature is your true love, and you can't discuss your problem coherently in writing, then clearly the problem is that you don't yet know what it is that you're trying to express.

    Here's a challenge for you: wait a week, collect your thoughts, then give us the rewrite of this post. Drop me a PM then, and I'll look forward to checking it out.
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