Cutting creativity off the curriculum

By cutting its English literature degree course, is Sheffield Hallam University taking creativity off the curriculum? Here Erin Softley, BSc graduate of human biology with English literature and senior account executive at technical PR agency, Stone Junction, explains how English literature graduates are critical to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) communications.
By Erin Softley 
Job in PR
Why English degrees are vital for STEM
In recent years, school pupils have been encouraged to take STEM subjects because it will result in a ‘highly-skilled’ job with a higher salary. Even at primary school level, popular subjects like art, drama and music are being removed from the curriculum to make room for more numeracy and science-based subjects. The trouble is opinions on what constitutes a ‘highly-skilled’ job differ greatly. This is especially true if the thing you really want is a job in PR, which isn't neccearily well understood in education, outside specialist courses. 
I graduated in 2020 with a BSc major/minor in human biology with English literature. I believe that my literature modules made me a better science communicator, and here’s why.
Improving science communication with critical thinking
Science is like solving a mystery. You have a suspicion, and you collect the evidence that will inevitably prove you right or wrong. However, putting pen to paper to communicate the results requires a degree of critical analysis and lateral thinking, as well as a good understanding of grammar and spelling and, crucially, the way to tell a story. 
English literature courses go beyond teaching students how to write well. They also teach you about forming, analysing and criticising an argument, all of which makes for good science communication. Literature is about studying thought and expressing opinion on that thought. Your opinion could directly contradict the opinion of another expert, but the lack of consensus is immaterial and will remain so. 
Studying a STEM subject doesn’t do this in the same way, instead it’s about interpreting results and pre-existing data, using the scientific method, to create a consensus of opinion. 
Of course, the facts are critical too for improving your knowledge on a topic. However, being able to communicate your knowledge succinctly and eloquently will improve the quality of scientific papers, better the chances of successful grant proposals, and encourage innovation – something the STEM industry depends on.
Innovation depends on creative thought
Many English literature courses encourage students to take creative writing modules, something which can be daunting if you have a natural STEM mindset. While not everyone taking one of these modules will be guaranteed a Pulitzer Prize, elegant expression of creative thought is an accelerator to technological advancement. Without creativity, how else would we have developed space travel?   
Sir Philip Pullman, internationally renowned author of the His Dark Materials trilogy sums it up perfectly, stating that without literature, people will ‘perish’ of ‘imaginative starvation’. These are gripping words, and true in the context of innovation in STEM, which would surely become stifled without creative thought.
The bigger picture
STEM, the arts and the humanities need to coexist in equal measure throughout the education curriculum if we hope to drive innovation. The skills acquired during an English literature degree, like lateral thinking and the ability to formulate well-reasoned arguments, are considered high value in many sectors, including law, politics and business. However, because these are extremely competitive careers, it’s important that more employers in STEM consider how the arts and humanities can positively impact them.
For more information on how you can use your English degree in STEM, get in touch with me by e-mailing or calling +44 01785 225416. Alternatively, take a look at our graduate opportunities here.

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