The most valuable college majors will prepare students for a world right out a science fiction novel.
- The future of work is going to require a range of skills learned that take into account cutting edge advancements in technology and science.
- The most valuable college majors in the future will prepare students for new economies and areas of commerce.
- Mathematics, engineering and science related educational majors will become an ubiqitous feature of the new job market.
The future of work is going to be something beyond our wildest dreams. Our universities and future crop of students cannot afford to fall behind in this incredibly new and competitive environment. While fears of automation taking away all our jobs are largely unfounded and overhyped, many professions will cease to exist. But the foundations for entire new spectrums of commerce and education are already being laid.
We may be in the infancy of a new space age, where we'll need structural engineers to build Moon buildings and lawyers who can fight for their clients in new land domains outside of Earth. Personalized medicine may turn a regular old trip to the doctor more akin to a cosmetic enhancement appointment.
The students and citizens of the future world need to be prepared. These seven most valuable college majors take into account short-term job growth prospects, future relevance and need for problems we've yet to face.
Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineering
Bill Ingalls NASA via Getty Images
Aeronautics and aviation technology is a major area of growth both on this planet and off of it.
In the nearterm, expected employment rate is estimated to grow 5 percent by 2020. These degree programs focus mostly on aerodynamics and mechanics, preparing their students to either become pilots or focus on applied engineering.
Most aerospace programs have a rigorous curriculum designed to produce only the best engineers and weed out those that can't hack it. Students will be learning about thermodynamics, flight mechanics and on the space side – spacecraft design, orbital mechanics and more.New heavy hitters like billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk are all funnelling billions into rocket companies intent on exploring and colonizing our closest celestial neighbors. That's not even taking into account the booming drone business taking to the skies here on Earth and established institutions and companies like NASA and Boeing advancing into space.
The underpinnings of our greatest technology is written in the language of math. While Americans in primary schools may not be faring that well in the subject, it's still vitally important to understand as a precedent for a multitude of scientific disciplines. With an unemployment rate of only two percent and high paying salaries right out the gate, applied mathematics is a necessity in almost every field.
Someone highly skilled in mathematics can take established techniques and apply them in new ways in emerging fields. Mathematicians are highly prized in research institutes, chemical manufacturers and within start-ups.
Photo by Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images
Advertising is a dynamic field that is continually changing as new media mediums emerge into the fold. Writing ad copy once reserved for print advertisements now flows out from our smartphones and pervades the digital realm as we explore virtual worlds.
The future of augmented and virtual realities will bring about a multi-trillion dollar industry run off the back of advertising dollars.There is an expected ten percent growth by 2022. Massive companies like Alphabet and Facebook solely exist because they've created a new need and space for companies and customers alike to connect. Commerce will never tire of the marketing or ad executive.
Future electronic Mad Men will sell you trips to orbital resorts. Holographic screens will advertise the best place to get a genomic tune up. There will always be a need to advertise.
The robotics field has been active nearly since the early 20th century. Myths and the history of automatons is as old as human civilization. But the field has never more exciting than it is now. While some universities offer standalone robotics degrees – skills needed to enter the robotics field usually come from a number of different engineering degrees.
The robotics field is so vast with specialized niches growing in number everyday. Skillsets range from programming to mechanical engineering. A good background in computer science or engineering is a plus. But it really depends on what type of aspect of robotics you want to study. Even psychologists could be useful in the event our robotics become conscious, we'll need every skill set and variety of human expertise involved for our new silicon creations.
Many scientists believe that the next best programming language to learn has been with us forever – at least as far as the biosphere is concerned. DNA is the language of life and it's something we're realizing can be programmed, augmented and made greater than it already is. The future of medicine and how we view ourselves will be dependent on the next great artists… Biological artists will use the minutatie of DNA as their new pastels and paint brushes, the body as the ultimate canvas.
We may be a long way from tweaking the genomes of our new children and one day genetically engineering full grown adults, but with tools like CRISPR-Cas9 – we're on our way there. Currently bioengineers work in hospitals and build medical devices among other things. The field is as broad and varied as life's genome itself. Within the next ten years the job market is expected to grow by 7 percent.
Some people liken understanding how to code nowadays as being on par with literacy a thousand or so years ago. While we won't all need to be proficient in writing C++ and querying databases, the computer wizzes who can are the ones speaking the language of the computational zeitgeist.
There is a large need for information technology and software engineering related jobs. The foundations of our society are all online and connected. Core computational knowledge will be a necessity as we build new super computers and delve into the exciting world of quantum computing. Employment of software developers alone is projected to increase by 24 percent to the mid 2020s.
Signing of the Outerspace Treaty
As long as humanity exists there will be disputes. Lawyers are the ultimate arbiters of dispute between individuals, nationstates, and corporations. Space law is an exciting and growing new field. Diplomatic policy between the many new actors in space is a must if we're to live in a peaceful and prosperous new era.Right now the Space Treaty is our piece of old legislation that governs the great beyond. That was also written in a time when we knew nothing of our capabilities and desires to spread through the stars. These problems were reserved for far out science fiction writers, but not any longer. With NASA giving out space law grants to universities and Ronald Reagan-esque proclamations about the new Space Force coming from President Donald Trump, people are seriously thinking about our future in space. And for that, we'll always need more lawyers.
Why do scientists look down on philosophers? And are they right to do so?
Each semester, I teach courses on the philosophy of science to undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire. Most of the students take my courses to satisfy general education requirements, and most of them have never taken a philosophy class before.
