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After all, to do research with a professor, a student has to have good social skills. So why not have classes that teach social etiquette and social skills? It seems that many courses in college are "book courses." Yet, when students graduate, what really matters is how they present themselves and their social skills.

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A very simple answer to this question is resources. Who exactly is going to teach this course, and what resources are you going to reallocate it in order to offer it? Moreover, who is qualified to offer such a course? (Or is it just a series of soft-skill workshops?) –  aeismail May 27 '12 at 18:38
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Perhaps because basic etiquette and social skills are something to be learned before one pursues an advanced degree? –  Pete L. Clark May 27 '12 at 18:56
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@Piotr: All human beings need social skills and have manifold opportunities to learn and practice them throughout their lives. Speaking of social skills: when responding directly to someone else, please don't make something up and put it in quotation marks. As it happens, I am a mathematician and have been studying mathematics for most of my conscious life. And, as a human being, I have been interacting with other human beings for my entire life: these things happen at the same time. My point is that teaching "social etiquette and social skills" in the university is way too late. –  Pete L. Clark May 27 '12 at 19:57
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There are some people who are so socially challenged as to make me not want to work with them: severe body odor, pathological dishonesty, psychopathy...these are all deal-breakers. But come on: these problems are not going to be fixed by having students take the right courses, are they?? –  Pete L. Clark May 27 '12 at 20:21
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Not all things that you must learn can also be taught. Experience is often the best teacher. –  Suresh May 27 '12 at 20:27

3 Answers 3

During one's university life as an undergraduate, there are many opportunities to improve one's social skills and confidence as an adult. These range from the various sporting and political clubs students can join, through volunteer activities students can participate in, through coaching activities (of more junior students or even high school), all the way to activities like having a few drinks in the uni bar (soda, for US students). During the summer, one can participate in spring break-style activities or get an internship at a law firm.

All of these activities, I dare say, help shape a student into a person. There's no assessment, no assignments, no grades, but such is the school of hard knocks.

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I heard that there where some (highly wanted) trials in Potsdam (maybe somewhere else):

Even the most quirky of computer nerds can learn to flirt with finesse thanks to a new "flirting course" being offered to budding IT engineers at Potsdam University south of Berlin.

The 440 students enrolled in the master's degree course will learn how to write flirtatious text messages and emails, impress people at parties and cope with rejection.

To name the (alleged) reasons, why university courses in social skills are so rare:

  • many social skills can't be easily fitted into a course scheme,
  • there is a common belief (with which I strongly disagree) that there is no such need (as its to late (not necessary) or people will learn it automatically (a wishful thinking)),
  • there may be a huge difference in initial social skill levels (from one where no course is needed to one, when a course won't change things),
  • teaching social skills may be difficult, as many things are very culturally- and context-dependent.

Personally, I regret that there were no social skills courses at my university (so I had to learn from books, mostly - undergraduate psychology). For me, as for many other STEM students, it was (relatively) easier to learn technical material "in the natural way", than social skills.

However, social skills (as any other skills), are the best to be honed in practice (at least after). There are many opportunities, e.g.:

  • teamwork on any project (scientific or "just for fun"),
  • running a students' chapter or club,
  • organizing trips, excursions, movie nights, parties, ...,
  • organizing a students' conference.
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At our university (the Netherlands) students are actively involved in group projects and as a part of the preparation to these projects they get some training on how to give talks, how to negotiate, how to organize/chair meetings, etc.

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I'm not sure this answers the OP's question of why colleges don't teach social skills. Pointing out that yours does fails to answer the question of why the most others don't. –  user107 May 27 '12 at 19:21
    
My only point was to show that not all colleges do not. The academic landscape is diverse enough also in this respect. –  Alexander Serebrenik May 27 '12 at 19:41
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I would call these "professional skills" rather than "social skills", and I think it's a useful distinction to make. –  Pete L. Clark May 27 '12 at 20:03

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