Statistics published by Korean Educational Statistics Service (KESS) have consistently contributed to the widely held public opinion that math and science majors land a job with relative ease when compared with humanities majors.
Many humanities majors point out that it is increasingly more difficult to become employed with their major alone, prompting them to double-major in fields such as business administration.
Despite the common perception, the case is not so different for math and science majors. The perceived concentration of jobs for university graduates in scientific fields is heavily focused on four major areas: electrical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and the newly rising computer science. This phenomenon is referred to colloquially as jeonhwagi, a combination of the first syllables of the majors listed above and a pun on the Korean word for telephone.
“There is a very strong perception that all math and science majors fare extremely well in the job market,” said Park, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).
“It’s a strongly misinformed bias as the reality is that even in scientific fields there is a dividing line between employable majors and less-employable majors. For instance, a natural science major like me cannot land a job with a bachelor’s degree. Even if we do and end up with a doctorate degree and pursue a postdoc position, the chances of getting a well-paying job are quite low,” Park said.
Indicators from Korean Council for University Education demonstrate that in the case of Ewha Womans University, most natural science majors have lower employment rates compared to business administration majors, not including those who double-major in the field. In 2016, Ewha statistics, mathematics, and biology majors recorded rates of 60, 54 and 37 percent respectively. In contrast, Ewha business administration majors recorded a total employment rate of 72 percent.
Moreover, part of the reason that math and science majors seem to be doing better is that more graduates of these majors decide to go on to graduate school than humanities majors. In an article published by education-specializing newspaper Veritas Alpha, it is explained that the vast majority of math- or science-related institutions show a high percentage of postgraduate studies, unlike other fields.
“People who search for a job shortly after graduation are either from the four major employable areas or from other majors who invest their time and money to meet the necessary requirements to work in fields that Korean conglomerates demand,” said Kwon, a recent graduate of Seoul National University in industrial engineering, currently working for a defense company.
The preparation mentioned by Choi comprises of obtaining various certifications that applicants may write on their CVs along with those governed by Human Resources Development Service of Korea. These include Craftsman Information Processing, Engineer Electricity and Engineer Civil Engineering among others.
“Math and science majors are also pressured about filling their resumes with internship experiences and participation in inter-school extracurricular activities such as coding hackathons or mock financial engineering groups in the same way that humanities students are burdened to meet the requirements that companies demand – it’s not so black and white,” said Cho, a KAIST graduate with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering, who now works for one of the five top employers in the industry.
A look at potential job offerings of some of the major corporations gives math and science majors further cause for concern. Korea Telecommunications (KT), a mega-conglomerate in the telecommunications field, announced that they would select new bachelor’s-level recruits for the first half of 2019 from four areas, of which only two are related to math and science. These four areas include business/strategy, marketing/sales, network technology and IT.
The two areas which are math and science-related are heavily concentrated on those from a computer science background, exposing the status quo of math and science majors.