Exotic degree subjects offer great potential

Exotic degree subjects, although sometimes considered less significant as academic disciplines, certainly have their place. Some of these small subjects are even experiencing surprising growth and offer great potential for interdisciplinary work and internationalisation.

Did you know that you can study Albanology, onomastics, logic, crystallography and gerontology at university? When those studying these smaller subjects are asked about their job prospects, as they often are, they frequently reply that there is no money to be made in their field. The example of computer science illustrates how exotic degree subjects can lead to exciting careers and even establish themselves as mainstream disciplines.

Computer science: from niche status to popular subject to specialisation

Just forty years ago, there were only a small number of German universities offering computer science degrees. Karlsruhe University (now Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) was the first higher education institution in Germany to offer a full degree course in computer science (an exotic subject at the time) in the 1969/70 winter semester. Today, there are around 150 universities offering computer science degrees in Germany, with almost 50,000 students enrolling on courses in 2011 to study what was once considered an exotic subject.

And it wasn't only pure computer science that many of them were studying, but rather one of a broad range of specialisms within the discipline, including bioinformatics, geoinformatics, business informatics, digital media, media informatics and road transport informatics. Computer science is currently being subdivided into smaller areas of specialisation.

Exotic degree subjects offer enormous potential thanks to specialisation

Computer science is no longer regarded as a niche subject, as life today would be unthinkable without computers and information technology. Exotic degree subjects are opening up new professions, as computer magazine c‘t reports: 'These subjects often blend existing disciplines to form new ones, such as medical informatics, which looks at solutions for using computers in human medicine.' This kind of specialisation also considerably improves job prospects for graduates.

In their final report on the 'Ongoing mapping of so-called small subjects' project, researchers stressed the enormous potential offered by exotic degree subjects, citing the major role they play in the internationalisation of the academic community. It is precisely these exotic subjects that promote cooperation between different disciplines at universities.

The benefits of exotic degree subjects

A degree subject is classified as exotic if there are three professors or fewer assigned to it, or if it is offered at fewer than 10 percent of universities. The subject of logic is one such example.

Probably one of the smallest exotic subjects, logic is offered as a master's course at the University of Leipzig and only has seven places. Sometimes, there are less applicants than places. Studying in such a small group is challenging, but is also a luxury, as overcrowded lecture halls are one problem the students will not have to face. So far, all those studying logic have found jobs after graduating, for example in banks and software firms.

Students from the University of Leipzig about exotic subjects (in German)

Exotic degree subjects promote cooperation between disciplines

While they are still studying, students work as tutors in other subjects such as philosophy and linguistics. Thanks to this interdisciplinary approach, logic is a well regarded degree subject in Leipzig.

This is confirmed by Mechthild Dreyer, Professor of Philosophy and Vice President for Studies and Teaching at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. She is responsible for the university's project in the area of small subjects. The university offers 40 exotic degree subjects that play a key role in shaping the university's profile and offer great potential for knowledge innovation.

In conclusion, exotic degree subjects are, and indeed have to be, sustainable. Some of these subjects, such as computer science, have established themselves as mainstream disciplines over time.

October 2013

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