Higher Thinking: How Philosophy Can Improve Professional Skills

“I think, therefore I am.”

This well-known philosophical proverb first appeared in Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method in 1637.

However, based on a recent study by the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation, perhaps it could also be accurate to say: “I think, therefore I am a better student and professional.”

There is now data to back up the notion that student engagement in the study of philosophy improves their performance in other vital subjects and bolsters critical professional skills. 

Specifically, the study found that nine and ten-year-olds who participated in a weekly philosophy class over the course of the year displayed significant gains in their math and literacy proficiency compared to their peers who did not partake in the philosophy class. This is despite the fact that the philosophical courses were not primarily designed to improve performance in these subjects, but rather focused on discussions centered around concepts such as justice and knowledge, and featured time for silent reflection.

This comes as no surprise to philosophy advocates, who have long championed its ability to promote “lateral thinking” - the ability to solve problems via indirect and creative approaches - and its apparently positive effects on standardized test scores, such as the GRE and LSAT.

However, perhaps even more important is that teachers also reported student progress in other areas, such as public speaking, listening skills, and self-esteem; skills typically referred to as "soft skills." 

As businesses and organizations compete over a finite pool of STEM-proficient young professionals, there is yet another shortage in the modern workplace which has them concerned; employees with well-developed soft skills. The ability for workers to listen, think critically, and to digest and reformulate ideas is vital for any organization to reach their peak potential. This holds true across the board for any type of employee, whether they be a mechanical engineer or a human resources professional. 

It is important for students and young adults to recognize this gap, so that they can improve and showcase their own abilities. 

STEM Premier offers student users tools to help develop their critical thinking and cognitive skills, such as Lumosity and Khan Academy. These tools are accessible through the STEM Premier Dashboard. 

Students can also highlight their soft skills, for example, by uploading videos to their profile which show off their public speaking skills - an ability very much coveted by all types of employers. 

So as students, businesses, and educators look forward into the future and the advancement of the STEM disciplines, perhaps they should also be looking back into the past as well. Perhaps ancient subjects like philoshpy are just as important for well-rounded professionals.