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back to article You're more likely to get a job if you study 'social' sciences, say fuzzy-studies profs

There's great news this week for young persons who'd like to get a good job one day but don't want to do much work at university. A report just out says that actually there's no need to get a tough degree in real science, maths, engineering, medicine, IT or similar - in fact, you don't want one of those. What you want, …

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Anonymous Coward

Social work

What seems to be the problem with social workers? Most of them work far harder than any IT worker ever dose.

Also, you do realize that most real scientists and engineers (Including software engineers) see IT degrees as soft science degrees with very little hard content?

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Re: Social work

The (admittedly very sarky) article is talking about the amount of effort put into getting the degree, not the amount of work done in the relevant job, so your first observation is irrelevant.

And while I've always acknowledged that engineering students work a hell of a lot harder than IT students, your second claim needs some backing up. I did maths, physics and chemistry in addition to my CS degree, and while I found the former three tougher, the latter was hardly a cake-walk. Calling it "soft science" is just laughable.

And finally, the methodology employed by these "researchers" is disingenous, bordering on the outright dishonest. If that's typical of what's produced in the "soft-sciences", well, 'nuff said.

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Re: Social work

Computer science != IT

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Re: Social work

Agree, Lewis has allowed more than a whiff of intellectual snobbery hang around this article. Still good though.

Globalization has complicated things. Get a hard degree and you will be competing with engineers or physicists worldwide (for example), as well as the local population and immigrants. A "soft" career usually involves services delivered locally, and will face less competition. Yes, a Polish teacher can move to the UK, but teaching is not subject to intra-company transfers, remote working and the rest of it.

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Re: Social work

Thats funny.

Thanks for the laugh.

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Devil

Re: Social work

Social workers get paid crap. Clearly this one feels like a chump and needs to make up some nonsense to make himself feel better about it. The whole enterprise was carried out in a manner that tends to confirm everyone's biases against the social sciences.

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What social sciences actually do

They shamelessly screw around with the numbers to support their pre-conceived conclusions.

Include architecture, lawyering and teaching to construct one side of your argument then cutting them to make the other half of your argument seems perfectly acceptable to "social sciences", but gets you ridiculed in any real sciences.

Frankly, I don't even want these incompetents to flip my burger.

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Re: What social sciences actually do

Oh, they'd flip your burger fine.

The only problem is it would end up really well cooked on one side, but only lightly heated on the other.

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Wish I'd done a social science degree being honest. Sure I've earned a great salary and had plenty of travel and great career progression but something inside me just aches to be a "fluffy" and work in politics, HR or marketing. I love people and IT can be so anti-human at times.

And for the record, my boss is a psychology grad who taught dance for 5 years... she seems to be doing pretty well in IT, better than me in fact :( Maybe she just does the politics a bit better?

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Joke

The horizontal mambo, perhaps?

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Linux

"Wish I'd done a social science degree being honest."

I've just finished an Honours BA in Cultural Studies, a broad degree that included a number of disciplines. I really wish I'd had been abe to bring the ideas and underpinning gained in the degree into my IT career, especially the philosophical ideas from history that would really have helped me to position technology in life more accurately than technology likes to see itself. Like others, IT has been good to me, but like others, my IT ability grew organically rather than being studied for, and maybe that's the difference. But I don't think I would enjoy IT if it was too much of a specialism either.

Tux, 'cos I'm grateful to him too.

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Who would have thought learning to say "would you like fries with that" would get you a job?

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Actually the excellent thing about engineering and IT in particular is that you can be really, really average at it and still make a half-decent living.

How many mediocre developers do we all know who produce ok-ish non-brilliant sort-of-working-if-you-ignore-the-bugs code? How many have had long-term careers?

Soft-business - marketing, HR, manudjment, etc - is even more forgiving. You can do well in those jobs with a toxic, destructive personality and a negative skillset that destroys the value of other people's work.

The most demanding jobs are actually in the creative arts. People think you can waft onto a stage in a drug-fueled haze and waft off again after playing or singing a bit. The reality is the hours are long, the work is demanding, and - ignoring the obvious manufactured photogenic mop-tops - the only people who make it work are really, really good.

And even then the pay can be crap. A few ultra-successes make a mint, but there are a lot of jobbing session people with world-class skills who barely get by.

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Pint

ha!

I've watched people walk onto stage in a drug (alcohol) induced haze and perform for almost two hours just fine. Of course I also know someone who spent a semester in college drunk, stoned or both and ended up with a 4.0.

