Opinions

Are You Smarter than a STEM Student?

Emily Kulp ’19

Over winter break, my sister had an appointment at our doctor’s office. While she was in the room getting her check-up, the nurse practitioner asked her what her major was to determine her stress levels at school. When she responded that she was studying Political Science, the nurse responded, “Oh, that’s fine. You probably are not that stressed out then.” When she came home and told me the story, I was not so much surprised as I was reminded of a conversation I have been having since my middle school years.

The kids who excel in the humanities are smart, they get good grades, they write well, and they are often consistently up to date on current events. The kids who study math and science are the geniuses. They are the students that always got asked to explain the calculus homework. There are levels of intelligence, and some kinds of intelligence do not make the cut, or simply are not a “difficult” field of study.

Intelligence goes beyond solving a math problem that takes an entire page. Having strengths in different areas does not make students or even those in the professional world any less competent or challenged in their day to day life. Some of the smartest individuals I have met to date would not be able to solve a derivative if their life depended on it.

This theme is not exclusive to my eyes and ears, nor my schooling growing up. It is everywhere, even on the Holy Cross campus. We perpetuate the stereotype of smart being equivalent to a STEM student, and while these students are exceptional, putting their studies on a pedestal can be dangerous. As a society, we give certain areas of work more status than others. For example, those who work in the medical field are typically considered more successful, or better off than most writers. While there are exceptions to this norm, more often than not, others’ perceptions of your success are contingent on the work you do, or hope to do, in the professional world.

Coining doctors, accountants, and engineers as the kinds of careers the smartest students find themselves in leads other students to steer clear of studying the humanities or the arts. These kids are told they will not make enough money to support themselves, or that the chances of success in these fields are slim to none. Although many people ignore these comments and pursue careers based on their own visions of success, it can be dangerous to maintain the idea that science and math are the quickest paths to success.

At its core, the concept of students in STEM fields being smarter than others comes from the way society has defined success. There is no specific correlation between success and lucrative careers. Many people agree with this, but less people actively carry out the idea and make money less of a factor in the equation. Choosing a career that excites and fulfills you is worth more than dragging yourself out of bed to get a bigger paycheck at the end of the month. Although money cannot be removed from the equation entirely, the role it plays is large, arguably larger than necessary, in determining what it means to be a successful adult.

All of these fields– science, math, English, politics– they all have their own importance. The world would be a much different place without doctors and engineers, and that is not lost on me and my personal views. My opinion stands that being a doctor or an engineer is not the only pathway to success, nor does pursuing a career in that field make someone any more intelligent than others who choose different paths. Intelligence is not defined by what you study, but how you study and what you take from it. It does not fit one mold or one certain area, and that is often forgotten when dictating who the smartest kid in your chemistry class is.

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