Tag Archives: academics

Stew’s on Academic Leave

Hello all,

To the handful of you that actually visit the site on Thursdays, I offer my apologies.  I’m a bit swamped between preparing for my MS defense and getting my ducks in a row for the upcoming field season, so I won’t be contributing much to the blog over the next week or two.  But rest assured, Evan, Kat, and Gordon will continue generating fantastic stuff on the other days of the week.

I leave you with this turtle.

northernmapturtle

-Stew

Evan and Gordon Talk: The Purpose of College

EVAN: This week on E&GT we take a break from scrutinizing film to look back about seven or so months to a different time of our lives: college. Now that we’ve both graduated we find ourselves in a different stage of life, and it begs the question of what those four years did for us, and whether or not that’s what we wanted or expected.

GORDON: Throughout my college career, especially towards the end, I heard a recurring argument:

“College is a scam,” they said, “It’s a trap or, at very best, a waste of money. You don’t learn anything you can actually translate into a job, so either drop out while you can or don’t sweat the grades and party your buns off.”

EVAN: Wait, who is the “they” that was saying this?

GORDON: I’ve read it in various Cracked articles, I’ve seen it covered in webcomics and in comments, I’ve heard it on the radio. Not always the same tone,  but it always boiled down to that essential idea. “College doesn’t teach you what you really need to know, it just puts you in debt and wastes your time.”

EVAN: Well, I guess that really begs the question of “What is it that we’re really supposed to know?” If college is the great institution to prepare us for our lives, what should it have taught us?

GORDON: Some would argue that technical and vocational skills are what we really need. Stuff that’s meant to train us for jobs. Wrenches, not Whitman.

EVAN: Which is the sort of thing you see advertised on television late at night or in the middle of the day; schools for electricians and dental assistants and plumbers and what have you.

GORDON: Which always come across as propaganda films from a dystopic alternate timeline. They can claim to be breaking the mold all they want- I’ll still always just see Orwellian Factory-Schools designed train the subservient masses for laboring in name of supreme leader and glorious fatherland.

EVAN: Heh heh.

The contrast to this idea you brought up when first introducing this topic, that the two sides could be seen as college prepping us for our careers or making us more well-rounded individuals.

There’s obviously more to it than that, but how would you boil the latter option down to its essence?

GORDON: I’d probably cite our own alma mater’s (for me more just “mater”) slogan of “global mindedness.” The idea is to create people who are, first and foremost, thinkers. Logical and critically minded thinkers with strong creative abilities and appreciation for art and wonder. A noble enough sentiment to be sure.

EVAN: To really engage with this topic I feel like we should have equal footing, and I’ll have to give our readers a little bit of context-

I’m currently unemployed, and chose to live the latter part of 2012 living with and taking care of my grandfather, whose wife [my grandmother] passed away in September. My job hunt has only very recently started up again.

I say that because as it stands one of us is currently working and knows how his education has aided him and the other is not.

GORDON: I, unlike my Canadian counter-part, am currently employed, having worked two jobs simultaneously for a while there. Having vainly searched for a job the entire summer and most of the fall, I am now working a job helping unemployed people find work, the irony of which is not lost on me.

EVAN: And did you, my Employed-American friend, find that a degree helped you in your search for work?

GORDON: In all honesty, I’m not sure.

On one hand, I can say that certain classes I brought definitely assisted me in securing a job, but those classes really more on the whole “applied” spectrum of education. I definitely didn’t need to go to a top 3% college. People, it turns out, don’t give a crap about where you went.

EVAN: Again, I can’t comment from experience, but I’d like to say that it depends on the job.

GORDON: This is probably true. However, if you were looking for a job, which is gonna look better on a resume? Four years of college, or four years of experience in that field? From everything that I’ve seen, I’d take experience every time.

EVAN: And I agree with that entirely. I can’t count the number of want ads I’ve seen [and this is for stuff like janitorial work, and dishwasher] that require “minimum 2 years work experience.”

It’s like, heck, what was I doing in school when I could’ve been out working this whole time?

GORDON: But of course, that brings up the first question: what’s the point of college? Are we expected to choose a career path and be trained like the mindless, dehumanized proles that we are?

EVAN: Well, for me personally my career goals were more tailored to an academic setting. My personal interest in writing and editing is definitely something that can and is fostered in that environment.

That being said, if I had skipped my four years of college to simply freelance as hard as I could out there in the real world, would I be a better writer today? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

GORDON: The problem is that both sides have really, really big flaws.

On the one hand, turning college into a simple vocational training course does truly rip the soul right out of academia. It makes it just the place you go to get a desk job instead of a manual one.

On the other hand, college as it is now, while fostering intellect and creativity, is as unhelpful as it is expensive. Why put yourself over a hundred thousand dollars in debt to not get employment?

EVAN: I guess in the bigger picture, what is it that we want to do with our lives?

There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require a college education, and that certainly benefit from hard work at an early stage.

On the flip-side, there are jobs that you simply can’t get without a degree.

GORDON: We also can’t imagine that we can simply get any job we want to begin with. It’s all a gamble. I can get a degree in biology, but that doesn’t at all mean I’m gonna get a job in biology- heck, I’d probably be lucky if I got something even close!