I, personally, type very well, and very fast, while too drunk to stand up (providing that I can still see.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ha! @theodore 14:08

"I, personally, type very well, and very fast, while too drunk to stand up (providing that I can still see.)"

Do you drive better too?

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Anonymous Coward

I thought psychology and sociology were all about asking WHY you'd like fries with that?

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Gav

Re: ha!

So you can hit keys fast. If you lie face-first on the keyboard you can churn out pages of stuff too.

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Anonymous Coward

Well they may have a point, particularly if you consider leadership by example

After all we have a PM who never had a real job prior to that, just "PR".

And I write as someone naturally inclined to vote for that party :(

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Anonymous Coward

Pschology

From my recollection Psychology specifically was most certainly not a soft option (I did a first year course). It was one of the hardest subjects to get a good degree.

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Coat

Re: Pschology

I disagree. My degree is in Electrical and Electronic Engineering*. A couple of years back, I was propping up the bar at the local, chatting to the barmaid who was in her final year of a Psychology degree. Anyway, for reasons that are unimportant, I offered to complete her dissertation. I read up her notes on working with autistic kids in a special purpose school, did a bit of research on 'Theory of Mind' etc. and finished it in a couple of evenings. We got a 2:1. I realise that a dissertation isn't a degree, but it gave me an insight into the psychology course, particularly in contrast to my degree. It isn't one of the hardest subjects in which to get a good degree.

p.s. The most important lesson I learnt from this episode was to never agree to be in a psychology experiment. You will be the subject, everyone else will be a stooge. Milgram anyone?

*Two degrees, I say. Like two teams, Dagenham & Redbridge...

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Re: Pschology

I disagree as well, where I studied had a large psychology dept, and a large engineering dept. Engineers could keep up/ grasp concepts in psychology discussions far more than the reverse.

There's absolutely no way that psychology is as hard as an engineering degree for a student both in complexity and sheer workload, the excuse of we have to do a lot of extra reading which is why we get more free time and do less lesson time trotted out by social sciences is crap as well.

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Re: Pschology

@ Symon:

Afraid that I disagree with you on this one.

I've got no experience of studying Engineering, but I did Psychololgy and Sociology at University and our course had one of the highest drop out rates on campus. Anecdotally, I put this down to two things - firstly, a lot of people took it on expecting to be able to understand their own issues and when it became apparent that it was not going to help them, they dropped out. I also suspect that people found it a lot harder than they expected and subsequently dropped out.

For the record, Psychology often gets labelled as a "soft science" and i believe that people mean that in a dismissive tone, that somehow it doesn't really "count". Really, that is not the case.

Look into some of the areas that Psychology addresses and there is a lot of depth. One of our modules was on Bio-Psychology, looking at neurons and brain mapping. we covered AI and human - computer interaction. We did a lot of work on research methodology as well, including a lot of statistics and Qualitative research... which is extremely hard to do well.

Strangely, i think there is a bit of crossover between a subject like Engineering and Psychology - mainly that they are both trying to understand the operation of complex systems. There are a couple of differences though... not least that with psychology you are stuck using the thing that you are trying to understand. It's a bit like trying to figure out how a car works whils you are driving it. Well, that and the fact that it's harder to take someone's head apart and look inside to see what is going on.

But one thing that you are right about is volunteering for experiments. Milgram got people to voluntarily administer electric shocks of hundreds of volts* to innocent third parties... and all he had to do was ask. I still find that incredible even now.

*(Yes, i know all about the experiment... but it was real to the person giving the shock. Those were the fun days before those damn ethics committies spoiled all the fun...)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pschology - Milgram has been replicated!

Surprisingly the Milgram obedience studies have been partially replicated within the last few years (only 150 "volts" rather the original 450). It was published by Jerry Burger in 2009 in American Psychologist (IIRC). In case you are wondering... the results were relatively similar.

What most people don't know about Milgram is that he spent ages refining his procedure before he began collecting data. He designed a series of verbal prods to encourage people to continue when they started to protest. The actual transcripts of the experiments show a whole lot more argumentation going on than is generally suggested by textbooks.

There are also undocumented instances where the experimenter pretended to go off and check on the "learner" and would return and tell the "teacher" (the real focus of the experiment) that the person was ok and had consented to carry on with the shocks. So Milgram was great at coming up with eye catching ideas, but he didn't report all this extra stuff so most people don't know about it (not such good science).

[AC because I'm a psychology lecturer and I don't want you all kicking me for teaching/researching a "soft" science!]

