SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Don’t Kids Want to Study Engineering? Because Engineering Friggin’ Sucks.

Sexing Up Science Won’t Solve a Dearth of STEM Majors

According to a survey, nearly 90% of 16- and 17-year-olds have no interest in a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) career.

The climate is crashing, the NSA is tracking our porn, and the 99% haven’t gotten a raise in decades, but the party organ of America’s ruling class is truly, awfully worried about our imminent STEMlessness. A lot.

“The number of students who want to pursue engineering or computer science jobs is actually falling, precipitously, at just the moment when the need for those workers is soaring,” writes The Editorial Board of The New York Times, which is composed of editors no one has heard of, yet whose opinions we are all supposed to care about. “Within five years, there will be 2.4 million STEM job openings,” write The Editors.

Who, in the future, will program the great fleets of killer drones? Who will pilot them? It would suck to lose that business to the Chinese.

Whenever the question of Why No One Wants to Study Engineering comes up, the media always comes back with the same answer: conning convincing kids that STEM stuff isn’t boring.

“Most schools continue to teach math and science in an off-putting way that appeals only to the most fervent students,” the Times editors complain. Sex up the sciences — that’s the ticket!

Texas Instruments (they’re still around?) has hired neuroscientist/”Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik as a “STEM education brand ambassador” to sing the praises of partial differential equations using framing that the Kids of Today/Worker Bees of Tomorrow can relate to. “Who doesn’t know something about zombies or superheroes?” asks Bialik. “These cultural archetypes can do more than just entertain. Zombies, it turns out, can teach real science and mathematical concepts like exponential growth curves and the intricacies of human anatomy and anatomical degradation. Superheroes can prompt a variety of questions that draw on physics, such as: How does one actually travel faster than the speed of light?”

Is it me, or does this seem a little…forced?

Hey, I’m as geeky as they come. When an engineer who designed famous roller coasters gave a talk at my Ohio high school, I was enthralled. (My classmates, not so much.) But I still didn’t want to study engineering — and it wasn’t because science is boring.

I loved math, chemistry and physics in high school. I studied years ahead. I got perfect grades and tested so well that Columbia’s School of Engineering offered me a full scholarship and a well-paid teachers assistant job.

Still, I didn’t want to go. Not because math and science bored me — to the contrary. I dreaded it because I knew engineering school would probably be a sucky experience and that a career in the sciences would be depressing.

Not that my parents cared what I wanted. They bullied me into going anyway because (a) Columbia gave me the most financial aid of the schools I applied to, and (b) something “practical” like engineering guarantees a steady well-paid job after graduation. (Ha.) So off I went.

Guess what? Engineering school was a sucky experience.

My experience at Columbia highlights reasons — aside from the alleged tedium of math and science — that most young people aren’t interested in the STEM professions:

  • When you study math and science, your classmates are boring. At Columbia the engineering majors were politically disengaged, careerist, nose-to-the-grindstone types you’d never find working over the world’s problems at an overnight BS session — much less checking out a punk concert. They were academically smart and deadly dull. After graduation, people similar in personality to your fellow students become your colleagues. Engineering isn’t boring. Engineers are. Working with boring engineers is a bummer.
  • STEM majors get much lower grades than liberal arts majors. Tougher grading causes lower GPAs, so dropout and expulsion rates are also much higher: three out of four liberal art majors get a degree, only one out of four STEM majors. During freshman orientation, Columbia’s dean of students told us that 75% of us would drop out or get expelled. I wondered why I was there. (After three years, I was expelled with a 2.4 GPA. Which I worked hard for.) Why take out massive student loans for a one-in-four chance at a degree? Though some studies deny the difference, 60% of freshman engineering students are gone, dropped out or transferred to the liberal arts, by the end of their freshman year. These kids aren’t stupid or lazy — they were smart and studious enough to get admitted in the first place.
  • Low social status. Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear safety glasses; girls suddenly remember something they forgot in the ladies room when you tell them you’re an electrical engineer. Because (see above) engineers are boring. Also: in America’s anti-intellectual culture, it’s not cool or hip or prestigious to be a scientist.
  • STEM employment is sporadic (they say “cyclical”). What’s the point of playing it safe when it’s not, well, safe? The STEM major you pick as a freshman may easily be obsolete by the time you hit the senior year job fair. Even if not, it’s extremely unlikely your chosen scientific field will provide steady employment for years to come. Currently, as the Powers That Be say they need STEMmers, unemployment is sky high among STEM professionals. As of 2009, nearly 9% of electrical engineers were jobless. Oh, and it turns out that STEM majors actually don’t earn more than their liberal arts counterparts.