On the first day of the semester, I try to give them an impression of what the philosophy of science is about. I begin by explaining to them that philosophy addresses issues that can’t be settled by facts alone, and that the philosophy of science is the application of this approach to the domain of science. After this, I explain some concepts that will be central to the course: induction, evidence, and method in scientific enquiry. I tell them that science proceeds by induction, the practices of drawing on past observations to make general claims about what has not yet been observed, but that philosophers see induction as inadequately justified, and therefore problematic for science. I then touch on the difficulty of deciding which evidence fits which hypothesis uniquely, and why getting this right is vital for any scientific research. I let them know that ‘the scientific method’ is not singular and straightforward, and that there are basic disputes about what scientific methodology should look like. Lastly, I stress that although these issues are ‘philosophical’, they nevertheless have real consequences for how science is done.
At this point, I’m often asked questions such as: ‘What are your qualifications?’ ‘Which school did you attend?’ and ‘Are you a scientist?’
Perhaps they ask these questions because, as a female philosopher of Jamaican extraction, I embody an unfamiliar cluster of identities, and they are curious about me. I’m sure that’s partly right, but I think that there’s more to it, because I’ve observed a similar pattern in a philosophy of science course taught by a more stereotypical professor. As a graduate student at Cornell University in New York, I served as a teaching assistant for a course on human nature and evolution. The professor who taught it made a very different physical impression than I do. He was white, male, bearded and in his 60s – the very image of academic authority. But students were skeptical of his views about science, because, as some said, disapprovingly: ‘He isn’t a scientist.’
I think that these responses have to do with concerns about the value of philosophy compared with that of science. It is no wonder that some of my students are doubtful that philosophers have anything useful to say about science. They are aware that prominent scientists have stated publicly that philosophy is irrelevant to science, if not utterly worthless and anachronistic. They know that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is accorded vastly greater importance than anything that the humanities have to offer.
Many of the young people who attend my classes think that philosophy is a fuzzy discipline that’s concerned only with matters of opinion, whereas science is in the business of discovering facts, delivering proofs, and disseminating objective truths. Furthermore, many of them believe that scientists can answer philosophical questions, but philosophers have no business weighing in on scientific ones.
Why do college students so often treat philosophy as wholly distinct from and subordinate to science? In my experience, four reasons stand out.
One has to do with a lack of historical awareness. College students tend to think that departmental divisions mirror sharp divisions in the world, and so they cannot appreciate that philosophy and science, as well as the purported divide between them, are dynamic human creations. Some of the subjects that are now labelled ‘science’ once fell under different headings. Physics, the most secure of the sciences, was once the purview of ‘natural philosophy’. And music was once at home in the faculty of mathematics. The scope of science has both narrowed and broadened, depending on the time and place and cultural contexts where it was practised.
Another reason has to do with concrete results. Science solves real-world problems. It gives us technology: things that we can touch, see and use. It gives us vaccines, GMO crops, and painkillers. Philosophy doesn’t seem, to the students, to have any tangibles to show. But, to the contrary, philosophical tangibles are many: Albert Einstein’s philosophical thought experiments made Cassini possible. Aristotle’s logic is the basis for computer science, which gave us laptops and smartphones. And philosophers’ work on the mind-body problem set the stage for the emergence of neuropsychology and therefore brain-imagining technology. Philosophy has always been quietly at work in the background of science.
A third reason has to do with concerns about truth, objectivity and bias. Science, students insist, is purely objective, and anyone who challenges that view must be misguided. A person is not deemed to be objective if she approaches her research with a set of background assumptions. Instead, she’s ‘ideological’. But all of us are ‘biased’ and our biases fuel the creative work of science. This issue can be difficult to address, because a naive conception of objectivity is so ingrained in the popular image of what science is. To approach it, I invite students to look at something nearby without any presuppositions. I then ask them to tell me what they see. They pause… and then recognise that they can’t interpret their experiences without drawing on prior ideas. Once they notice this, the idea that it can be appropriate to ask questions about objectivity in science ceases to be so strange.
The fourth source of students’ discomfort comes from what they take science education to be. One gets the impression that they think of science as mainly itemising the things that exist – ‘the facts’ – and of science education as teaching them what these facts are. I don’t conform to these expectations. But as a philosopher, I am mainly concerned with how these facts get selected and interpreted, why some are regarded as more significant than others, the ways in which facts are infused with presuppositions, and so on.
Students often respond to these concerns by stating impatiently that facts are facts. But to say that a thing is identical to itself is not to say anything interesting about it. What students mean to say by ‘facts are facts’ is that once we have ‘the facts’ there is no room for interpretation or disagreement.
Why do they think this way? It’s not because this is the way that science is practised but rather, because this is how science is normally taught. There are a daunting number of facts and procedures that students must master if they are to become scientifically literate, and they have only a limited amount of time in which to learn them. Scientists must design their courses to keep up with rapidly expanding empirical knowledge, and they do not have the leisure of devoting hours of class-time to questions that they probably are not trained to address. The unintended consequence is that students often come away from their classes without being aware that philosophical questions are relevant to scientific theory and practice.
But things don’t have to be this way. If the right educational platform is laid, philosophers like me will not have to work against the wind to convince our students that we have something important to say about science. For this we need assistance from our scientist colleagues, whom students see as the only legitimate purveyors of scientific knowledge. I propose an explicit division of labour. Our scientist colleagues should continue to teach the fundamentals of science, but they can help by making clear to their students that science brims with important conceptual, interpretative, methodological and ethical issues that philosophers are uniquely situated to address, and that far from being irrelevant to science, philosophical matters lie at its heart.
Subrena E Smith
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.