EVAN: Like a janitor in a pharmaceutical company. Or the guy who delivers mail to a biology professor’s house.

GORDON: Exactly. So is that it, then? It’s the whole dang system?

EVAN: I mean, yeah. I feel like more often than not that’s all it really boils down to.

GORDON: So let’s talk about an ideal universe. Or at least one that ain’t quite so screwed up. What’s college look like? Give me your take.

This does not count as an ideal college…

EVAN: It’s tricky, man- Because I would like everyone to be well-read individuals who think about the media that they access and have a fuller understanding of what makes us who and what we are as a culture, I mean, that’s the dream-

But at the same time I acknowledge that there are people who don’t care a whit about any or all of that.

And with so many people who enjoy poetry and the arts, while those are debatably important parts of society, what happens when they need to find work? How many playwrights can any single country sustain?

GORDON: My response would be “how many playwrights are there actually out there?”

EVAN: I think there’s a difference between the actual number, and how many individuals would actually like to be a part of that number.

GORDON: Touché, but we can blame certain jobs being glorified and others suffering from unwarranted contempt.

But let’s move on. College. Your college- what’s it look like?

EVAN: A thorough exploration of the ideas that created Western civilization, the one most of us live in today, because it’s extremely important to observe our origins before we can look at our present and then ahead, after that.

A strong emphasis on writing with the reason that without the ability to properly communicate our thoughts how can we even really fully think them to begin with.

GORDON: Sounds to me that you’re still leaning more towards the side of academia.

EVAN: Well, like we’ve discussed, I have a slight bias. And I suppose we haven’t really defined the question as far as the purpose of college.

GORDON: My take would a combination of both sides, with the end goal being application. We’re talking about the study of English for the purposes of applying the principles in same, either in writing or screenplays or entertainment or communication of some kind.

I feel this would allow for all the creative and academic elements while keeping the whole process grounded. No ivory towers.

EVAN: I don’t think my take discounts the possibility of lining up with what you said, but that’s a really good description of how college could and maybe should be.

That being said, we are actually overtime.

GORDON: You wanna talk about drugs and culture next time?

EVAN: I think at some point we could hand this back to the viewers, actually. We’ve really gotten a handle on this whole E&GT. I’m just not sure when or how to do so.

GORDON: The readers are slack-jawed cattle who would eat their own shoes if we told them to.

EVAN: I should probably edit that out of the final post.

GORDON: Nah, we can let ’em vote. My subject would be Drugs and Culture.

EVAN: Mine would be . . . um . . . huh. About SNL. How to fix SNL.

GORDON: Nice. Let it be so.

EVAN: Tell the nice people to have a good Wednesday, Gordon.

GORDON: Have a good Wednesday, Gordon.

EVAN: And don’t forget to vote, readers! Thanks for putting up with my co-writer!

A Letter to Anyone Entering the Job Market in 2012

Cynicism about the economy, the job market, and basically anything in “the world today” is inappropriately and lazily fashionable right now, I think. Not that I’m foolish enough to say that the aforementioned institutions have nothing going wrong with them; it’s just that the default conversation seems to too often involve predictions of our gloomy, futureless futures, especially for my demographic – that is, middle class college students in the US.

Those of us who are reading this on the internet, who have enough food to eat, who have clean water to drink and somewhere warm to sleep, and who are able to rely on at least temporary financial assistance from our relatives if we really needed it – we are some of the most privileged people in the world right now, economically and situationally.

To be clear, I don’t think we’re guaranteed happiness. Life is hard. And sad. But I do think that we have been given ample resources to construct a stable and joyful existence, however, and I think that it might be healthy to occasionally reflect upon that fact with a simple and unaffected sense of baffled gratitude.

Students now are groomed not only to succeed academically but to operate professionally. We’ve been taught textbooks worth of information and, more importantly, a work ethic—the emotional benefits of which you can discount if you like but which does, it cannot be denied, set one up rather nicely for social and economic success (in the West at least). Some of us read nonfiction and enjoy it sometimes. Most of us will never be homeless. Almost all of us have some sort of skill that we cultivate for no career-oriented reason. We have learned that sometimes we are wrong, that sometimes our opinions matter and (possibly most importantly) that sometimes they don’t.

And yeah, going from college into the Real World is going to be a rather shocking change for many of us. But I think most of us will thrive on the opportunity to do work for money, after floundering in abstract work while paying lots of money to do so (yes, in the long term this makes sense, but when you are writing a paper at 3 in the morning and think to yourself that this is costing you your life’s savings, the logic of the situation is hard to articulate).

When the terror of post-graduation becomes paralyzing, I think it might be helpful to remember that we are all rather intelligent, capable, ingenuous people. We might get a job the summer after we graduate that has nothing to do with our major, but we will know to be thankful for a job, and we will be able to do it to the best of our overqualified abilities. And we might not be able to achieve whatever two-dimensional ideal of living we hold in our heads (I’m an English major, so for most of my friend group this involves “a cabin in the woods somewhere” and lots of books and wine and maybe facial hair), but I think we have the resources to find joy and a sense of potency in whatever work is at hand, whether it be academic work or scraping by for a few years at a job for which we are wholly overqualified. So I have hope that my generation can survive if given the chance.