How to Study at University

Practical tips and general thoughts on how to study at a Western university

The strange case of the vanishing jobs – Part 3

Posted on | September 28, 2011 | No Comments

Point: You don’t know what jobs will exist in the future

Why do many arts and science majors end up in higher managerial jobs than business or vocational majors?

This was the question I ended Part 2 with.

Not a bad question, is it?

It does seem strange that people who studied business or engineering are often not the ones managing a large engineering company, for example. It seems even stranger that the ones who are managing it are English or history or biology majors. Or some other unrelated subject.

So what’s happening?

Here is what is probably happening.

Engineering majors train how to do engineering and are hired to do engineering.

Business majors train how to read a balance sheet, how to understand the time value of money, and how to manage a project and are hired to do those things.

Of course, some of those engineering and business majors make it to the top managerial jobs. They have valuable expertise and knowledge. It would just be silly not to have some engineers and business types around helping to manage a large engineering company. 

To think

General arts and science majors train how to approach a problem and analyse it; how to indentify causes of situations, predict outcomes, suggest alternatives; how to think critically. What they think about varies a lot – language, algebra, human society, politics, history, zoology, education – but that is their training. They learn how to think.

I’m not saying that engineers and vets and nurses and lawyers and doctors and farmers and pilots and surveyors don’t think. Obviously they do. But when you are training for a job your focus is understandably on what you are studying – metal, nerves, water, trees, land, buildings, software.

When you are not training for a specific job your focus is, to a larger degree I think, on how you are studying, on how you are thinking about your subject. Can you support what you say? Are you using the best theory? Are your conclusions verifiable?

Transferable skills

What you are learning are transferable skills. And the most useful transferable skill of all, especially for middle and top managers, is how to think.

What does this mean for the two types of students?

If you are studying for a specific job, keep studying and get that job. If you enjoy your job and stay in your profession you will probably end up earning a lot of money. If you want to become a manager, you could end up earning even more. Either way, when you get your job, start and keep asking questions. One of the best questions to ask is, “Why am I doing my job this way? Is there a better way?” Develop your critical thinking skills.

If you are studying liberal arts or science, keep studying and get a job. Then treat every task you do at work like a problem in your subject. Analyse it, predict outcomes, suggest alternatives. Use your training in critical thinking.

But remember – both of you – that the people you work with are … well, people. And people have feelings and opinions and hopes and dreams. And they may be better thinkers than you.

Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be rude. Don’t be a know-it-all.

You may be right – and, hey, you may be wrong – but I can tell you now that you’ll go a lot further in your career if you’re also liked.



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