Alright, we’ve all heard of degrees that caused us to cross our eyes trying to figure out who thought that was a good idea. “I have a B.S. in Bowling Industry Management and Technology” (Vincennes University). “Oh? Cool! I’m pursuing a B.A. in Puppet Arts” (University of Connecticut).
Interestingly, though, some of the entries I’ve seen on these lists are degrees that we actually should take quite seriously. These degrees enable people to have a significant impact on our lives for the better. Here are five degrees I’ve seen joked about or considered bizarre which we should actually be thankful exist, and may even want to consider if it’s time for a career change.
1. Library Science
I read a recent rant about Library Science degrees. The author of the rant basically went through all the reasons that you didn’t need a Master’s of Library Science in order to place art books on shelves or add new books to a collection. “This, to me, is one of the kings of all joke degrees,” he stated, pointing out that the most significant thing he ever did as an intern at a library was impress middle-aged women by placing large books on top shelves.
The University of Southern California disagrees. Their Master of Management in Library Science and Information Science program has been nestled firmly into the USC Marshall School of Business, and for good reason. Holders of this ‘joke’ degree are archivists and research assistants “not just in libraries, but in museums, businesses, government agencies, medical centers and a vast array of other professional settings”.
One of the reasons this degree is far from a joke comes in the form of the Medical Librarian. When you are diagnosed with a rare and little known disease, your doctor is going to need to find out everything she can about the disease in order to treat you. In a medical environment troubled by a “well-publicized shortage of primary care physicians”, she won’t have the time to dig up and find this information. She’ll likely rely on medical librarians to take care of this while she deals with the rest of her overload of patients.
This librarian has the advanced training and skills to be able to find information in scattered databases, various medical journals, numerous published books, conference papers, and patient histories, evaluate which bits of information are redundant or outdated by newer research, and collate this into a simple document quickly read and digested by your physician.
The physician may be the one who ultimately determines your course of treatment (and save your life), but she did so with the knowledge she got from a highly educated research librarian.
2. Geographic Information Science
I ran across a gripe on Reddit recently. In it, the griper commented that “the ONLY reason there should be a Geography program is cultural Geography. GIS should have been a class within a Comp Sci course”. This is an understandable complaint. After all, Geographic Information Science is simply a fancy way to say “I draw maps”, right? We’ve already mapped the planet, who cares?
It’s a little more complicated than that. Things like smartphones and GPS wouldn’t exist without the work of GIS experts. GIS is far, far more than simply putting little black boxes on a topographical map to represent a new school built next to an intersection of roads. USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences has compiled a list of GIS contributions to medical sciences, including tracking the rates and causes of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the U.K. in order to mitigate environmental causes, tracked injury reports for the CDC that enabled focused policy discussions, and examined hazardous chemical disposal and tracking for the EPA.
Those are just medical connections. GIS has been used to map some amazing things, many of which aren’t things you would expect to be able to actually “map”. GIS has mapped the interconnectivity of modern languages based off of multilingual Twitter users and created accidental geographic porn. So, next time you are using your GPS to find the closest Thai noodle shop, thank someone who thinks GIS is about more than just cultural Geography.
3. Political Management
Okay, I really don’t need to make the case that some people would look at this one with crossed eyes. We have enough people making crass statements about “career politicians” that the moment you saw the phrase “Political Management”, I’m pretty certain your eyes rolled back into your skull in an extra on The Exorcist sort of fashion. We don’t need or want professional politicians, you say.
To a degree, I’m even going to agree with you. When I go to the polls to select my state governor, I’d really rather send someone who’s lived the same sort of average American sort of life as I have. I don’t want someone who’s never held a “real” job, but instead has been a career partisan flunky collecting government checks.
Once that governor arrives in the gubernatorial suite, however, there is going to wind up being a gubernatorial staff and gubernatorial appointments. In this case, I’d really prefer not to have an untrained amateur goober sitting in any of those slots pushing the buttons of the state.
Someone has to make the organs of the government actually function in order for my governor to get anything done. If our elected officials are the cogs of the machine of state, political managers are the oil-lubricating of their workings. These are the people who take Senator Hairball’s crazy idea to provide every schoolchild with a laptop for homework assignments and write the bill that would make it happen. They organize the campaign to get information about the bill out in front of the public and thought leaders and gather support for it.
George Washington University puts it into simple terms: “Leaders in the global political arena require specialized training to make government work productively amid growing challenges. In our digital world, communication flows much faster and from an increasingly diverse set of voices. Issues are more complicated and multi-faceted than they used to be. A great deal of data-driven and technical materials must be distilled into language that publics and the general population are capable of understanding if a campaign is to succeed”.
You may have voted for a candidate because you liked his positions, but it’s going to take his staff of career politicians trained in political management to actually put those positions into play.
4. Soccer Science
Okay, with this one, I am fairly certain people will think I’ve gone off the deep end. I mean, sure, people get B.S. degrees that will allow them to be P.E. teachers, sure. But a Master’s Degree focused exclusively on soccer? No one would do that. Well, except perhaps Ohio University. Among its online Master’s offerings is the Master of Recreation and Sport Sciences – Soccer Track.
In case you think this is absolutely silly, let me cite just a small number of statistics. The United States has four professional soccer leagues (three male, one female) in spite of being one of the least soccer-mad nations on the planet. These leagues have a combined total of around 50 professional teams. The LA Galaxy, winner of 5 MLS Cups since being founded in 1995, is coached by Bruce Arena. When his contract was renewed last year, he was coaching a team valued at somewhere around $170 million and whose 2012 revenue stream was $44 million.
That’s just in the U.S. In football-mad Germany, Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola’s personal salary was the equivalent of U.S. $24 million last year.
Doesn’t sound so silly now, does it?
5. Poultry Science
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get a B.A. in Poultry Science from Texas A&M.
This is one of those degree programs where the jokes write themselves. It’s one of those things that sound so absolutely ridiculous the mere suggestion causes snickers and sidelong glances. After all, what does poultry science even mean?
It means a lot, actually. A hundred years ago, chicken farmers basically had to make sure they tossed their chickens corn in the morning, collect eggs in the evening, and butcher chickens that weren’t laying often enough. These days, however, poultry farming is big business, and has to be run as such.
Your typical poultry farm has to comply with a cocktail of regulations from the EPA, USDA, FDA, IRS, and more. Just last year, OSHA issued one Alabama poultry farm a $102,000 fine for running afoul of their health and safety standards. Owners and employees have to maintain the health of their stock in trade, manage inventories on the fly, and maintain a steady supply of edible food crops flowing in and fryers flowing out or they risk their nest egg. They need to be able to industrialize egg and meat production or risk their business buying the farm.
Your typical poultry farmer is a veterinarian, a factory operator, a zoo keeper, a farmer, and a CEO – all in one. Job boards looking for these people include job titles like Poultry Technical Consultan’ and Research Scientist – Poultry Clinical Affairs. Without these people and their ridiculous-sounding degree, the U.S. would have to do without the 75 billion eggs a year we eat in omelets, cakes, salads, sandwiches, and homemade energy drinks. And the 44-billion-dollar-a-year industry that produces the eggs and chicken breasts you’re planning to fry up tonight.
It’s easy to poke fun at some of the degrees we have out there. I really can’t fault anyone for being dumbfounded by the holder of an MA in The Beatles (the band, not the insects), issued by Liverpool Hope University. But, in many cases, that degree that seems so absurd on the face of it isn’t nearly as ridiculous, or useless, as you may believe. Sometimes it is; in fact, it’s very much a part of your day-to-day life and you simply don’t know it.