Thursday, August 30, 2012

Philosophy And Physics Are The Highest-GRE-Scoring Majors

Via Physics Central, I'm proud to link to the new pdfs laying out the best majors in terms of GRE scores: philosophy and physics.  Of the four dozen majors surveyed, the physicists tied with the mathematicians and mechanical engineers for being the best at quantitative reasoning, while the philosophers are the best at verbal reasoning and analytical writing.  Both philosophers and physicists perform very well at the other field's specialty as well.  This is basically how the results have turned out for the last several years.

I don't know whether we philosophy professors are actually making our students better at verbal reasoning and analytical writing, or whether we simply attract the students who are best at those things. My guess is that both factors play a role.  I don't know which one is bigger.

But the next time you hear people talking about how we should promote the STEM fields -- I think it's science, technology, engineering and math -- you might want to suggest modifying it to the STEMP fields.  Uh, I guess that's not as good an acronym.  I guess you could do TEMPS, but that's not exactly the career that our top college graduates are aiming for.  Clearly this is what's holding philosophy back.  


Max Kingsbury said...

I think the argument for STEM promotion is that STEM jobs pay well, and are increasingly harder to fill, with less students studying them. Getting good results on the GRE is great, but it's a different goal than politicians like Obama are trying to promote.

Daniel Nolan said...

Physics is in a three-way tie for highest in quantitative (with mathematics and material engineering).

Neil Sinhababu said...

Thanks, Daniel! Fixed.

Max, I guess I'd want to look at the GRE as a test of genuine skill here. There are plenty of well-paying jobs that require good verbal reasoning and analytical writing. It's not quite as specialized a skill, but the economy requires a bunch of people who think clearly and communicate complex ideas effectively, and getting them is worth some investment.

Anonymous said...

Nice post about GRE math score

Cornelius said...

Physicists would stack up even better if you only compared native English speakers. Physics departments are ~50% Chinese at most universities. I don't know the figure for philosophy but I doubt it's anywhere close to 50% non-native English speakers.

Incentivizing more students to go into STEM fields is a bad idea. We've already created an imbalanced market, with far too many students going into those fields than the market demands.

Full disclosure. I have a PhD in theoretical physics but left the field to make my money in business. Whenever I speak to STEM-inclined kids now, I let them know "If you're smart enough to do science, you're smart enough to make a lot more money doing something else."
A physics major gives you the mental training to solve hard problems. Those problems don't need to be in physics...