Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three colours

My main program of study is journalism, but that alone doesn’t describe me. I’ve taken English courses, economics, management, stats, media, and enough psychology courses for a minor. I feel full, in a way; three-dimensional. I can talk some management to a management student, or a little bit of science to a science student. More importantly, I’m at an advantage when my subjects play into each other. When statistics show up in a humanities class, I know what the hell a standard deviation is, or a z-score, or a confidence interval. In a creative writing class I can explain a character’s motivation in terms of psychological theories, theories which also broaden my understanding of management principles. Economics helps me when I read journalistic articles; English lit courses help me with  life and the big questions.

The advice I’m giving is, be full. I overhear from students a lot of, “I’m a science student, so why does the university make me take a humanities course?”

Because you’ll learn things outside of your main area of study. It’s that simple. Every student mired in the minutiae of plants and algae beneath their feet should take a philosophy course, and learn to look up. Every student lost in the space-time abstract should learn to pay attention to people and why people behave the way they do. Scientists should moonlight as poets, and artists should be rationalists, and everyone should be a student of history.

In orientation week they give you a colour-coded shirt for your main area of study; arts, science, or management. It fosters a clannish sense of belonging. Back in first year I, too, wore a red shirt and felt familial pride, but in hindsight I feel that the message the shirts send is a mistake. The shirts say that you are one type of person; an arts person and nothing else. You’re immediately taught to not associate with anyone outside your discipline through competition, separation, and slogans of (good-natured) hate.

The ideal Frosh shirt
The attitude that this instills is “I am an ­­­____ student” instead of merely a “student”. Perhaps his discourages students from becoming true interdisciplinarians. Maybe a science student who’s interested in music wouldn’t take that music course, because it’s not where they’re taught to belong. It’s on that other side, the arts side, where everyone smokes cigarettes and wears berets and talks about Marxism and existentialist hooey; an unbreachable gap.

The message I want you to leave with is this: overcome that gap. Be an interdisciplinarian. Know at least a bit everything. There’s a reason that many grad schools want their applicants to have had a wide range of experience. You’ll not only end up knowing a bit more, but you’ll be forced to think in new ways. And you’ll come to the end of your university career richer and fuller, coated in three colours.

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