Humanities in the STEM World — Supplemental Blog 5

I’ve always questioned why as a STEM major why we were required to take some of the humanities courses. Certain courses are completely justifiable, like English and other writing courses, however I never could understand why I was require to take a film video studies course, early American history, world dance, philosophy, and psychology. While I can admit they are interesting but I don’t think they had any profound impact on making me a better engineer. Considering those credit hours probably cost me somewhere on the order of 10,000 dollars I was less than enthused I had to take them/ spend this money. I think at the time I thought that this was just the university’s way to make more money or pad stats for those departments. I don’t want sound arrogant / now I have a better appreciation for having had taken those courses but  I  wanted to look at articles justifying the need for better rounded students.  That way I could maybe give my students a better answer to this question.

I think this quote does the argument for teaching humanities a lot of justice “The humanities are more about questions than answers, and we’re going to wrestle with some ridiculously big questions in this class. Like, What is truth anyway? How do we know something is true? Or rather, why do we believe certain things are true and other things aren’t? And how do we decide whether something is wrong or right to do, for us personally or for society as a whole?”  I do think in this day and age we have become a society that holds since as the ultimate truth. I do think the humanities help us become better thinkers and question some of the science . It also helps us better postulate arguments and reasoning in such a digital age. I would also argue that studying the humanities helps create more 3d people. Sure I can be an all-star in my field but if I can’t relay what I am thinking or researching what good will that do me? I think the humanities help us become more social and creative writers and orators. What do you guys think?


How Educated is too Educated? — Supplemental Blog 4

One of my advisors always told me one of the only reasons to get a PhD was to go into academia, while that is what I plan on doing I always questioned this statement. I have heard of cases where people leave their PhD off their resume because they thought it made them look too over qualified. The thought behind this is that they can’t offer you realistic compensation biased on your education, or you are hard to work with. I’ve also head the argument that those 4 years of work experience are more important than doing a PhD. So today I am going to look at this notion of if a PhD actually makes you overqualified for most jobs.

An article that examined the process of newly minted PhD’s looking for jobs had this told to her during one of her interviews  “Places don’t want to hire a Ph.D., who they will have to untrain, and then retrain. They want someone with a bachelor’s or master’s degree who doesn’t have any bad habits and will likely be willing to work for less pay”. I can understand this mentality but it is a little surprising that interviewers would be so forward with her. Also I find it interesting that people just assume that PhDs have bad habits, I mean isn’t the point of a PhD to really show people that we can adapt and learn new things?

One other thing I took from that article that is kind of a negative of a PhD but is the core of a PhD is that our research is highly specialized and we are leaders in that very specific field. I think a lot of the time this aspect of a PhD probably harms us or does not really help us. These fields are highly specialized and I’m assuming that there aren’t a ton of jobs focused around these areas.  As statistic from this same article stated that 20% of PhDs eventually get tenure track position. So my question is what are the other 80% doing? Do they just leave their PhD off their resumes ?

I will say don’t quit your PhD tomorrow there is indeed hope for us. I think also it is much easier to find people opinion articles about being burned by having a PhD than people writing about the great successes they have had outside of academia. I did find it hard to find actual figures on PhD employment.  I think the answer to this question is the typical answer of yes and no. It is probably very cases dependent upon your field of study and the kind of job you are looking for. Regardless I think all of us could agree we would most likely regret leaving our programs biased on others opinions. What do you think does it help or hurt in industry ?


Discrepancies in Faculty Pay — Supplemental Blog 3

We talked about this briefly in the class but I wanted to take a deeper look at the subject of faculty pay and the factors that influence them. A study completed by the National Bureau of Economics found that professors are paid about 15% less than others with advanced degrees. The question is why as academics do we continue to peruse such a rigorous career as a faculty member ? I think there are a lot of upsides of being a faculty member to name a few: flexible schedules, summers “off”, being able to pursue interesting research topics, and good benefits. I would honestly take a pay cut for a lot of these freedoms. I also think there is such good variety in what we do that it is never trivial or boring. While professors get an across the board pay cut compared to other professions, what differentiates within the field of faculty?

