The Frontal Cortex

Is this chart surprising?


I was an Arts (English) and Psychology (Neuroscience) major, so I clearly didn’t choose the most lucrative fields. (And I contemplated a philosophy minor…) For me, the most surprising aspect of the chart (and it’s still not that surprising) was the payoff of practicality. The best paying sciences, like chemistry, computer science and engineering, are also the ones with the most direct applications to the real world. Clearly, the only reason to pursue the path of pure knowledge (aka basic science, comp lit and metaphysics) is for the sake of knowledge. Plus, it’s more fun to get drunk as an undergrad and talk about Nietzsche than it is to discuss benzene rings and organic chemistry.


  1. #1 NoAstronomer
    April 22, 2008

    Plus, it’s more fun to get drunk as an undergrad and talk about Nietzsche than it is to discuss benzene rings and organic chemistry.

    Says who? Besides *anyone* can talk about Nietzsche, especially when they’re drunk.

  2. #2 Jim G
    April 22, 2008

    “Pure knowledge” degrees are also popular choices for people planning to enter law school or get other professional degrees. One of the perks of becoming a lawyer is being able to have a truly “liberal” college education without undue worrying about earning power from your first degree.

    FWIW, when I graduated 17 years ago I got a Philosophy degree that came by way of classes in the engineering, chemistry and math departments, and a 3-year stint as a technician in an organic chem lab. Mind you, I have absolutely no idea what I could have done with that experience other than take it to law school; but it’s worked out great for me so far.

  3. #3 DrugMonkey
    April 22, 2008

    Where in the heck is “biology”? Seems a rather glaring omission.

  4. #4 Aaron Lemur Mintz
    April 22, 2008

    In my opinion, mathematics seems to screw with your practicality hypothesis. It’s definitely (IMO) a ‘path of pure knowledge’, but it has a very high payback, as well.

    I’d be willing to bet that this comes most from all the people from math going into Actuarial work & other financial stuff, which makes you correct again. Not sure.

  5. #5 Epicanis
    April 22, 2008

    What DrugMonkey said.

    I’d be interested in seeing where microbial biotechnology (specifically) fits on a chart like that. I’m not sure if anybody has that data sitting around though.

  6. #6 Lucas
    April 22, 2008

    I would bet that most of the big earners with “math” degrees are stats/actuarial science majors or perhaps math majors/{CS, physics} minors. I was a math major, and I’m currently in graduate school in math. The job options for people with no knowledge of programming, physics or statistics are pretty limited. I’ve been learning programming in graduate school in case I don’t get a good academic job after I get my PhD.

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    April 22, 2008

    Extend DrugMonkey’s comment to physics and geophysics, too. Other than chemistry and perhaps mathematics (depending how you define “natural science”), there are no natural science majors listed.

  8. #8 S Sherman
    September 12, 2011

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