STEM and liberal arts are different areas of study (and degree programs) but they’re quite complementary in today’s modern workplace. Exploring both will not only make you more marketable in the world of work but will give you a deeper understanding of what’s needed for organizations to flourish in the future.
Maybe the most notable difference is that STEM fields of study teach hard skills, like science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, while liberal arts focus on soft skills, like communication, critical thinking and leadership. Technology is moving at an accelerated pace, but human-centric skills are still necessary to provide direction in this digital age. Technology must reflect the humans it serves; this is where liberal arts come in to advise the STEM space.
STEM occupations are expected to grow 8% between 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while non-STEM occupations are expected to grow just 3.4% in the same timeframe. Demand for STEM skills far outpaces supply — and liberal arts graduates can help bridge the gap. You don’t need a STEM degree to identify problems and solve challenges.
Here are three ways a college liberal arts education can boost your STEM career potential.
STEM employees don’t work in a vacuum with other STEM employees, which means they need to communicate effectively with people who don’t have specific STEM knowledge. Often, for science to progress, there has to be buy-in from stakeholders, policyholders and the public. Without the training to orate and persuade, a professional’s STEM knowledge won’t make it very far — literally.
Scientists and engineers are often required to write papers and proposals, provide an explanation of technical concepts and give presentations. Clear communication is key to ensure they’re painting an accurate picture that’s engaging to their audience. Additionally, collaboration and innovation are imperative in the STEM fields and both require sharp communication techniques to facilitate.
STEM training promotes critical thinking because, in math and science, there is an expectation of solving the problem. You must research, test and come up with a concrete solution to problems in these fields. This training sets a precedence and helps keep you curious in other aspects of career — and life, in general. Once you’ve been trained to think about all aspects of a challenge, you’ll be analyzing everything in life. Just watch!
Layering a proper liberal arts education on top of STEM training will help university grads understand the importance of thinking critically. It’s necessary to ask the right questions, analyze and interpret data, make well-informed decisions about how to approach projects and determine use cases for findings. Without an interest in how discoveries affect the outside world, we’re limiting science’s potential.
According to the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2021, the top challenge CEOs cited (55% of those surveyed) was “developing the next generation of leaders.” They acknowledged how critical it is to hire effective leaders to drive future success in their organizations. (After all, these are the people challenging the norm and pushing our population forward.)
And every field needs leaders. A liberal arts education can provide the skills necessary to become a successful leader, including in the STEM space. Relationship-building, conflict management and decision-making are all skills that will help advance your career whether you’re currently in a position of leadership or not. Considering all the data and evidence, analyzing it and making a well-informed, well-thought-out decision can make or break a company.
If you’re interested in a STEM career, seek out a college and program that provides the liberal arts foundation that can complement your science, technology, engineering and math skills.