We asked STEM students what was the last book they read

Turns out that they do know how to read after all


If you’ve ever witnessed a conversation between a humanities and STEM student, you’ll have noticed it frequently takes less than five minutes for the lack of reading and essays experienced by the latter to come up in conversation.

Do STEM students even remember what it’s like to read a book, or are the only letters they ever see related to algebra? We asked STEM students when was the last time they *actually* read something (and no, the COVID swabbing instructions don’t count) and honestly, we were shocked:

Taking suggestions from BookTok

Time to get the tissues out with this book

We have all found ourselves trapped in a hole of endless YouTube videos – one minute you’re watching a make-up tutorial and the next you’ve found animated Mathew Baynton fanfiction – and with Lockdown Number Three in full-swing it is not a surprise that some of us are experiencing this much more frequently.

For one first-year NatSci student, this trawl into the depths of the internet resulted in an “unhealthy amount” of screen-time, and so they turned to good, old-fashioned literature! They told the Tab that they “hadn’t read a fiction book since GCSE English” *pauses for gasp from every student currently on BookTok* but decided to read the wonderful ‘Never Let Me Go’ to stave off the boredom.

They said it was a “beautifully written book” which looked into the “drama in the trivialities of life”, following the lives of “Kath and her friends and their discovery of the world they live in.”

Opting for some snarky SciFy

Casual reading attire

Sometimes we all need a little bit of inspiration, whether that is from a film, the inexplicable peace radiating from a political figure on a chair wearing mittens, or a quick trip to Grantchester to clear your head.

For Jonah, a Trinity Hall NatSci student, that inspiration came from his dad. ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is one of his dad’s “favourite books” and it proved to be a great summer read.

Filled with brilliant humour and wacky plotlines, he told us that this book is great if you want something that is “basically just nonsense.” So sounds good if you don’t want to put too much strain on that final working brain cell!

Forgetting that books even exist

Some intense studious reading going on here

Alas, it is the one we have all been waiting for…

One first-year Mathmo told the Tab the last fiction book that they read was “part of [his] English class” at GCSE.

While Frayn’s ‘Spies’ is apparently a hit with GCSE English teachers, it was not for this student. He said it was “slightly superficial and uninspired” (which bears many similarities with our weekly essays *sigh*) and little made him “want to come back to the book.”

Perhaps this one isn’t going onto our To Be Read pile!

Killing two birds with one stone

Duolingo’s got nothing on us

And of course, some people still wish to gain something, other than just satisfaction, from reading books. But what would you do if you want to take a break from all the dry texts of your degree? One second-year engineer clearly found a solution to that problem by opting to read a book in a foreign language, in order to improve his skills a tad.

He chose to read ‘The Wuhan Diary’ but gave it a little twist by reading the Spanish translation. He justified the decision by saying that he opted to kill two birds with one stone – improve his Spanish and to learn more about the initial outbreak of our favourite pandemic.

Some engineers opt to be pragmatic even in their leisure, something that I do understand quite well, being one. However, they did admit that the read turned out to be a lot harder than they expected, due to the language barrier.

Exploring the dystopian futures

Oh the mild irony – and yes I do own the book in digital and did not just google the cover

Some STEM students want to keep their reading rather topical and opt to go for a cheeky bit of dystopian sci-fi, just to ensure that their leisure pursuits remain at least semi topical. A second-year Phys NatSci told the Tab that the last book they read was ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley. The motivation to read the classic was attributed to the hype that was always heard around it and the fact that it was referenced in a couple of films that they enjoyed.

They found the start a bit slow as it was mainly filled with descriptions of the eponymous Brave New World, but they found it got a lot better towards the end. They thought “it was quite a good way of using sci-fi to look at the aim of life and society in terms of efficiency and happiness.”

Expanding their political knowledge

I am aware the book is not relevant, just proving that engineers do read

And finally, we have a truly rare breed of a student (at least according to Cambridge stereotypes) – a politically inclined Mathmo. They revealed to the author that the last book they read was ‘Decline and Fall’ by Chris Mullin.  As someone who enjoys reading political diaries, they found themselves unsurprisingly enjoying this book.

The book “gives a good idea of what working under New Labour was like for someone not in the Blair or Browns cabal.” Well if you’re the kind of person who enjoys some political discourse, it for sure sounds like a good book to check out.

So, it turns out that STEM students have not completely lost their ability to read since GCSE English (for the most part). And some even have some surprising books that are completely uncharacteristic of their degree.

Featured image credit: Gleb Vinnychenko and Charlie Scott-Haynes

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