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STEM or Humanities? | Upcoming Events++ #10

++Being conscious role models to kids

Quote of the Week

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” – John Adams, Founding Father of the United States

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

This week’s main post ‘What to Pursue: STEM or Humanities’ makes a case for interdisciplinary learning and delaying specialization (even within STEM or Humanities).

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out the upcoming events section on how to join the club. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.

Alert!- there’s an event at 730 PM IST today (Fri, June 11) for high school students interested in pursuing a career in AI. Scroll down for details.


What to Pursue: STEM or Humanities

Upcoming Events (Free & Paid; both external and GenWise events)

Parenting: Being conscious role models to kids

What to Pursue: STEM or Humanities?

You may be at a point where your child is contemplating whether to pursue STEM or Humanities in high school or college. Or the choice of STEM or Humanities may be clear, but the choice of which specific subject within the broad area may not be clear. A large part of this answer has to come from the individual child herself, based on her interests and strengths.

In this article we offer some perspectives to be considered while making such choices.

Remember that knowledge cannot be broken into silos

Irrespective of whether a student chooses to study STEM or Humanities, he or she needs to realize that tackling complex problems generally requires an interdisciplinary approach. Thus, apart from depth in one area, it is good to have a broad appreciation of multiple disciplines. It is possible to gain this broad appreciation through the choice of subjects in school/ college or reading outside of the curriculum/ attending out of school programs.

GenWise mentor, Radha Gopalan, shares through this blog post, an experience she had with a group of grade 11 and 12 students some years ago. This experience brought home to them the importance of looking at any situation as a whole rather than as compartmentalized silos.

The topic of study in this residential school was Solid Waste Management. Instead of sticking with the textbooks and discussions in class, Radha decided to get the students to trace the journey of solid waste from their school to the final disposal site.

A visit to the site showed them that it was a dump yard where waste was piled in large heaps with no systematic sorting, treatment or contained disposal systems. A few dogs were digging into the waste piles. The students also noted that the site was located close to a few small villages who would have to deal with the stench from the site. This led to an extensive discussion on the ecological impact of the waste on soil, groundwater and air (they learnt that the waste is periodically burnt here to reduce the size of the piles) and how it compromised the health and lives of people in the area: people who did not have the means to move elsewhere or protest the presence of this dump in their backyard.

Following this visit, students held multiple meetings to discuss the issue and finally implemented 2 options to limit the waste being generated by the school by way of biscuit wrappers. One was to write to biscuit manufacturers to supply their requirements in reusable containers and another was to bake the biscuits themselves.

Radha says-

Contrast what students learned here with how the issue of solid waste is covered in conventional school curricula: there the focus is on describing different categories of waste, management of waste by recycling and reusing, treatment technologies, impact on the ecological environment. Its relationship with our lifestyle, policies, governance, socio-economic impact are not considered. As a result children see this as a ‘problem out there’ that can be solved with technological options. Understanding the network of relationships between our lifestyle, our choice of goods and services, how they are packed and delivered and the much larger issue of waste management at a city level puts the whole issue in perspective. It allows us to cut through the artificial compartments of subjects and disciplines and see the issue as a whole rather than as fragments. This then allows us to respond and make changes in an integrated manner at the critical points to address and possibly mitigate the waste issue.

When one has an appreciation of multiple disciplines, one can bring multiple perspectives to responding to a challenge. In the second part of this short clip, GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri talks about how the issue of rash bus drivers was addressed through very different perspectives in New Delhi and Kenya.

(You may also want to check out Radha’s upcoming course ‘STEM or Humanities’ in the Upcoming Events section.)

There are risks to early specialization

Early specialization may not be a good idea for many students, because you may be committing to a field too early before figuring out if it is the right one for you. Some students specialize as early as high school and most specialize in their undergraduate program. Do note that there are many specializations possible even within STEM or Humanities.

We share below excerpts from the book ‘Range ‘by David Epstein, in which he shares insights from research on this subject by Northwestern University economist, Ofer Malamud.

Malamud wanted to study the significance of ‘match quality’- a term economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are- their abilities and inclinations. His idea was that an individual could achieve higher match quality by delaying specialization, and he wanted to study the trade-offs between early & late specialization.

He found a natural experiment in the British School system, where for the period he studied, English and Welsh students had to specialize before college so that they could apply to specific narrow programs. In Scotland., on the other hand, students were actually required to study different fields for their first two years of college, and could keep sampling beyond that.

His key findings were-

College graduates in England and Wales (early specializers) had higher incomes at the start of their careers as they had specific skills.

However, they were switching fields more often after college/ beginning a career (compared to their later-specializing Scottish peers), even though they had more disincentive to switch, having focused on that field.

Despite starting out behind in income because they had fewer specific skills, the Scots quickly caught up. 

