Want a job? Study science.

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Nov. 10 2011 10:00 AM

Want a job? Study science.

[UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that some of the conclusions I draw in this post are in error. To help correct these, I have written a follow-up post. It might be best to read that one first, but if you read what's below first please do go and read that one as well, to clear up any lingering issues.]

Via my pal astropixie I heard of a database of college majors compiled by the Wall Street Journal based on the 2010 Census. Looking at people who took those majors in college, it lists their median incomes after finding a job, the popularity of that major, and perhaps most importantly given the situation these days, the employment rate for that major.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.

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I took a look, and listed the jobs by the lowest unemployment rate, asking, essentially, "Which jobs had the best chance of getting you a job after college?" Here's a screen grab of the top ten:

I highlighted one in particular: Astronomy and Astrophysics. Note that it has a 0% unemployment rate; in other words, last year everyone who majored in these fields got a job! Now, I find myself being a tad skeptical about this, but if there's some weird thing going on with this survey, I can at least make the broad assumption that the relative job numbers are probably OK. Majoring in astronomy is still a good idea, and will strengthen your chances of getting a job after college.

But look at the list more carefully. Ignoring actuarial science and pharmacology, three four of these ten majors are science-based (pharmacology, astronomy, atmospheric sciences, and geological engineering -- yes, that last is not technically a science, but is science-based). If we broaden our look to science and technology, the list grows longer (especially if you go beyond the top ten).

In other words: want a job? Study science. I'll note that the list doesn't say if the students got jobs in those fields, but in fact this strengthens my claim: learning science trains you in a way that makes you employable. I have friends who left astronomy after grad school and got jobs doing climate modeling, computer game server programming, economic forecasting, and more. Once you learn the methods of science, you're better prepared for working in other fields as well. I'm proof of that as well.

But here's the irony: a lot of folks in the government claim they are all about making sure Americans have job opportunities (although they seem to be maniacally spending most of their time worrying about other things). Yet many of these very same folks are doing everything they can to destroy science education in this country.

Interesting paradox, isn't it? If you want Americans to have good prospects out of college, find good jobs, and contribute to society, it seems to me that teaching science and technology are the very things you should be supporting most. And that's not the only reason; if you support antiscience, you might find businesses leaving your state, looking elsewhere for a place that's more reality-friendly.

In my opinion, we should be teaching everyone science because that is the same as teaching them reality. Everything we know and understand about the Universe is from science. We owe our lives to medical science, and we owe our economy to the technology it's birthed. But if you want a more concrete reason, now you've got one: science pays.

And when government turns its back on science, we all pay.



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