Looking at data provided by the AAUP’s Faculty Compensation Survey, which can be viewed here:, the first thing that really jumps our at me is the difference in pay of professors at public vs private universities. On average professors at private universities get paid 20% more. I could see why this happens, considering how much more private universities tuition costs but realistically you are getting pretty comparable education. Also I feel as if every year I hear about pay cuts to the state budget for higher education, which cant help the situation.

Another surprising fact that the AAUP’s data highlights is the pay inequality between men and women. I would think at this level of education the wage inequality between men and women would be much smaller. However men typically make 10% more than women, and in some instances there are cases where they are making almost 20% more. I am in shock that these numbers are so high. I really don’t understand how people rationalize this kind of thinking. One thing I might comment on/ a potential saving grace is that these figures are not looking at field of study. I question how we can allow this kind of backwards thinking to still occur? What are the potential fixes to such disturbing number? Do we need more men to accept pay cuts in order to redistribute the salaries more equally ?

The last thing I was curious about was the discrepancy between professor’s salaries and fields of studies.  Again looking at the AAUP’s data there are some stark contrasts between pay discrepancies and fields of studies. As one would expect people in the STEM and business get paid substantially more those of the humanities. Looking at average starting salaries of assistant professors for Business ($114,000), vs English ($58,000). The business professors are getting paid just about double! I question how these salaries are determined. Is it a function of the amount of money each department brings in, or how many students are enrolled in each department ? How do they rationalize these big pay discrepancies ?

I’m curious to hear others thoughts on these all these inequalities in the our profession.


Underpaid and Overstressed — Supplemental Blog 2

Being a PhD student I was curious to see if other grad student sometime feel the anxiety I do about the rigors of our programs. Be it ensuring funding, meeting research/school deadlines, or just the crazy hours of this life I wanted to see if there was any actual research done on the subject.

Here are some of the key findings of a study done by (Levecque et al. 2017) looking at mental health of PhD students :

  • One out of two PhD students will experience psychologic distress during their tenure
  • One in three PhD students is at risk of a psychiatric disorder as a result of the work
  • Mental health issues is more prevalent in PhD students that the highly educated general population
  • Low pay and high expectations are ideal condition for susceptibility to depression, substance abuse and anxiety.

The American Psychological Association has also has similar finding / numbers on instances of mental health. Given that this is clearly an issue that cannot be ignored what can we do about it ? Obviously people aren’t going to stop doing PhDs, and the work load isn’t going to change.  So maybe if we expose this problem and make it less taboo we can have a serious discussion about it. I will say I think VT has a good process/exposure as far as getting help if someone needs it. Again I do think it would be beneficial if we made the issue of mental health more common place. I think if we talked/provided info about the resources we have here during graduate orientation that would be a big help.

Above I discuss different methods about coping with these high stresses, however other have proposed that we need to change the status quo. There have been some discussions about the formation of academic unions so student can report unethical treatment and also advocate for better working conditions. While I think this sounds great I think it is unrealistic. Also the graduate student government kind of already advocated for some of these things. However, I think this is to a much smaller degree.

In all I think this a going to be a constant problem regardless of the future. I just hope that we can provide people with the help they need and make talking about the issue of mental health more socially acceptable.


Levecque, K., Anseel, F., Beuckelaer, A. De, Heyden, J. Van Der, and Gisle, L. (2017). “Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students.” Research Policy, Elsevier B.V., 46(4), 868–879.

Gender Inequality in Higher Education  — Supplemental Blog 1

I recently heard through a podcast (Abroad in Japan) about a case of pretty absurd gender bias.  I could not believe that this injustice happened in this day and age. I was skeptical of what the podcasters were talking about actually happened so I went to find another article on it. As it turns out it was actually true!  Tokyo Medical University was intentionally altering all the entrance exam results for every woman who applied. They were trying to intentionally make it harder for women to get into the university.  I don’t even understand how the people doing this rationalized doing so.  I also am in shock that there was not some sort of checks and balance in the system that did not prevent such a travesty. How many people were colluding to allow this to happen ?  In this blog post I wanted to further examine this case, and also in general look at the statistics of women in higher education.