With less opportunity to sample different subjects, more students headed down a narrow path before figuring out if it was a good one. The English and Welsh students were specializing so early that they were making more mistakes than the Scottish students.

Malamud’s conclusion was

“The benefits to increased match quality . . . outweigh the greater loss in skills. Learning stuff was less important than learning about oneself. Exploration is not just a whimsical luxury of education; it is a central benefit.”

Some undergraduate programs offer alternatives to early specialization

Many US universities do offer opportunities to study ‘uncommon’ combinations of subjects e.g. computer science with anthropology. A unique program from Northwestern University is the Northwestern Integrated Science program. The course website says-

We believe the most effective way to prepare for a career in one science is to be immersed in all of them. If you’re seriously considering a career in science, research medicine, or engineering you should consider ISP.  

However, the most common way of delaying specialization is to do a Liberal Arts degree. GenWise mentor, Navin Kabra, says-

A Liberal Arts degree, which in the west is one of the more common routes to higher education, is relatively new and mostly unknown in India. The defining aspect of most of Indian higher education is the early specialization—students choose a stream (Science, Commerce, Arts) after 10th, and a branch (Computer Engineering, Mechanical, English, Psychology) immediately after 12th. Liberal Arts colleges are springing up in India to fix this.

Read more about what Navin has to say on this subject in his blog post here. He has also listed a few colleges which offer liberal arts programs in his post.

Upcoming Events

Events @GenWise Club Lounge

‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ Film Viewing- Sat, Jun 12, 4 PM

Some of the GenWise Club members are huge fans of this franchise. GenWiser Sarayu will facilitate watching the movie and discussing the storyline, plot and the overarching themes.

‘Psychology of Money’ Book Discussions- starting Sun, Jun 13, 3 PM

The facilitator, Vishwesh (a GenWise parent), says, “Recently I stumbled upon this book called “Psychology of Money” which shares 19 short stories exploring the strange ways people think about money and teaches you how to make better sense of one of life’s most important topics.

Let us come together and listen to these stories every Sunday and discuss our learnings. These readings will help build a wealth mindset and learn from the experiences of other people. It will also give a lot of perspective into things like- why people do crazy things with money, luck and risk, compounding, getting vs staying wealthy, how everything has a price, etc.”

Harry Potter Quiz- Sat, Jun 19, 4 PM

Our first Quiz edition is a Harry Potter-themed one! While the first round has trivia from all the hidden nooks in the series, the second round is picture-based, encouraging students to analyse visuals and identify answers. There’s no shortage of fun as students explore their favourite books through quizzing and have a bit of healthy competition! GenWiser Sarayu is the quizmaster.

How do I join the GenWise Club?

Check out this link for more about the club. To join-

Get an account for you and/ or your child on Discord

Use this invite (valid till June 17, 2021) to join the GenWise server. If the link doesn’t work, please send a whatsapp message to Vishnu on 9342247734 to receive the latest invite link. (Or email

Direct Message (DM) Vishnu with your full name and details (child/ parent, grade, school) once you slide into The GenWise Club!

External Events

Prepare in high school to pursue AI in your college/ career- Fri, June 11, at 730 PM IST. The session is conducted by Dr. Ashwin Rao, Adjunct Professor in AI at Stanford University and Vice President of AI at Target. He says “If any of your kids in high school wants to figure out how to get prepared (during high school) for further studies and a career in AI, I am doing a one hour talk addressing high school students in India on this topic.” The zoom link for the meeting here. (Free)

Talk to a Scientist who scuba dives to work in a lab that is the bottom of the ocean bed! – Join ‘Talk to a Scientist’ in their next episode where Dr. Kshitij Tandon will discuss how and why we need to protect our ocean life. Check out this facebook post for details. Saturday, June 12 2021, 5-6 pm IST. For ages 6-16. Register here. (Free)

Can We Learn From Insect Societies? is a talk by award winning scientist Dr. Raghavendra Gadagkar as part of the series ‘Kaapi with Curiosity’ by ICTS. The talk is on Sunday, 20 June 2021 from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm. For more details and to register, click here.

Many insects organise themselves into societies with division of labour, communication, conflict, cooperation and altruism. Insect societies resemble human societies in many ways and are arguably more efficient than ours in some ways. So, can we humans learn anything from insect societies? In this talk Dr. Gadagkar will attempt to answer this question in the affirmative.

History of Neuroscience- the case of Phineas Gage is presented by Synapse Society on Tuesday, June 29. Click here to register your interest.

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Details of at least 3 GenWise courses coming up (out of 10+ courses listed here), are shared below. Early registrations can avail an early bird discount.

Parenting: Being conscious role models to kids

GenWise mentor, Sowmya, came across this poster recently and shared it in our internal mentors group.

There is so much wisdom in this- as James Baldwin once said

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

How can we be more conscious as adults- whether we are parents or teachers? And model behaviour driven by our highest values?


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