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STEM/Humanities Dichotomy Fades Away as Dual Competence Triumphs in University and Workplace

May 15, 2020

To implement its national projects and S&T Development Strategy through 2024, Russia needs professionals who would be flexible enough to meet changing labor market demands as new technologies emerge. Is there a place in this brave, new, STEM-focused workforce for those with Humanities degrees and leanings?

Yes, there is, if Ural Federal University's (UrFU) latest Digital Humanities educational program is anything to go by. Designed in collaboration with SKB Kontur, one of Russia's leading software developers, it seeks to teach Humanities students general data processing skills that would fit them for employment in a variety of areas, from business analysis to linguistics. Anna Plotnikova, head of UrFU's 'Faculty of Philology' Department, who supervises the new program, believes that (as she puts it) a sociologist who is good at SQL should not be hard pressed to get a job in the modern economy.

Experts from other Project 5-100 universities agree that a dual STEM/Humanities competence has become a valuable asset in the labor market. Konstantin Vorontsov, leader of the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), says that a coder with a degree in Linguistics, Sociology or Law is very likely to be an in-demand, well-paid employee.

Experts are convinced that the STEM/Humanities dichotomy has had its day. At best a mere convention, it can cause real damage at school by putting children off science (or humanities, as the case may be) and lowering their self-esteem. According to Anastasia Tabolina, associate professor with the Higher School of Engineering Pedagogy, Psychology and Applied Linguistics at St Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU), everyone's soft and hard skills should be tested but a good teacher, while always encouraging students to pursue those subjects which they show an aptitude for, will also try and help them to master others. Anna Plotnikova points out that being labeled as a 'humanities' or 'sciences' person at school may lead some people to underrate their own abilities in later life. It is essential to avoid such pigeonholing by making schoolchildren see early on that intellectual development cannot be one-sided.

While those with a Humanities degree may struggle to become as proficient in a classical STEM discipline as the best in the field, they can easily carve out a career in a number of emerging industries that straddle the divide between the Humanities and STEM. By way of example, Anna Plotnikova mentions computer systems analysts who are required to have a knowledge of both their companies' production processes and end consumers' needs.

Importantly, employees that combine STEM and Humanities competences tend to be better at teamwork because they are more likely to understand and appreciate what their co-workers do. Professor Zoya Rezanova, who leads the Laboratory for Cognitive Studies of Language at Tomsk State University (TSU), believes that the future belongs to multidisciplinary teams whose members cooperate rather than compete.

While digital transformation increases the demand for multi-skilled workers, it also keeps employees on their toes to acquire new competences, all the more so because they are likely to pursue multiple careers over the course of their lives. Continuous education is now a norm, says Dmitriy Yakovlev, head of the University of Tyumen's Fab Lab.