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Re: Pschology

My experience of soft sciences, (gained from having to explain how to work word processors and printers to people), is that the bulk of the degree is producing dissertations which consist of endless references to other peoples work in books and journals, with a very small amount of original wording to glue it together.

Given the poor quality of IT graduates I've seen recently, perhaps these days they too can get their degrees by writing a hundred lines of code, and cut and pasting large chunks of standard libraries in to their source.

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Re: Ps[y]chology

Obviously, I can only go on anecdotal evidence. Yes, Lewis really took the piss with the published work, and I cared enough, I might even read through the actual paper. But as Can't think of anything witty... said, Psychology is not an easy subject, and it's no more a soft science than Computer Science is the same as IT. Accounting for differences I've seen between the US and the UK, psychology tends to pad the early courses with the Freud and Skinner, because they are often used as classes for general education credits and it's easier than trying to learn about action potentials, anatomy, and neurochemicals.

My experience is that most psychology professors laugh, outwardly even, at the crap produced in the early to mid 20th century that is passed off as psychobabble in media today. It's only those who want to major in psychology that get introduced to the neuroscience, psychophysiology, chemistry, and the like. Once you are there, the first thing you learn is statistics... real statistics. And not just how to use Minitab, but the logic and rules behind the theory of statistics. You also learn the same research methods found in medicine and science, like lab procedures, ethics, etc. It's all there. And it's not easy.

And personally, I work in IT, or would if my current company hadn't worked hard to keep business and system analyst hybrids on the business payroll (I'm sure it makes the accounting easier). My math and analytical background from psychology has opened more doors than if I had signed up to learn programming languages in college (in retrospect, it would have opened more doors to have at least learned some along with my degree, even if I didn't want to go through those doors right away). Not to mention the stigma in interviews is not nearly as bad as what IT folks experience (I'm assumed to have people skills... ha!)

I also love the bitter grapes that people have over "working hard" in college, while assuming others did not. I knew CS majors and math majors who were just as likely to sleep through class, get drunk every night, and still stumble to the finish line and get a degree. Psychology had them as well, and if my brother's description of his engineering university is anything to go by, they probably lost more engineers to drowning in their own vomit than academics. It's what college students do, and some can handle it, others cannot. To belittle an entire field of study because you don't understand it is rather ballsy, especially when there is nothing other than your own bias and superiority complex to back it up.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ps[y]chology - @Eric Olson

I tend to agree. Not only the statistics, but the attitude I learned to statistics doing experimental psychology has stood me in good stead over the years. Psychology really comes into its own when you reach management level and can read all those textbooks people have written on the subject without your eyes glazing over, because there is pretty good advice there if you can understand it. Are you a near-Aspergers engineering nerd? Do experimental psychology on the side for the day you need to motivate a team, then read the book and do what it says, because you're good at that.

And that's before you get started on avoiding the pitfalls of user interface design.

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Advice given to an ex-colleague

He came out of university with a 1st in history. After a few jobless years he asked his university careers people. They suggested teaching. He asked his college mentor who also suggested teaching and added "if the worst comes to the worst, there's always computing". Which is how he ended up in an IT company.

So far as employing social scientists, this extract from the report is telling:

recruit social science graduates because they have the skills of analysis and communication that our economy and society needs

Though personally, I'd think that what "our economy ... needs" is people who actually make stuff.

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Good job?

Does senior executive stock replenishment specialist at Tesco count as a good job?

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Nice dig at "liberal arts" students there. As someone with a degree in history and languages I'm pretty sure I worked a damn sight harder than the science students at my college, most of whom spent their entire time memorising facts without understanding them. And as someone points out above, you're just showing your ignorance if you think a good psychology degree is easy to come by.

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Bashing the liberal arts

Now that's an interesting observation, and it's made me think a bit:

If you think that science degrees are all about rote learning, then you're clearly ignorant of the courses in question. But of course, that's because you never did them.

And by the same token, having never done a psych, history or language course, I'm not really in a position to pass meaningful critique on your efforts, either.

Natural aptitude also comes into it. Even if there was some "objective" measure of the effort needed for a particular course, it would still depend on the individual student. I'd probably have to work much harder than you if I wanted to do a history course, and you'd probably suffer horrendously doing mathematics at university level.

But one measure I did use at 'varsity (way back last millennium) was "membership of the Student Representative Council" (which I detested, for reasons too long-winded to go into here.) None of them were STEM students. You may argue that politics is a natural extra-curricular activity for many classes of liberal arts student, I argued that "real" students didn't have the time to muck about sticking their noses into everyone else's affairs! (Tongue firmly in cheek, there.)