“Indeed, science and engineering careers in the U.S. appear to be relatively unattractive” compared with other career paths, Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, which funds basic scientific, economic and civic research, testified to Congress in 2007.

High-school students know what’s up. They hear from older siblings how hard it is to graduate from engineering school. They watch their friends’ parents lose their jobs from supposedly “safe” STEM outfits. They’re not going to change their minds until reality improves.

Some fixes:

  • De-ghettoize STEM majors within colleges and universities. Require STEM majors to take lots of liberal arts classes — it’s not like a math major shouldn’t study Spanish literature — and require liberal arts majors to take more math and science. Mix up the student bodies. Think about someone like Steve Jobs, whose design sense came from his love of art and calligraphy. The divide between English and physics majors is artificial and outdated. Crosspollinate.
  • Put an end to the grading disparity between STEM majors and liberal arts. It’s unfair and it’s stupid. At Harvard, the average grade is an “A-“, and why not? The average Harvard student is intelligent and hardworking — and so is the average Columbia engineering student. Harvard’s softer grading regime hasn’t cost the school any reputation points.
  • If America wants STEM majors from America, it ought to stop importing them from overseas. “When the companies say they can’t hire anyone [for STEM jobs], they mean that they can’t hire anyone at the wage they want to pay,” Jennifer Hunt, a Rutgers University labor economist, said in 2012. So they outsource STEM jobs overseas and game the work visa program to import cheaper foreign scientists. “Tech companies that import temporary workers, mainly recent graduates from India, commonly discard more expensive, experienced employees in their late 30s or early 40s, often forcing them, as Ron Hira and other labor-force researchers note, to train their replacements as they exit,” reports the Columbia Journalism Review. Until STEM unemployment among Americans is 0%, Congress ought to get rid of the visa program.
  • Even cultural perceptions can be changed. If President Obama and other members of the political class are serious about promoting STEM careers, they could start featuring our best mathematicians and chemists at events like the State of the Union Address rather than the usual parade of military veterans. The Soviet Union pimped its scientific minds big time; kids who admired these intellectual heroes followed in their footsteps.

Math and science aren’t boring. But asking people to dedicate their lives to careers that won’t pay off is dumb.

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27 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Don’t Kids Want to Study Engineering? Because Engineering Friggin’ Sucks.

  1. kids seem to have trouble making choices. maybe their parents told them what to do all the time. if they get pressured into stem lkke ted was, when they get out of.the house, other forces start to effect them and they realise science is work and they are lazy.

    Nerds never wish to be quarterbacks because that would be like flying by flapping your arms. they are outcast and unloved in high school, they cant talk to girls and they dont have a car. stem looks like a way out, but no matter how smart they are, they are never on the inside. the QB is the owner or director and they are the grunts.

    • Okay, first question. Your comment implies that you think quarterbacks aren’t lazy. I don’t get it. Quarterbacks are mesomorphs who train themselves to run in short bursts down a small field, fling themselves on people and occasionally throw a ball somewhere? Amirite?

      I mean, once you get the mesomorph thing down, this sounds like a kind of sadistic hypercompetitive cakewalk daydream. This is less lazy than thinking math is fun? Please explain.

  2. Awesome post, as a fellow STEM graduate (all the way through PhD) I am so glad someone is saying these things, because so few people are and yet they need to be said.

