Thursday, April 5, 2007

College Majors - An Interesting Survey

It's 10 PM, do you know what your child in college is studying?
A recent Hartford Courant article, reported what the popular majors were in various colleges.

What surprised me in this report is that UConn's most popular undergrad major is psychology. The number of psychology majors at UConn has grown from 500 students in 1998 to an all-time high of 1,400. That doesn't follow any kind of national trend. The Courant also reported that about 60 percent of UConn's psychology majors go on to graduate school, with 40 percent of them pursing advanced degrees in psychology.

The question is - do we really need more psychologists? And what is the appeal factor here?

Well, the report says that undergrads at UConn are drawn to the psychology program because it offers appealing professors, the chance to do some research, and a major that covers both natural and social sciences.

According to the report:
The psychology department has also worked hard to win more research grants and now ranks fifth in the country in federal funding for research out of 550 psychology departments. The department brings in $11 million in grants a year, up from just $2 million in 1998. That helps to attract some of the best graduate students and to allow undergraduates to do research.
More than 400 psychology undergraduates work on research teams every year and last year, 96 research projects were produced with undergraduate students' names on them. These students are doing cutting-edge research in areas such as Alzheimer's disease, autism, cancer and harassment in the workplace, and also learning along with graduate students.

Getting grant money has been a major focus at UCONN. Teachers and administrators feel that if they don't get grant money then they aren't doing their jobs. Personally, I'd be interested to know where the grant money is coming from. I do know that pharmaceutical companies tend to fund these research programs very heavily. Pharmaceutical companies have a big stake in producing more psychologists who will be prescribing drugs or making referrals to doctors who do.

But really now ... why psychology? The article suggests that many kids see psychology as a "soft science major", one that doesn't need too much "hard science" background, like high school biology, physics, and chemistry.

Psychology is also all over the media. The kids know Dr. Phil from Oprah, and Dr. Laura from radio. You don't often see or hear physicists, chemists or astronomers as part of pop culture, although Bill Nye the Science Guy was a big item.

The other draw seems to be that since more students come to college with their own "diagnosed" psychological problems, or they have relatives with problems, they tend to be interested in finding out more about illnesses like attention-deficit disorder or Asperger's syndrome, or depression. The thing is that psychology doesn't directly prepare students for the job market, like a nursing or pharmacy degree does. People say that it does seem to offer a broad range of career options. Kids can take those psychology degrees and go to law school, or into the social field, cognitive field or counseling field.

I remember when I went to college in the late 70's (yeah I am that old) that the popular major was Sociology (like we needed more Sociologists). Everyone wanted to be a Margaret Mead or something. Kids back then wanted to go study some culture in the Amazon that never saw a radio before. That was cool; so was studying the chimps in the science lab. Then I guess in the 80's the popular degrees were MBA's and Computer Science. There was such a glut that it wasn't uncommon to see MBA's waiting tables. In the 90's I think we saw more Law and Education majors.

I only wish we were producing more graduates in hard sciences and more engineers. We are on the cusp of some major technological shifts and changes, especially in energy, and while we need smart business people - we also badly need the students who will become the scientists, innovators and creators of the future. The other unfortunate thing is that employers are really struggling to find good prospects in the computer field and in nursing. We are having to import people from India and other countries to fill those jobs. That's a shame.

In any case, I find it fascinating to see what the "major du jour" happens to be. But it looks as if the college with the most grant and research money is the place to be.

One last thought: Born from 1977 to 1986, Generation Y, or the Millennials, is a potential force of as many as 40 million. The first wave of Gen Ys is just now embarking on their careers. That's a sobering thought if you are my age - sigh.