One of the great things about being on a small campus is that I have lots of opportunities to interact with colleagues in different departments and colleges. One positive side effect of being sucked into university-level obligations is that you get to know people you otherwise wouldn’t interact with.
- Over the years, I’ve observed some huge differences differences between the research cultures of the sciences and the humanities. Most of these things are obvious, I realize. Understanding these differences can help bridge cultural gaps.
- In the sciences, journal articles are the primary metric of productivity and success. In the humanities, it’s books. Scientists can write books, and humanities people can write journal articles, but they’re not as important.
- In many humanities fields, giving a paper at a conference involves actually giving a paper. Standing at a podium and reading, page after page after page. Science talks are far more informal.
- Research in the sciences is highly collaborative. Many humanities scholars work solitarily.
- Student mentorship happens everywhere. In the sciences, students often adopt a piece of a larger lab project, whereas in the humanities more often students work on entirely separate questions from their mentors. On average, science professors take on a greater number of student researchers than in the humanities.
- Scientists are often expected to fund their research programs with external grants. Humanities researchers aren’t necessarily expected to bring in outside funds in order to be perceived as successful, as long as they create the research products in the end.
- What constitutes a huge grant in the humanities is a small grant in the sciences. An award of $50,000 from the NEH or NEA is a massive success and a windfall, whereas in the sciences this is useful money but not even close to a “big.”
- Scientists can get big pools of money to start up their labs. In the humanities, you get moving expenses, a computer, maybe some reassigned time and maybe a little bit more.
- In the humanities, receiving a PhD from a “top 10 program” in the field is critical for professional success. Program prestige matters in the sciences, but not as much. (I couldn’t even tell you what the rankings are in ecology/evolution.)
- The academic job market is way more messed up in the humanities. Here are two contributing factors: First, the degree of adjunctification is higher outside the sciences because tenure-line science faculty are more likely to bring in overhead to cover salary costs. Second, the job market for research scientists is more robust than for academic (say) historians. In the humanities, it’s more challenging to parlay a PhD into a salaried academic position outside a university.
- All worthwhile doctoral programs in the sciences fund the students, so tuition and living expenses aren’t covered by loans. Graduate students in the sciences are paid to teach and do research, albeit poorly. In the humanities, PhD recipients often emerge with substantial debt.
- Scientists need good library access to get current articles. However, physical access to great libraries is far more important in the humanities, as original papers and actual books remains important for research. The physical location of an institution, relative to an impressive library, is important for the humanities scholar.
- Humanities scholars use the phrase “digital humanities,” and it means something to them.
- Science professors are less likely to use elbow patches on their tweed jackets, but professors in the humanities are more likely to smoke a pipe.
Feel free to make new contributions, or disabuse me of any mistaken notions, in the comments.