What are the main fields of science? Pretty straightforward question right? I mean, there’s Physics, Biology, Chemistry, everything we learned in science class at school. Except… well… that’s not the whole picture. Heck, that’s barely even a slice of the whole picture. There is so much more to science than just those three disciplines, and depending on how you ask the question you may even receive different answers. So let’s take a bit of a nose-dive into this question and see if we can come up with a good answer.
The Traditional Answer
So the traditional answer is, of course, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry, but there are a couple more that should be added to that. Astronomy, for example, is a highly involved science that goes back hundreds of years. Naturally, it’s directly tied into physics – hence the popular term astrophysics – but there’s a lot more to it than just that. The space-related sciences cover everything from understanding what is happening right now in outer space, to considering the effects on people, to measuring how things we have built might function in outer space – which isn’t always a clear answer—ever seen the popular meme that NASA spent millions on developing an outer-space pen and Russia just brought a pencil? Well, that meme is true, except it’s not the message you might think it is.
You see, pencils are flammable, and if there’s one thing you don’t want in space is a fire. Not only that, but tips often flaked and broke off, drifting around in microgravity where they could potentially harm an astronaut or worse, get embedded inside crucial equipment. Pencils weren’t merely flammable, they could start fires. And… well… you just need to take a look at the history of Apollo 1 to know how those turn out. Now of course there are other sciences. New science is the science of technology, popularly known as IT, but one science that comes up a lot is maths – yes like it or not, mathematics is a science, and it’s a science that a lot of the others are built upon.
Once again a popular meme spells out the picture, with a number of traditional sciences in a row claiming that the previous version is simply an applied version of their discipline, and mathematics way off on the far side looking back and saying “Oh hey, I didn’t notice you over there”. Once again, broadly speaking this is kind of true. But of course, there is so much more than that. People often overlook the “soft sciences” such as Psychiatry, and forget that there are a lot of other such soft sciences that fit the bill as well. But, before we delve into that, let’s look at the other answer to this question.
One Question, Two Answers
If you’re asking this question there’s a good chance you already know the basics, or rather, the “traditional” answer, though hey, maybe the inclusion of maths and computers surprised you. But there is another answer. Let’s look at the non-traditional answer: what are the biggest sciences in the world today – in other words, the main fields of science from a popularity perspective?
Science degrees made up a whopping 25% of all university degrees back in 2021. A small study in 2019 surveying UK students attempted to answer this question. According to them the top seven disciplines of science in terms of popularity were:
Interspersed between them in popularity were subject matters such as history, literature, and business studies, which arguably included a healthy dose of economics and data analysis as part of the overall course.
However, when it came to employability science degrees only made the top 10 in a handful of cases – and rather surprising ones at that. Measuring this data with graduates who left university and entered into a full-time job,
Bachelor of Science combined with Master of Nursing: 72.7% success rate
Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Biosciences: 78.2%
Bachelor of Dental Science: 80%
Bachelor of Advanced Science/Bachelor of Engineering (including aerospace engineering): 83%
Bachelor of Medical Science: 86.7%
Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy and Sports Sciences): 87.3%
Bachelor of Pharmacy: 96.4%
Once again, slipping between all of these were Business and Management Studies – of which notably the Bachelor of Pharmacy and Management was a top contender for first place.
But you might notice something missing from this list. Something we mentioned at the very beginning. That’s right, Information Technology. That’s right, the data sciences have been low in popularity over the last few years, but since 2021 that has begun to change. The rise in the need for cyber security, data analysis, data retention, and data processing has impacted everything not only in our daily lives but even in the courses we teach.
Remember how I mentioned that the top 7 arguably included a healthy dose of economics and data analysis as part of the course? Well, changes in data science have had a major impact on many of these areas, in particular the areas of economics, business, and management, but even in things like the way we teach and what we teach, and jobs in IT, particularly those that relate to data sciences, cyber security, and entertainment, are increasingly on the rise as the next generation moves in to redefine what is or isn’t popular, and as both they and society at large redefine what the market will look like in future.