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Re: Bashing the liberal arts

If you think that science degrees are all about rote learning, then you're clearly ignorant of the courses in question. But of course, that's because you never did them.

No, I don't think that all science degrees are about rote learning. The college I went to was just particularly poor in that area, as it didn't encourage analytical thinking - although that is something of a common complaint about UK academic institutions compared to those on the continent.

As for something like history, it's supposed to encourage information gathering, analysis and critical thinking. Just a pity in my case that I caught the tail end of the 1960's generation of tutors, who favoured starting with a pet belief (Marxist, radical feminist, etc) and then selectively picking information that supported it, all the while ignoring the overwhelming evidence against. For example, I was asked to research the European with craze, with a strong hint from the tutor that it was a male attempt to subjugate increasingly assertive women. Somewhat blown out of the water by the fact that more men were persecuted for supposedly being witches than women. That kind of stuff was why I switched to languages.

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Anonymous Coward

Blah..

I don't think the ease at which a degree is obtained is the point, it's how worthwhile it is to have. I mean, why do you need a degree to be a social worker? You just need common sense, a good human nature and a basic understanding of the legal side of things which could be learned on the job in some kind of placement scheme.

As an bog standard Honours IT graduate I walked into a decent job that pays me very well, I know people with PHd's in philosophy who still can't get work years after graduating.

When I was at Uni the hours of pure lecturing were on average double that of anyone doing a noddy social science subject and then you need to add on all the tutorials and coursework which involved a heavy amount of coding and documentation.

The researchers cited in this article are typical of the kind of person working in such a soft industry, desperate to justify their existence. The facts are if you study a STEM subject you are more likely to get a good job.

The labour government are mostly to blame for forcing inadequate children into soft university courses because they had no other choice.

Don't worry though, someone's got to make sandwiches for the Astronauts.

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> I'm pretty sure I worked a damn sight harder than the science students at my college, most of whom spent their entire time memorising facts without understanding them

You've just demonstrated that you have no understanding of what engineering or science is about, and just reciting a fact that you believe to be true but is actually wrong. sci/eng not about committing facts to regurgitating them on demand. sci/eng is about understanding and applying those facts, often in a way that has never been done before. The answers to course work and questions do not exist in text books, just remembering stuff is no good without understanding them unless you want to fail.

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Re: Bashing the liberal arts

> As for something like history, it's supposed to encourage information gathering, analysis and critical thinking

Ah, I see why history can require more effort that science now, it's not like science requires anything like that. We only had to turn up every morning/afternoon, learn some stuff and go home. BTW, stem subjects in my experience required at least twice as much attendance at lectures and tutorials/labs as none stem subjects .

What does make stem subjects easier in a way is it's usually easier to figure out if you are correct rather than hoping your beliefs/opinions match that or the person marking your paper.

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Anonymous Coward

@wikkity

"You've just demonstrated that you have no understanding of what engineering or science psychology or social sciences are about, and just reciting a fact that you believe to be true but is actually wrong. sci/eng Social Science (is) not about committing facts to (memory and) regurgitating them on demand. sci/eng Social Science is about understanding and applying those facts, often in a way that has never been done before. The answers to course work and questions do not exist in text books, just remembering stuff is no good without understanding unless you want to fail."

Fixed that for you...

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You've just demonstrated that you have no understanding of what engineering or science is about

I better stop working as an engineer then - I must have just been winging it for the last 17 years.

sci/eng not about committing facts to regurgitating them on demand. sci/eng is about understanding and applying those facts, often in a way that has never been done before.

No it's not. Most engineers can get along by just adhering to the rules without necessarily understanding them - innovation, which should require understanding, is typically a niche requirement for students and most people working in engineering jobs. And notice I said innovation "should require understanding", as I've seen many people doing it by little more than trial and error.

The answers to course work and questions do not exist in text books, just remembering stuff is no good without understanding them unless you want to fail.

For undergraduates of course the answers exist in text books. You don't think every engineering student is required to innovate do you?

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Re: Bashing the liberal arts

If your university was trying to teach science by rote, then it would never have had people pass, not with any grade that would be useful in the real world.

Analytical thinking is the foundation of science. If you can't analyse, you can't follow a path from hypothesis to conclusion. Half the problems are about removing personal bias and belief, which, it seems, your history teachers were actually advocating (so, not really teaching "history", but how to discard factual basis to create a revisionist agenda). So, it doesn't seem to have covered information gathering (more information hiding, and bias selection), analysis (you're not analysing anything in that setup, merely trying to select partial information to fit a preconceived stance), and definitely seems to be turning critical thinking on its head.

