a comparison

About that article I talked about before–here’s the link.

Since my piece was stylistically very different from what a newspaper, I suppose, requires, they did quite a bit of editing. And made numerous improvements. Replacing “cost” with “tuition,” for example, was understandable and appreciated. Also, in the beginning of the original article I offered very little reason as to why I liked lying about my intended major. (I’m just a jerk.) Things like that.

What I was a little saddened about was that the published article lost my writing “voice”. But whatever, there we have my one-time stint writing for the Ubyssey.

Anyway, here’s the original article (typos and all!), for comparison’s sake.

***

“Oh, you like English? So you want to be a teacher.”

I’ve heard this so many times from so many different people I now just nod whenever it’s convenient. Sometimes I don’t say English, though. I like to mix it up. Sometimes I say History. Sometimes I say Geography. (I’ve never taken a geography class in my life.) The response is usually the same, though.

I don’t, in fact, want to teach. And my actual interests lie in the field of political science, which garners it’s own response—“Oh! So you want to work for the UN?”—which, while a possibility, isn’t my only option.

But that’s often the way it seems with Arts.

What’s more, Arts students get a little ribbing over our faculty’s salary-to-cost ratio post-graduation, which is often less desirable than that of other faculties. Given the expectation that we will not be able to fill our future swimming pools with polymer notes of Sir Robert Borden’s face—or, even more outrageously, join the Vancouver Homeowner’s Association—some people question why we decide to pursue a BA at all.

But occasional condescension aside, what I’ve realized is that many people, including Arts students, don’t understand what the purpose of an Arts degree currently is.

As an Arts student, I have admittedly asked myself what I’m going to do with my BA once I graduate. Which is a healthy question to ask one’s self, regardless of faculty or degree. Still, it’s hard to escape the reality of university—that it’s incredibly expensive. Many BC students can expect to graduate with a debt upwards of $30,000, so it’s easy to see why newly-minted BA holders want to secure jobs that will aid in repaying these loans as quickly as possible.

But often we dive into our new student lives with preconceived expectations strapped to our backs. Don’t get me wrong—the experiences and knowledge Arts students gain during our time in university is altruistic in the most basic sense because it fosters a more educated citizenry. But we think that our degree will do one of two things for us: 1) provide a conventional path to a decent career, or 2) ensure that the only house we will ever own will be made of Legos. Both of these expectations are problematic.

Currently, a BA is an undergraduate degree that exists to give you options, not set you up for a particular vocation or trade. The skills and knowledge you gain from your education will, as a result, be much more transposable.

This is one of the reasons why pursuing a BA is worthwhile. The reason we study liberal arts at all is because through it we gain better perspective of individual and collective human experience. In the words of Dean Averill, “liberal arts education helps to produce individuals who are masterful communicators, keen analysts, sophisticated researchers, and innovative thinkers.” It is these transposable skills that should make Arts students adaptable to a complex and changing job market. Ultimately, engaging yourself in the Arts should give you the tools to continually push yourself to be better than the person you were yesterday.

Darren Dahl, Senior Associate Dean of Commerce (Faculty and Research) spoke in a similar vein when I asked for his thoughts. “It’s about leveraging the process of the education,” he said, referring to developed critical thinking skills that promote good decision-making. “It’s what you went through to get your degree, not [necessarily] the degree itself.”

Notably, all of the individuals I’ve spoken with—within the Arts faculty and out—have asserted that the main beneficiaries of students trained in the liberal arts are societies as a whole. (Who knew that an informed, aware citizenship would be conducive to a high-functioning society?)

Another common postulation was that students of all faculties should carry at least some of the knowledge that is learned in the humanities. Dean Parlange emphasized the importance of possessing such knowledge, particularly for those in positions of power.  The Dean of Applied Sciences also noted “today’s graduates will likely hold several different jobs over the course of their careers. […] What will help you the most, in any job in any sector, is the ability to be creative and persistent.”

Of course, if you are in Arts, one would hope that you’re in it because you love what you’re studying. Your studies should inspire dedication. Dean Averill offered an interesting example: “A student who always loved maps in their National Geographic magazines, who goes into Geography as a result, is unlikely to find a career making maps (although that’s not impossible), but their interest in geographic information might lead them to a career involving the application of global information systems or to work on demographics for Stats Canada, or as an entrepreneur in a global business (perhaps combined with a business degree and utilizing their knowledge of a foreign language learned while at UBC). This is closer to the kind of student we are seeing emerge from our programs: self-motivated, creative in career choices, and ready for a challenge.”

Notice, however, that the kinds of careers each academic alluded to require additional training. A degree in Arts is formational in these kinds of arrangements, rather than specific training for a particular vocation or trade.

With that in mind, it’s no secret that those who attempt to enter the workforce immediately upon finishing their BA do often have trouble. This doesn’t lessen the value of a BA, but it does mean that connections and the work you do during your time as an undergrad matter. I spoke with a recent UBC alumnus who majored in Political Science, who now works for a media agency. Of his degree and current job situation, he had this to say: “throughout my degree I worked in nonprofit, volunteering and later sitting on the board of directors of a health organization with some reach within the community. I also did an unpaid internship at a technology startup in Gastown. Ultimately, that extracurricular work, and the networking I was doing throughout it, was what led to me finding work.” But finding job openings in the first place was incredibly difficult. Which, he added, isn’t uncommon. “I have many friends and classmates who graduated and spent months or even years before they were able to find a [good] job […] others opted to get a more technical certificate, continue with graduate studies, or learn a trade in order to find better job prospects.”

Which might be why many of the people I talked with stressed the complimentary aspects of an Arts degree. As useful as an Arts student’s skills are, they fair exceptionally better outside of university when paired with technical certificates and second-entry professional programs. I don’t think this makes an Arts degree less valuable, though—just different from what many people expect of it.

The Associate Creative Director at DDB, one of Canada’s most awarded creative agencies, was one such Arts major who decided to further his education after completing his undergrad. Having previously considered law school, an MBA, and work in the UN, Neil Shapiro ultimately chose to do a postgraduate course at Humber College for Copywriting. “I think an Arts degree in and of itself doesn’t lead to many jobs,” he mused. “This was something I was painfully aware of upon graduation. What it does do is open up doors for postgraduate education that can lead to rewarding careers. I had a number of career paths open that wouldn’t have been possible without having completed a BA first.”

What’s important to remember is that university does not entitle you to a job in the sense that you (or your parents) might think. Most people in Arts don’t get jobs directly related to their degrees, because the way our complex, shifting job market is structured means that what is in-demand usually doesn’t require an extensive, in-depth understanding of Medieval England. But that doesn’t mean this kind of degree has no practical use; it is about leveraging the process of your education. It’s about having improved decision-making skills, an expanse of knowledge otherwise not held by those who have not experienced what you have, and, for most, a myriad of possibilities for further postgraduate education. That is where the value of a BA lies.

Rather than a defense of Arts, I feel I’ve given a brief run-down of what a BA entails. I don’t think it’s desperately important that Arts students defend what we study, because an Arts degree does hold weight in the real world. It’s just that people think Arts should only act as a quick vocational trainer when it doesn’t currently exist as one. And if you are an Arts student: be careful with that kind of mindset. Remember, it’s still the beginning of the school year. Continue to cultivate your interests, get involved—go to co-op, internship, and tri-mentoring information sessions. Don’t like what you’re offered? Then search elsewhere. But don’t look for something exciting expecting to find convention; be creative, persistent, and take initiative.

Of all things, Arts does not warrant justification.

***

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