The only reason this ongoing bias was uncovered was by chance.  There was an unrelated investigation of Tokyo Medical University concerning a cases of bribery with high ranking officials.  In turn for favorable treatment when applying for research funds an education ministry’s son was admitted.  While they were looking at the admittance it was discovered that for at least the past 10 years entrance exam scores were being altered. All women taking the exam had their score reduced by 20%. As if that did not worsen women’s chances enough but every man applying received additional points on their exams. Added points were case dependent but as many as 20 points were added to males exam scored.  The rationale for this blatant sexism and altercation to women’s tests scores was because it was believed women would have children and this would get in the way of their careers.  The people overseeing the test scored only wanted serious candidates being admitted to the university. Many others also believe that the scores were altered because they believe that some people held the opinion that women are harder to work with. I question how many women were unjustly denied entry because of this injustice? What system can be implemented in the future to ensure this does not happen again  ? what actions if any can be taken to make reprimand to the women that denied entry?


Tuition… at What Cost ?

I knew form the instant I read this prompt what I wanted to write about. The ever increasing prices of college tuition in the US.  I think that people should not have to take somewhere on the order of 20,000 to 80,000 dollars’ worth of debt just to obtain a college education.  It puts you at such a disadvantage as far as starting your life. I think due to the pressures of having to payback huge debts, people settle for jobs they normally would not.  I think the extremely frustrating thing about college education is that this increase in tuition costs is a relatively new thing. I feel as if my parents generation did not have to pay what people do now. I say this in the sense that the strength of the dollar and peoples wages have not increased with the amount that college tuition has. One other point that I would like to make before I look at some facts/numbers, is that it is astounding to me how inexpensive attending universities in other countries is. I think this was really highlighted to me when we had different presentation in this class from international students. I could not believe that people could go to university for as little as 1,000 dollars a year. The tuition gap seems almost unbelievable.

In a previous point I stated that I felt that even between my parents generation and mine the cost has college tuition has grown dramatically. Well here is the proof:

My father graduated high school in 1969 and the cost for him to attend a 4 year university was around 10,000 dollars. 40 years later, in 2019, when I started college the cost was around 30,000 dollars. Take this with a grain of salt because this is for private universities, as shown in the graph above. However I think the trend (at least double) is most likely true for public universities as well.


After looking at tuition rates over the years I looked at census data adjusted for inflation into today’s dollar amount. The median income in 1969 would have been 45,000 dollars, 40 years later in 2009 the median income was 55,000 dollars. The increase in college tuition cost is 3 times higher than it was when my dad attended university while the median income increases 1.22 times. My question is what has drastically changed over the past 40 years that can account for this hike in college tuition? Even then how can we justify this when we look at other countries that are paying a fraction of these costs ?



What is Open Access and How Does it Apply to Civil Engineering

Considering I was not entirely sure what an open access journal entails I figured determining what an open access journal is was a logical place to start. In short, open access grants pretty much anyone access to a journal article and the ability of unrestricted distribution as long as the authors are cited.  The caveat to publication in a journal (online or hardcopy)  is that the article must be supported by a well-established organization (university, government agency, scholar group, etc..).  Really the idea behind the movement is biased on good faith. The authors of articles are putting their faith in people who read these articles to cite them. With the idea being it is community ethics instead of copyright laws that will enforce citations.

The premise of the open access movement is to allow dissemination of knowledge (via the internet) more easily. With the idea being there are not a couple of large scientific journals in a given part of the world, but a huge scientific journal that everyone can access.  It could advantage both sides of the research spectrum in the sense that smaller developing countries can access information they typically would not have access too and also larger research institutions will not have to pay fees to be part of a journal.

I will say while I think this sounds like an ideal scenario. I think a major thing it has going for it is the fact that the translations of journals into different languages will be an easier process / yield better translation. This is solely because we will have a lot more people reviewing these journals. While this sounds like a utopian idea I have my doubts that it will actually work.  I wonder if havening this huge open forum will actually hinder publication. While there might be more journals I think the number of applicants would be a lot higher. While this is not necessarily bad we will need more reviewers and staff to manage the journals. What will be the incentive for people to organize these journals if they are not given a salary?

The open source journal I looked at is the Journal of Civil & Environmental Engineering, while the journal does not have a location it has an editor board from all over the world . The journal has two pillars upon which it was founded. To publish the most exciting research and to provide rapid turn around of absolutely free research articles. They do a good job describing open access and their views align with the views I described above.