    On this topic the other thing that pisses me off is when various mouth pieces for the powers that be say “we need more STEM now because at the current rate in 2030 there will be 3 million unfilled stem positions in the US and it is the only way to solve unemployment!” Guess what, by 2030, 3 million is less then 1% of the population so if everyone goes into STEM there will still be massive unemployment, and everyone trying to get a STEM job will flood the market and drive the pay for those jobs down to minimum wage levels with worse benefits then working at Walmart. As you pointed out, if you want people to go into STEM, create more stable jobs with pay better then what I could get if I decided to be a manager at McDonald’s after getting my high school degree (which incidentally would have saved me another decade worth of school and allowed me to start saving for retirement that much earlier.)

    One Note:
    “De-ghettoize STEM majors within colleges and universities. Require STEM majors to take lots of liberal arts classes … Put an end to the grading disparity between STEM majors and liberal arts. It’s unfair and it’s stupid. At Harvard, the average grade is an “A-”, and why not?”

    I totally agree, but I take the opposite stance. I went to University of Chicago which has always prided itself on a massive core curriculum (though sadly it has been shaving it down since I went there). So I had to take a ton of non-science non math courses. I do agree completely with the value of this. My Science classes were vital for my future carrier, but my non-science classes, and more importantly, them mingling with the non-science people, really educated me in far more important non-carrier ways (though certainly, as you suggest with the Steve Jobs example, some crossing of ideas from non-STEM to STEM work is actually useful for one’s STEM job as well.) But what really shocked me in those course was how profoundly stupid so many of the humanities majors were. If I am a Chemistry and Computer Science major and you are a sociology or history major, then I shouldn’t be kicking your ass when we are both taking the same class in your field you dumb fuck.

    As such where we differ on this point is my solution to grades where I go with two options. Either 1) the people who did humanities work should be graded as harshly as people are in STEM – make their grades mean something and thus return some value to the now basically valueless college degree. Or more ideally 2) get rid of grades all together. Seriously why record the status of people’s inadequacy at one point in time to forever haunt them? Realistically here are only two states of education with regard to a given class: you either know something well enough to be considered proficient at it or you don’t, and if you don’t that doesn’t mean you can’t, it just means you haven’t become proficient yet.

    Thus, solution: make the equivalent of an A necessary to pass any course, but leave no record of having taken a course on anyone’s transcript until they pass. Your transcript just ends up being a bunch of P’s, and the only thing that changes is whether you finished college in four years or twenty four years, but everyone knows that however long it took you, you were proficient by the requirements ideally designed to be useful to society by the time you left even if it took you 1/4th of your life to get there. Because honestly, with a little more training someone who might be an all C student could still be useful to society if they eventually learned everything at an A level. Instead society brands them with a permanent C looser and they float around being unemployed and useless for the rest of their lives in spite of their best intentions to the contrary. Everyone looses when we do it that way – so of course that is the way we do things.

  3. Ted,

    Before the conversation spirals into complete anarchy, a few details.

    Back in the 1980s, Reagan (who, like millions of other children, grew up reading the pulps) came up with his Strategic Defense Initiative (correction: was handed his lines and told to read them by his corporate owners).

    Anyway, Reagan championed SDI. It’s main premise? Space-based laser platforms would identify and shoot down enemy orbital and sub-orbital missiles. (An important technical detail: a lot of atomic warheads will not function UNLESS they’ve been exposed to vacuum. It’s a safety feature to prevent accidental detonation.)

    Where was I? Right, right. Space-based lasers. So the tech people were approached. “We want SDI.” A few of the techs said something like this: “Look. You’ve been watching too much Star Trek.”

    Those few techies then ticked off some of the insurmountable problems. I’ll list just a few:
    1. Who’s going to write the code? Programmers can estimate how large a program will have to be (good ones, at least). The estimates for SDI were that it would take MILLIONS of lines of code. How many times has Microsoft Word crashed on you? Each time it does, pretend it’s a passenger jet that the system “accidentally” shot down as an incoming missile.
    2. Who’s going to debug the program?
    3. The program would have to be self-directing. So it’ll need visual sensors. What happens when the Russians send up a missile painted in plaid?
    4. Those lasers. What happens if the Russians send up a completely silvered missile polished to a mirror finish?
    5. This space-based platform. What can it do when the Russians fire a missile from 10 miles off the coast of Washington from a submarine?
    6. What happens when the Russians detonate a missile hidden in a “communications” satellite, generating a massive electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all the circuitry in those space-based platforms?
    7. What if the Russians simply use bioweapons?

