When I tell people that I attend Bowdoin, I always receive one of two reactions: either the judgmental “What is that?” or the impressed “Oh, good for you.” For those in the latter group, the fact that I go to Bowdoin is enough to warrant praise. To them, the acceptance letter and degree progress hints towards a successful future. Within the walls of this institution, however, simply pursuing a degree is not enough; one must pursue the right type of degree. This belief, likely held by students across the country, is the myth of the “easy” major. 

This myth perpetuates the notion that certain majors are not as important as others. For most, the line between an impressive major and a “joke” major is drawn between science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the social sciences and humanities. Many people place STEM majors on a pedestal and regard others as inferior. This mindset seems to stem from the the belief that majoring in a STEM field will result in obtaining a practical and high-paying career. 

I delve into this issue as neither an apologetic STEM major, nor a scorned humanities scholar. In fact, my schedule this semester consists of two lab sciences and two humanities courses. I understand the struggle of spending hours in the laboratory and leaving to find that the sun is long gone. I also understand the exhaustion of watching the sun rise while trying to write a 10 page paper. As someone living both lives, I have begun to question the reasons for the perceived hierarchy. 

I have witnessed the aforementioned myth in action many times; from my mother’s caring, yet frustrating, push for me to focus on math and science to STEM elitism from students in my classes. When I return home for breaks, I often answer questions about classes and my eventual future with banter about my science courses only. I find myself instinctively dwelling on “Biogeochemistry” when people ask about my current courses, likely because I subconsciously want to talk about what I know sounds most impressive.
 Because of my science coursework, I have also heard this myth perpetuated from the inside. Stressed out STEM majors are quick to say they should “just be an English major.” While studying, my peers have looked at laughing students nearby and questioned how they have free time, reasoning that they “must be a sociology major.” Then, there’s the decades-old joke that psychology majors should study a “real” science. 

Though I see the trouble with this mindset, I do not intend to vilify these students; in fact, I have caught myself thinking similar thoughts on more than one occasion. Long nights in Hatch Science Library are tiresome, as are afternoons in lab. Degrading the work of others in order to place importance on your own is almost therapeutic. In essence, I believe that this phenomenon comes down to a very common, though underlying, need for validation, as well as a society-bred feeling of self-importance.

The ludicrousness of this myth is glaring once explored. First off, I find it hard to believe that any Bowdoin department could ever be considered easy. A rigorous curriculum is part of the Bowdoin experience, not the Bowdoin STEM experience. Humanities and social science majors may not spend hours in a lab, but this does not mean that they have less coursework than a chemistry major. 

At 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, some students might be found testing photosynthetic rates in Druckenmiller Hall, while others might be debating government policy in Hubbard. The world needs our generation to provide leaders in both of these fields. What makes one superior over the other? 

The difficulty of the departments is completely subjective; the perceived difficulty of each area will shift with each student you ask. Some people find that essays are a breeze, but struggle to complete their MCSR requirement. Likewise, a number of my friends in STEM find writing an “A” paper to be nearly impossible—these are often the same people who claim that the humanities are easy.

STEM elitism and the easy major myth undermine the importance of the humanities and social sciences. Claiming that certain subjects are useless or unemployable is not just elitist, it’s incorrect. Our world is indeed moving into an era where STEM majors have a plethora of options. However, I implore you to imagine a future without writers, performers, politicians, linguists, historians, psychologists, humanitarians, et cetera. Life as we know it would cease to exist. Frankly, I’m not so sure that is a world in which I would want to live.