In the spirit of owning my own words publicly, here are some thoughts I shared on a friend’s Facebook page about the value of my higher education degrees. My friend’s question: “Has anyone ever studied the attitudes of persons with bachelor’s degrees toward the value of a postsecondary education as it correlates with field of undergraduate study after 20 or 30 years? Are hard sciences graduates more likely than most to describe their undergraduate years as well-spent, or less? Liberal arts? Business administration?”
I am, in fact, a hard-sciences major with a liberal arts minor undergrad, and an MBA, so I am either supremely qualified or un-, depending on how you value the respondent’s ability to make up one’s mind in evaluating whether you want to listen to the answer.
Regarding physics, I have felt for the past twenty-five years or so a deep gratitude for what it taught me about approaching deep problems, learning by hypothesis and disproof, and the necessity of striking out beyond one’s comfort zone when it becomes clear that one has spent four years getting a degree whose value depends on one’s willingness to spend another twelve years in and post-school and embrace a life of poverty in government funded labs of uncertain stability. They don’t ask me to talk about the last one to modern SPS students.
Regarding my English minor, I believe it gave me a lifelong appreciation for the well-chosen word and for our bloody-minded language, as well as appreciation for history, philology, semiotics, and half a dozen other things I never studied but which were hinted at darkly among the edges of my curriculum.
And business? Little poetry in it, but considered as a sociological study for the alien tribes with whom I’ve spent my latter career, it’s been invaluable preparation.
So, no, none a waste of my time. But I’d argue that choosing any undergraduate major for preparation into a lifelong vocation is not only wrong-headed but shows a dangerous lack of imagination or a distressing naïveté, or both. (I really thought my father’s 30+ career at NASA was the norm when it came to the longevity of employment in the sciences.) But choosing majors that arm the mind with intrinsic skills for future battles—that’s different.