    Those techies lost their jobs. No more gummint contracts, no funding for their departments.

    The rest of the techies nodded their heads vigorously and screamed, “How high should I jump?” Why? Because, finally, they were getting validation. They were being invited to parties, they had security clearances, people stopped talking over them, they didn’t have to go digging and scratching for every dollar for research. They were able to pay the bills, give the kids braces, etc. They KNEW it was a boondoggle, but they simply didn’t care. They wanted their turn at the trough.

    When asked about whether they felt responsible for pissing away so much money on something they knew was a pipe dream, I bet they give the same response we all heard 70-odd years ago during the Nuremberg Trials: Hey, if I didn’t do it, someone else woulda. Everyone else was doing it, why shouldn’t I?

    The issue isn’t why there aren’t enough STEMs. The issue is why the STEM people (look at Zuckerberg and all the other creeps snooping through our underwear drawers) HELP the fascist state. All our e-mails, all our cell phone calls, everything we do on line, it’s all being collected by sociopathic adults.

  4. I tend to think of engineers as smart, introverted and into their work. While of course not all engineering jobs or all engineers are equal, there is a lot to be said for being smart and into your work. People who don’t like their work tend to be less happy and higher maintenance personally. That may work for some people but it would drive me crazy.

    It is true that geeks get socially marginalized in school and the sports culture is at least partly to blame. So the jocks develop inflated egos and the geeks learn that there is life after high school. Who’s going to be more fun in the long run?

    • Miep:

      Neither. The jocks get old and gross, the nerds become like Zuckerberg.

      Go on, seriously. Look through all the coverage. What are the “nerds” doing? Interaction with other people via an interface. “I came up with an app that will destroy the text message you sent in a few seconds. Of course, the NSA will keep a copy for all time, and probably my company will too in order to sell your information (in aggregate, of course, unless it isn’t) to corporations.”

      Where are the nerds who are trying to build bionic eyes and synthetic limbs that have tactile feedback? A 16-year-old kid came up with a test strip for pancreatic cancer that costs 3 cents per usage.

      Facebook, SnapChat, Pinterest? It isn’t about liberation of the mind. It’s about selling crap and making money.

      • That’s more illustrative of the double-edged sword the Internet is, than it is of the boringness of being technically inclined.

    • An interesting point, Miep. After some thought, I realize though that all the Internet’s Crap (facebook, twitter, etc.) can only exist on the Internet. The real technological innovation could still have been developed without the Internet. This makes me think that the Internet isn’t double-edged, just single-edged.

      • If the Internet was useless, it wouldn’t be so dangerous. It provides free publishing platforms and filters that allow people to find others with common interests that may be unpopular or non-existent in their non-virtual lives. That’s the carrot.

        The sticks are that it’s hugely addictive and that corporate interests will always make better use of it than individuals. But as long as it’s so ubiquitous, it’s difficult to ignore. This is indeed the Soma of 1984.

  5. Fascinating article, and mostly true. I’m an engineer as well, went to a top engineering school in the US about 10-15 years ago. So random comments:

    (1) Yes engineers and scientists are often boring, but this is common to all professions- you have to learn to (a) concentrate on tedious material, (b) dispassionately make judgments on someone else’s behalf… This means learning a pretty dry way of speech and its hard not to take it home with you. At the same time, it makes it that much more fun to break out of the mold… A beautiful thing when it happens (often under extreme stress in grad school).

    (2) In my opinion, being an engineer is more fun than most of the other “professions”. How can you say building stuff that noone has built before isn’t fun? Do you really want to go through 8 years of absolute hell to be a doctor? Law school isn’t bad but I have yet to hear a lawyer accuse my work of being dull….

