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Scholar Opinion: Humanities Majors Lend New Perspectives, Not Limited Outcomes

This piece is part of a series focused on the ongoing debate about the relevance of humanities majors in today’s job market. See recent opinion pieces about this topic here and here.


The humanities consist of disciplines such as history, art, gender studies, music, philosophy, religion, and much more. It fosters critical thinking and authentic appreciation of the human experience. However, institutions have challenged the importance of humanities and cut funds for its development. The humanities are essential to understanding what it means to be human, motivating us to question assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, and encouraging broadening one’s focus to other practical implications.

In my personal experience as a double major in Neurobiology and Philosophy, the humanities have allowed me to grow my interest in self-awareness, such as considering how it can be altered in varying mental states (i.e. emotions). This developed when I was enrolled in my first philosophy class, Philosophy 101. A couple of our discussions revolved around social differences and inequity where minority groups had the space to share our experiences of prejudice. I shared my story as a Latino who grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago and my feelings of being isolated in a predominantly white population at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In spite of this feeling of exclusion, I carry a chain in my bookbag given to me by my grandmother, which allows me to feel a sense of comfort and belonging. This reflection, along with insights from my classmates in Philosophy 101, has driven me to consider how emotions can affect our self-awareness and actions. Hence, I majored in philosophy to further explore my interests from a cultural standpoint instead of limiting myself to STEM.

The humanities disciplines can teach skills that have increased in demand in our evolving workplace. For example, philosophy has encouraged me to engage in public speaking and learn how to communicate effectively. Since joining the McNair Scholars program, I’ve been able to develop my research skills at the Center of Sleep and Consciousness lab. Under the mentorship of Dr. Cirelli, I am contributing to the testing of the SHY hypothesis. We study synaptic plasticity and the changes that occur between sleep and wake. In the lab, I learned how to reconstruct neural cells from 2D images obtained from mice subjects using electron microscopy. Despite facing challenges with effective communication as an introvert, my philosophy courses have offered various opportunities to practice my public speaking and hone my argumentation skills.  This has given me the courage to present my contributions at the University of New Mexico McNair Scholars Conference.

As a third-year student interested in graduate school, philosophy has allowed me to explore the relevance of neurobiological research from an interdisciplinary perspective. For example, my interests in neurobiology are based on consciousness and how altered states of awareness can influence one’s actions. My engagement with the humanities plays a crucial role in expanding the scope of my research interests to other real-world scenarios. Philosophy, with its emphasis on ethics, has provided me with insights on the challenges faced by neurodegenerative disease patients within prisons. This interdisciplinary perspective not only prompts me to question the molecular and structural aspects of neurodegenerative diseases but also the ethical implications within the treatment and care of these patients. I am interested in how we can improve correctional facilities to accommodate neurodegenerative disease patients, and to what extent we can decide if a patient is conscious enough to coexist in our social environment.

The humanities have provided me with a newfound perspective on the importance of learning about human experience and action. Furthermore, it allows me to expand the scope of my research interests to other real-world implications. I would advise other students to engage in the humanities, and institutions to encourage its development.


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