Making Your Humanities Background Count In A STEM-Centric World

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Just one look at the job advertisements makes it clear: the departments advertising most consistently for new staff appear to be in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) subjects. But if your academic background is in the arts and humanities, there’s no reason for despair: the following fields and roles can allow you to be part of this growth, enriching the learning of STEM students as well as your career.

Medical humanities. Most medical schools now require students to study the area of medical humanities. It’s a multidisciplinary undertaking, covering the impact of religion, culture, psychology, media, and the arts on the practice of medicine.

Medical sociology. What do nurses really think about doctors? What is the lifeworld of a modern hospital? Why are Black men more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white men? These are the kinds of questions medical sociologists can answer, investigating the experiences, beliefs and interactions of patients, staff, families and cultures.

Human geography. This field uses mapping and investigation of spaces and places to better understand both physical places and the people who create, live in or utilise them. Researchers use a blend of quantitative and qualitative methods, and interpretive insights may come from psychology, anthropology, history and other disciplines.

History of medicine. There are few subjects more fascinating than the relationship human beings have with their bodies and minds, and the interaction between health, illness, disability and culture. Many medical historians work closely with doctors and other medical professionals, as informants and co-researchers.

History of science. Science, too, has a history that includes topics like the experiences of innovators, the social impact of their work, and why people accept or reject scientific beliefs. Until recently, the history of science focused on knowledge of the natural world, but technology and ICT now have their historians as well.

Science and technology studies. This relatively new field looks at how scientific and technological changes may impact society, and vice versa.

Medical and scientific illustration. Once a niche for artists who could depict the inner workings of bodies or atoms, this rapidly growing area now includes videographers, animators and graphic designers as well.

Education. Specialists in education are needed across the board to improve how STEM subjects are taught, and to help us understand problems that occur with on-the-job learning, such as staff resistance to new hospital sanitation processes.

Digital humanities. This field at the intersection between humanities and technology uses high-tech tools, such as algorithms that can be employed to search massive worldwide archives, to research traditional humanities topics.

Digital humanities shows the way that skills derived from STEM subjects can have a synergy with humanities interests. There are many other collaborative areas, such as fine arts and archaeology experts mastering digital investigation, restoration, recording or recreation of historical artifacts, from documents and paintings to 3D objects; multimedia projects exploring the social impact of new technologies and medical procedures, and so on.

Philosophy, history, sociology and other humanities disciplines have the power to help make sense of how our world changes, and to help STEM practitioners consider ethical and human issues. Explore the links under “resources” to gain some inspiration regarding potential new directions for your humanities expertise.


Art as Applied Medicine, Johns Hopkins University 

Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester

Digital Humanities, Kings College London

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