    (3) I also agree with whoever said that the US’s pathetic excuse for an elementary school education system is a big part of it. Has been for years and still is. The way we treat teachers is a huge part of it. Can’t tell you how many people I run into who became teachers after college / MS, and got burnt out within 3-4 years.

    (4) the workload-in-college factor. This is mainly a product of engineering schools trying to cram too much into 4 years. Used to be 5. Now with all the new stuff that’s out there it really should take 5-6. Then you could be humane about it. But you can’t do that because colleges in the US are obscenely expensive.

    It really is kindof a cruel thing to send an 18-year old into an environment where he or she is surrounded by a bunch of other 18-22 year olds, and not let them play. But noone said our society isn’t sadistic. People carry this attitude into the “office space” environment too — the more you suffer, the greater your worth as an employee. But the neat thing, is that in a work environment there are always people with families and they know how to say “no” to the boss. Learn from them- it’s a basic respect thing that your employer WILL give you if you ask for it in a straightforward way. Don’t be a workaholic, once the system has sorted us out in terms of our place in life, there’s no further reward for that after school. All of a sudden you’ll have tons of free time!

    (5) the H1B / student visa factor. Yes I have seen this. It is mean. Screw up and you’re going home. But this happens at all levels of society.

    (6) My advice to high school grads thinking about going to science/engineering school? Give it a shot! What do you have to lose, a year of your life? But promise yourself that after the end of semester #1 or year #1 you will make a sober assessment about how likely you are to make it, and whether you can do it and not totally neglect your personal life, and whether you will enjoy it. Don’t drag this decision point out 3-4 years.

    I came into college wanting to do physics and CS, which were my favorite things. I found I wasn’t smart enough for physics, and CS, which I loved before, became completely dull and soul-less in the ultra competitive but structured environment of my school. Switched to another kind of engineering which was easier and more fun, and loved it ever since.

    k sorry for the long post, wanted to share.

  6. Great column, Ted.

    I had a much, much, shorter version of this conversation with Obama on a radio call-in program, on WILL, when he was running for Senate in Illinois. He tried to tell me that the problem was that Americans weren’t educated enough to hold these jobs. I explained to him that the people I worked with that were let go were working with the latest technology and held PhD. and Masters Degrees in Electrical Engineering.

    Needless to say, I detected his Corporatist bias, followed him closely and can proudly say I never voted for him once.

    What I did address with him was the H-1B’s issued that allowed three allocations of these visas, each of 65,000 STEM workers, for a total of 195,000 workers because corporations couldn’t get the workers they wanted (at the price they wanted).

    I worked with quite a few of these imports who earned a lot less than the people they replaced; and weren’t really sharper than those they replaced.

  7. Eh, partly right & partly wrong. Full disclosure: I am an engineer.

    Math and science and their application to real world problems are absolutely fun & games. Okay, not everyone agrees with us – why not? A large amount of it has to do with turning off young folks in grade school through high school. These subjects are usually taught by people who are A) not interested and B) not competent. I know a lot of people with Math Fear. They’re perfectly intelligent people, but were taught by incompetents. My first introduction to algebra was taught by someone who (I now realize) didn’t actually understand the subject matter. They simply mouthed the words in the official handouts without understanding their meaning. They were unable to work the problems without notes and so couldn’t explain the work they were supposedly demonstrating. They couldn’t come up with examples, and most importantly couldn’t provide help to those who didn’t grasp it immediately. It a student never learns basic arithmetic, he’ll never grasp algebra and calculus just ain’t in the cards.

    Fix for that one is to put a little more money into education. Great teachers are out there, but they left the education system for something more lucrative – even if they loved teaching. Science is fun if you can actually work the experiments yourself, in my day a science classroom would have lab stations and students would work through various experiments themselves. Unfortunately that costs money. Today, everything it taught by a lecturer at the front of the room, (BO-O-ORING) and if there are any cool demos it’s only because the teacher paid for them out of their own pockets. The classrooms are overcrowded, so even if the teacher is competent he’s got less time to provide individual attention for someone who just needs a hand up.