So, you reckon the science departments were teaching poorly, but you were taught well?

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Holmes

"I better stop working as an engineer then - I must have just been winging it for the last 17 years."

--> Resignation accepted. Clear your desk.

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@wikkity

RE: "You've just demonstrated that you have no understanding of what engineering or science psychology or social sciences are about, and just reciting a fact that you believe to be true but is actually wrong.

I do actually, my sister is a social worker and I helped her a lot with the statical work that she needed to cover. A lot of respect for that field and extremely beneficial to society.

An ex, who I met at university and lived with for 2 years studied psychology, but the subject bored me so I never paid attention so your posting is 50% true.

However I don't think I mentioned either of these subjects, I was not actually referring to any subject at all. I was merely was responding to someone was stating a science course at university level was about learning facts. That would that there analysis skill mentioned scientists apparently don't learn.

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says

Science and Democracy sounds an odd combination.

Is it science by consensus?

"Yesterday we repealed the second law of thermodynamics, because it was causing problems with our perpetual motion machines."

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Re: says

Your example of the second law of thermodynamics would not be science by consensus; it would be science by diktat. Science by consensus is when things like climate change (or is it global warming?) and the safety of MMR vaccines are determined by newspapers and politicians after gauging public attitudes.

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Re: says

To paraphrase Homer Simpson: "Lawndart, in this country, we OBEY the laws of thermodynamics!"

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Re: says

"Science and Democracy sounds an odd combination.

Is it science by consensus?"

Basically, yes. See The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn

Scientists are people too, and when they get together in groups they behave like groups of people.

Looking at James Wilsden's bio, he used to be the Director of the Science Policy Centre at the Royal Society so he's not likely to be an eejit.

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/291621

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soft is good, mostly

I did sociology and geography for A-level in precisely the hope that it would be a bit of a free ride but unfortunately these subjects are as hard as any other. I never want to think about rice production in the Po valley again.

I made a similar mistake by assuming that being technically good at IT was the only thing. Not that it isn't but in my experience career progress is more strongly indicated by the ability to put yourself about and become well-known as someone who can influence others.

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Re: soft is good, mostly

> I never want to think about rice production in the Po valley again.

OK, I'll bite. What on earth have the Teletubbies got to do with knowing about where countries are?

(It's probably a good thing that I was told at age 12 that I couldn't do geography any more).

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I studied Politics

To give me lots of free time to drink coffee and beer - and there were a lot more girls on the course than in the science subjects - and it was easier. I did zoology in my first year and it was much harder than the two social sciences so I abandoned it.

Still got a job. I doubt employers pay much attention other than -degree? yes- to be honest, unless it is a very specific field.

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I see El Reg has become one of those elitist ‘my degree is better than yours’ types, when in fact the same type of snobbery can be applied to IT by people that hold “tough degree(s) in real science, maths, engineering, medicine”.

“IT? You got a degree in fixing computers? How much was practicing telling people to turn it off and on again?”

There is no such thing as a ‘soft’ degree, there are ‘filler’ degrees (David Beckham studies) and degrees that extremely focused to be impractical and just for a interest, but to imply that a recognized degree in psychology, geography or a language is an easy ride compared to a degree in IT is just incorrect.

What this study is showing is that people with a degree in a subject that is not focused on gaining a job in that subject field don’t all end up doing the same job. Shock Horror.

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Maharg,

“IT? You got a degree in fixing computers? How much was practicing telling people to turn it off and on again?”

Thanks for proving your own ignorance there. You clearly have no understanding of what it takes to gain an IT degree;

1. Computer Science subjects of all kinds from OOPSE, to Artificial Intelligence and all points in between

2. Management Subjects - Project management, Marketing, logistics etc etc...

3. Social Science subjects - Behavioural and cognitive understanding combined with Design, reasoning and other psychology type classes. With a smattering of Law thrown in for good measure.

At no point in my 4 year course did I learn how to fix a computer. Don't get a proper University degree confused with a worthless diploma from a former Polytechnic dump....

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Do'h! @The Quiet One

>“IT? You got a degree in fixing computers? How much was practicing telling people to turn it off and on >again?”

>Thanks for proving your own ignorance there. You clearly have no understanding of what it takes to gain >an IT degree.

I have an IT degree, I work in IT, and thats why I am on an IT forum, the comment was an example of exactly what this article is saying about other subjects.

Thank you for proving my point!

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@ The Quiet One

" ... a worthless diploma from a former Polytechnic dump."

Again, you illustrate his point. Next round please.

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