the STEM vs humanities divide

Through Sarah dalton, SciTech Sub-Editor

English student Sarah Dalton explores how students of the humanities can and should engage in science.

Become the only humanities student to edit EpigramThe SciTech team was always going to be a little intimidating. Other than involvement in the Youth Strike for Climate movement, I had no real scientific knowledge when I applied for this position as an English student almost a year ago.

My A-levels had been fully grounded in the humanities and modern languages, and my circle of friendship throughout school was a budding bunch of English, history, and classics nerds. Science, I had decided long ago, was not for me.

Science, I had decided a long time ago, was not for me | Epigram / Edward Deacon

The unspoken war between STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the humanities has been around for years, and the arts and sciences are constantly pitted against each other.

While some view STEM students as cold and less sensitive to the complexities of human existence, others would argue that the humanities as a field is losing its modern relevance in a science-based world. One only needs to quickly browse Bristruth’s Facebook feed to understand the relevance of this divide to the University of Bristol.

# Bristruth31967 I swear if I hear the words ‘history is not a difficult subject’, from the mouth of another STEM person, I will start a civil war

Posted by Bristruths on Friday, January 15, 2021

In England, subject specialization begins earlier than almost any other country in the world, with 14-year-olds often being made aware of the disciplinary divide when asked to start considering GCSE selections.

The government’s shift in focus on funding STEM research also reflects the change in society’s attitude towards the humanities which is ‘a waste of time’ as I was informed when I decided to study English.

The global push towards STEM subjects, especially for women, is simultaneously pushing for an education that separates the sciences from the arts instead of valuing both disciplines for their skills.

When asked if they ever felt pressured to choose between the two fields, a sophomore computer science student explained, “ Back then, STEM subjects were what I loved and I liked. felt I was good at these things, so I should do them. Now looking back, I wish I had chosen more than one mix because a lot of humanities topics became important, and I started to find it more interesting.

A second year ancient history student added in a similar vein that: “ I decided to drop biology at A level because I wanted to focus on my essay writing topics because that was the path. career that I wanted to follow. I miss scientific learning and therefore regret it in this sense.

“ We are told that our minds are either creative and more social science oriented or scientific and literal thinking ”

“I miss scientific learning” was never a phrase that I had associated myself with before joining the SciTech team. However, having edited countless articles on gene therapy, robot muscles, revolutionary vaccines, and even scientifically perfect cider, it couldn’t ring truer.

The idea that by choosing a degree in the humanities, a person is unable to actively engage in scientific and technological advancements is frankly ludicrous.

Like many humanities students, I found myself searching for a copy of The New Yorker and fleeing New Scientist due to an inherent belief that I was not sufficiently informed or “scientific enough” to understand its contents. This is not true. If you fail to commit to a scientific article, the problem is not in your ability to understand, but in the writer’s ability to explain.

As one English and History student put it: “We are told that our minds are either creative and more social science oriented or scientific and literal thinking, and we end up putting ourselves in that box. Our job now is to break this box.

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So even though I am graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and not a BSc, I hope to come out of college with a better understanding of the scientific and technological world around me, and the knowledge that science is open. to explore and enjoy.

For those looking to engage more in science, I would recommend visiting We the Curious in Bristol, browsing a copy of New Scientist or Epigram’s SciTech section, or try the abundance of compelling documentaries available on streaming services to see what interests you.

Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O’Neill


Have you ever felt compelled to choose between STEM subjects and the humanities?




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