    This is where the conservative troll pops up and asks “Why should I pay for so-and-so’s brat to go to school? BECAUSE THAT BRAT IS GOING TO BE YOUR DOCTOR SOMEDAY, OR DESIGN THE AIRPLANE YOU’RE FLYING IN OR THE BRIDGE YOU’RE DRIVING ACROSS.

    Engineering & Science aren’t sexy. Why not? We spend vast amounts of money fooling young people into thinking they could have a career as a professional athlete, when fewer than 1/10 of 1% of them will ever actually land a job that way. You’re absolutely right about honoring those with brains, and it’s got to start at the grade school level. We make a BFD about the quarterback, why not the president of the chess club? We are hardwired to get excited about running and jumping and bashing the hell out of each other, still and all we could make more movies about guys with brains triumphing over guys with guns.

    I’m absolutely opposed to handing out easier grades in Engineering Colleges. Yes, it’s harder to get an A in an engineering course than a liberal arts course, but that’s a GOOD thing. You want the guy who designed that airplane to have a high IQ and a firm understanding of the concepts. Engineering college filters out those that can’t or won’t learn the hard stuff. (Then again, why should it be easy to get an A in creative writing? Isn’t that setting the student up for failure when he gets out with a Master’s degree but still can’t write?) Most colleges today do require some arts education of their STEM majors, but I absolutely agree that we need even more cross pollination.

    For that matter, I find more and more engineering graduates who can’t do the job. Learning to take tests is much easier than learning to design things, and grading tests is much easier than than working hand-in-hand with a student in order to polish his design skills. Ain’t gonna happen with our current professor to student ratio.

    > If America wants STEM majors from America, it ought to stop importing them from overseas

    100% on all points. American workers have these inconvenient ideas about their rights as well. If you’ve got an import from Bumfukistan, and he knows that he gets a one-way ticket back home if he pisses off his employer, then gosh, you can treat him any way you like.

    Fix for that is to make it more expensive to bring in foreign workers or to outsource work to other countries. We’ve got import duties for manufactured goods, how about import duties for talent or intellectual goods as well? If someone in Bumfukistan is willing to do the work for 10% of what an American would want – then gosh, the other 90% should be retrieved from the company in the form of import duties. Anyone who comes in on a work visa should be paid the same wages as an American. A company should never be allowed to push out an experienced engineer in favor of a less experienced (“cheaper”) one. That’s ageism, it’s already illegal, and all it would take is to enforce the laws already on the books. Why does it matter? Would you want that airplane designed by someone with thirty years’ experience, or someone who just got out of college and barely knows why the pointy end is in front? Favoring a Bumfukistani over an American is likewise illegal – discrimination on the basis of national origin. But just try contacting the EEOC – they’ll ask the company whether it did anything wrong, and believe whatever it says. (“No”) Case dismissed.

    My last thought here is that Americans who are educated in Math and Science are more likely to understand concepts like global warming, over population, and buildings spontaneously collapsing in heretofore unknown failure modes. OTOH, people who are raised to believe whatever someone says God says are much easier to control than people who can do the math themselves. Is there any group of people out there who might benefit from an ignorant and easily-controlled populace?

    (sorry this is such a long rant, I didn’t have time to write a short one…)

    • Nice post, @CrazyH, thanks for doing it! I don’t follow your logic about the differential in grading, though. As you say, grade inflation is either bad for all fields or none. The difference between the two, in the same institutions, unnecessarily discourages the best and the brightest. At a school like Columbia Engineering, all the kids are brilliant.

      • > grade inflation is either bad for all fields or none.

        That works, maybe I didn’t quite get your drift. It’s just scarier when it’s an under qualified engineer than an under-qualified … oh … cartoonist for example.

        (cheap shot – couldn’t resist 😉

      • Oh, I agree, there’s a lot more at stake when engineer forgets to check out that O-ring on the space shuttle then there is when I fail to correctly conceptualize a drawing of the president, for example. But if you want to discourage people from studying engineering, keep grading them more harshly than the other kids.

