Wednesday, 23 April 2014

I am not at university to get a degree

Today's post is from Kristina Drozdiak, student in the Faculty of Arts and CAPS' Communications Intern for the past year.

I have a number of friends who advocate that university is a waste of time; all you need to get a job (and some lucrative ones at that) is a high school diploma.

When I tell people I am studying English, the number one response is: “What are you going to do with that?”

Valid points and valid questions, but they don’t align with why I’m at university. I am at university to learn. I did not decide to study English to break into editing, publishing, writing. I’ve never consciously looked at the labour market.

I chose to study English because it’s a subject I enjoy. Maybe that’s naive, but I think the best way to be happy in this life is to pursue the things that bring you joy. My English degree has let me stretch my wings and do a lot of things that I enjoy: reading, analyzing and articulating information, critical thinking—the list goes on.

Do I also find it fascinating to examine how Indian writing in English has changed since Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children? Absolutely. I also enjoy puzzling through “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” by reading it aloud, tracing the politics of gender in mountaineering novels, and deconstructing Satan’s rhetoric in Paradise Lost. I have done all of these things while pursuing my degree, and since that’s what people see me doing, it’s easy to understand why they think my degree isn’t relevant to the “real world.”

Just skimming the surface, it doesn’t look like much. The only sensible application seems to be teaching English to others, or perhaps being one of those crackpot writers with more sense for art than story.

But, à la Rafiki in The Lion King I bid you: Look harder. As much as I enjoy listening to The Canterbury Tales on my iPod, what I like most about my degree is the type of thinking I get to do. In lectures, I’m challenged to process information in real-time, identify key points, and record them. In readings, I’m challenged to analyze texts, and in papers I’m challenged to articulate information and present strong, plausible arguments. Maybe they’re over-used buzzwords, but I enjoy critical thinking, problem-solving and articulating my findings.

I get to do all of those things in my degree, and often. I’m not saying those skills are unique to an English degree, nor are they the only skills an English degree can help you hone. But I’m doing what I enjoy, and improving those same skills that make me happy. Our most valuable commodity is our time, and I’ve devoted mine to things that I enjoy. What I enjoy happen to be marketable skills, and if you break down what you enjoy, I bet yours are too.

What do you enjoy? Those, I think, are the skills that will take you to interesting, verdant and rewarding places throughout your career.

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