‘Lazy’ social scientists? Just what your business needs

Take your pick. Social scientists have got skills galore. Erich Kesse

A report by the Campaign for Social Science is challenging some tired stereotypes about social scientists. As The i reported, social science graduates are defying the “layabout myth”.

The report “What Do Social Science Graduates Do?”, by Roses Leech-Wilkinson, reveals that 3.5 years after graduation, 84% of social science graduates are in employment compared with 78% of graduates who studied science subjects and 79% of arts and humanities graduates. And a greater proportion of social science graduates are employed in higher level positions than their science or arts peers. While 7.6% of social science graduates are working as managers, directors and senior officials within three and a half years of graduating only 3.6% of science graduates reach these levels in the same time.

It’s sometimes thought that those who study social science subjects at university are most likely destined for careers in teaching or social work. In fact, the proportion of social science graduates working in these fields is much smaller than the proportion of science graduates.

The findings reveal that they are instead to be found working in a variety of sectors, including accountancy and the law. Many believe that the financial sector chases after science graduates, valuing the skills their courses offer but, in fact, the proportion of social science graduates working in this industry is much higher.

What’s more, 7.1% of the social scientists in work after graduation are employed in finance and insurance roles. This compares to 3.7% of science graduates and 3.9% of arts and humanities graduates and includes occupations in banks, insurance and pension funding, and other kinds of financial management. These jobs appear particularly suited to those who studied business, social studies and law.

As the economic crisis has shown, a workforce that can crunch numbers is all very well, but if they have no concept of the wider implications of their work, trouble can ensue. An economics graduate is trained not only in the mysterious arts of finance but in the world outside banks and the relationship between money and society. They can take a step back and see the bigger picture. The figures show that a lot of social scientists are already working in finance but maybe we’d all benefit from having even more.

This is all empirical evidence that counters the myth that social science degrees don’t offer good career prospects. Far from pushing the CVs of sociologists, political scientists, geographers and others to the bottom of the pile, savvy employers are queueing up to recruit candidates trained to understand people, institutions and processes of change – skills that social science degrees provide in spades.

Perhaps most striking, however, is that such findings should be news at all. Too often, the social sciences are still seen as the poor cousins of science subjects. Social scientists themselves have a role to play in tackling such prejudices. University admissions departments, A-level students and their parents should all take note of the evidence to the contrary.

As David Willetts, minister for universities and science, said this week: “There are no significant problems in the world now that are going to be tackled by people working within one disciplinary framework.” It is in everybody’s interests to ensure social science is taken seriously by policymakers, employers and the wider public. As Willetts also said: “We should be proud of social science and celebrate it.”

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