    • @CrazyH

      I don’t know about you, but my school experience had zero emphasis on design or practical application of anything. Which is fine I think. It was all fundamentals of one kind or another, and when there were project based classes, these were just there to develop discipline for deadlines, train you to function under pressure, and train you to learn the some survival social skills (i.e., cooperate with fellow students to beat the system), and give confidence in walking into overwhelmingly complicated situations and breaking them down piece by piece into something manageable.

      When I went to work I had to do essentially another 4-5 years of learning before I became a steadily productive employee. Stuff like the value of simplicity, risk management, estimating projects you don’t know enough about, dealing with multi-person situations, actual technology, actual experience designing stuff, effective communication, time management when the deadlines react to you, survival social skills like dealing with real and perceived business needs, workplace politics, refining the BS detector and learning to use it on yourself, etc. The stuff you do in school pays off but not in the way that was obvious to me at first.

      Also a lot of this “round 2” education is cultural…. something to think about if you’re cutting costs by outsourcing– can’t really do it halfway. Might as well ship the whole entire organization overseas.

      • @PeteyBee (PTB?)

        > Might as well ship the whole entire organization overseas.

        Great idea! Why we don’t outsource the job of CEO? I bet someone in India could do just as good a job for 1/10,000 the salary. Hell, the boggle playing chicken could do a better job for … (wait for it) … chicken feed.

      • Forgot to add: enjoyed your post – college gave me the fundamentals and that’s goodness. What I didn’t expect was that it would change the way I thought about the world. There ain’t no problem so complex that I can’t solve it, I just need to break it into small pieces that I *can* solve.

  8. If you’re making a career choice based upon how cool your co-workers are, then tough shit for you. The warehouses of Best Buy are full of tattoo-wearing dudes who dig porn and metal, and use phrases like “fuck yeah” a lot. They also like to talk about how much pussy they get. So — if that’s who you want to hang with, accept the financial and career consequences. To whine about STEM types being uncool and using it as a basis for not choosing a STEM career is as off-the-charts dumb as it gets. I’ve never heard such bizarre reasoning, but there it is.

    • @ex, Social status matters. It may seem silly that working in a record store for $10 an hour is cooler than working with a particle accelerator, but it’s true and it means that science is losing some smart people to record stores.

      • It is a little validating to hear this from Ted. In high school and then in my little bit of college, I was taken aback at how dull my fellow ‘smart’ classmates were. It has made me question how much I would enjoy continuing college at least especially in biology. My parents tell me that I will like my classmates because we will have that common interest, but I think that is all we will have. I mean if the smart people in general classes were dull what are the chances of STEM people not being dull? I object to tunnel vision in life which you aptly called ‘careerist.’ It is not ‘dumb’ to want interesting colleagues. That is a big part of a career and therefore happiness in life.

      • @Jack

        I had some of the same experiences, but the world is different once you graduate. Smart people – especially REALLY smart people – tend to have diverse interests and skills. I know brilliant engineers who are also accomplished musicians, writers, movie producers, mountaineering instructors, karate experts, bikers, actors, poets … you name it. Some even have tattoos and potty mouths. (the karate expert / movie producer comes to mind. But then the biker/mountaineering instructor doesn’t have any tats.)

        I’m not sure why I didn’t notice this in school. Might be the much advertised lack of social skills – which goes right back to the fact that the jocks are the center of attention while the geeks get marginalized. Hard to develop social skills when you’re an outcast by definition. Might be the fact that the academic workload precludes much socializing. Might be the fact that intellectuals tend towards introversion.

        But to steal a quote from another group of unfairly stigmatized people, “It gets better”

      • If you think hanging out with dense tattooed losers that talk about how much pussy they ate and how rad the new Metallica is, fine. That’s your choice and you should live with it. Don’t bitch about making $10/hr because you thought those rad, pussy-eating dudes were the ones to hang with. Don’t steal my tax dollars to shore up your shitty life choices. Take responsibility for your actions.

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