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"We know that you highly esteem the learning taught in those colleges... We thank you heartily, but our ideas of this kind of education happen not to be the same as yours... Several of our young people were instructed in all your sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods... not fit for hunters, warriors, nor counsellors; they were totally good for nothing. Though we decline your kind offer, to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them." - Iroquois representative, replying to Colonial Governors at Lancaster

Apparently not much has changed, regarding certain kinds of college education, since colonial times. I have been job-hunting, off and on, for the last few days, and it has just driven home this point: my liberal arts education is very nearly useless. Why did I not listen to the voice in my head that said this, back when I was 17 and just entering college?

Those of you who are parents, or who ever plan to be, please, please listen to me: do not tell your children "study what you love." Tell them to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, and then tell them to study whatever it takes to become that. Way too many of us studied something that sounded interesting at the time, and in fact was interesting. But useful? Hardly.

I have an M.A. in Linguistics. I do not know what I'm supposed to do with that. Nobody told me, except to suggest that it would be a good stepping stone towards a Ph.D. in Linguistics. And when you have one of those, you...teach Linguistics in college. Ah, the vicious cycle. Yes, the subject was interesting, definitely. But what do I do now?

I didn't take the route that would have allowed me to teach English as a second language, which is one of the only practical applications, and I wasn't really interested in that anyway. Two more years and another Master's degree could earn me certification in Speech and Hearing Pathology, but I wouldn't have really needed the Linguistics for that. I should have taken computer programming, is what I should have done. Then I could find work as a computational linguist. There aren't many such jobs, but at least they exist. Hell, programming could get me a job practically anywhere. However, as it stands, I do not know Perl, I do not know C++, I do not know Java, I do not even know Prolog or the stupid little functions you can enter in Microsoft Office. I haven't done programming since "10 print '!', 20 run" on that Radio Shack computer from 1983.

And why didn't I take computer science, one of those six years I was either an undergrad or a graduate student? Because I figured what I was studying was enough to keep me busy. I figured, blithely, something would come up when it was time to find a job.

Sure, something will come up. Most likely it will be something with "assistant" in the title, and will require extensive use of a photocopier and a stapler. Good thing I'm so highly educated, or I might not be able to solve those paper jams!

It was so stupid of me. So stupid. Parents, please, take your children aside when they're 10, 12, 15, 18. Find out what they're good at in school; ask them if they would want to do that for the rest of their lives, or at least a good portion of their lives. Good at chemistry? Think you'd be interested in lab work? Good! There are plenty of labs out there. Pays pretty well, too! Like your debate team? Think you might be interested in law school? Great! Pays even better!

But the liberal arts? For those of us who don't want to end up right back in academics, where do we go? Sure, if you chose journalism you're all right – there's an actual industry for that. But let's take a sampling of people I've talked to who have graduated with other liberal arts degrees:
"I majored in History. What was I supposed to do with that?"
"I majored in Russian. (long pause) Yep."
"I majored in Theater, then realized I couldn't find any work."
"I majored in Anthropology, but as I didn't want to dig in the dirt, or sit in third-world countries and record what the people were doing, I had no use for it."
(That last one is mine; Anthro was my undergrad degree.)

Basically: if you're interested in a subject, but you can't think what people actually do with it in the real world, then how about contenting yourself with reading a book about it? Make it a hobby, if you like. But, for the love of heaven, choose a major based on marketability, unless you want to join the ranks of the bitter, overeducated, and practically useless people like me, who have learned to be really good with file folders and post-it notes and have wondered what became of our dreams to be worshipped as gods of knowledge.

Oh, but wait!, I say to myself. Ever since I was about 11, I did know what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer. And, lo and behold, I am a writer, at least in the sense that I write stories sometimes, and even have one published as an ebook, and am good at spelling and punctuation and grammar (though, technically, that part just makes me a proofreader). Assuming I keep writing, which I almost certainly will, and assuming the world sits up and takes a little more notice as the years go by, which I hope it will, then won't that be enough? Even though the royalties will not pay the bills (they usually don't, unless you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling) and therefore even though I will still need a day job, won't the identity of writer be enough to sustain me? And, therefore, won't I be able to say that my day job identity doesn't matter? Can I be happy being X Assistant, making 28 grand a year with a comfy benefits package, merely because of the occasional piece of fan mail awaiting me at home, or the occasional review saying "Molly J. Ringle is a delightful storyteller"?

A lot of the time, I think so. I think that would be enough. But then part of me always has to doubt it: "Yeah, but...wouldn't it be nice, at least, if your day job had something to do with your actual interests and talents?"

Which brings us back to the problem: what talents? Writing? I don't think I want to teach writing; I'm not sure I want to teach at all, or at least not for my entire career. Academia is one screwed-up place; ask any sane person who's worked in it recently. You'd think, perhaps, that writing skills and knowledge of how language works would be a great boon to several industries. But then you'd find it hard to come up with an actual example of one, if I asked you to. I went to an employment agency yesterday and patiently explained my background, education, skills, and interests, and they – they whose job it is to find work for people based on their talents – seemed to be at a loss to come up with the kind of thing I'm ideally suited for. They'd certainly look, and give me a call, they said, but they weren't sure they could find anything that would really exercise my creativity – even after I said I didn't care what industry it was in. I was trying to help by being open to several possibilities, but they still weren't sure.

So. Convinced yet, parents and current students? When it comes time to choose a major, remember the story of poor LemonLye and choose wisely. Or else settle for being That Secretary Who Also Writes Novels/Plays In A Band/Paints Pictures/Does Civil War Reenactments.

P.S. My day definitely was brightened yesterday, however, when I came home, checked LJ, and found it all a-flurry with news of that RotK trailer. I downloaded it from some site in Europe, and I have to say: Sah-weeeeet! I'm a dedicated Frodo/Sam fan, but the Merry/Pippin stuff in that was just gorgeous and heartbreaking. And the winged Nazgul descending upon Minas Tirith was awesome enough to give me goosebumps in 90-degree weather. Ah, New Line and PJ, thank you; my faith is restored. Writer and fangirl: my identity. Yes, it's enough for now.


( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 31st, 2003 08:28 pm (UTC)
It's not just liberal arts. I've got a BA in Math - because it was easy and fun, and I expected to teach.
But I burned out on school by that point, and stopped.
Took me 18 months to find a job, everyont told me I was overqualified and under experienced. Myu first job was cutomer service - phones and data entry for a plumbing manufacturer. Five years of hell.
Now I work for a scientific publisher, but it took me a long time to find something even tangentially related to my major.
I thought I was being practical - both my parents have acting degrees.
Jul. 31st, 2003 08:29 pm (UTC)
another piece of advice for your reader - learn to type. unlike me.
(no subject) - mollyringle - Jul. 31st, 2003 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 31st, 2003 08:30 pm (UTC)
Okay. Enough complaining. ;-) How about this, little sister:

I've got the outline for at least two screenplays (four, actually, depending on how picky you want to be about "outline") with the treatment for the first one under way. You know I'm not a total hack when it comes to this writing stuff. I'm also pretty damn busy lately and am also sort of stuck on a couple of parts. You're no slouch when it comes to storytelling or dialogue. Wanna co-write? I can even set you up with Final Draft.

We sell even one of them, and we're financially set. Think about it.
Jul. 31st, 2003 09:05 pm (UTC)
Now that I am so highly educated, I am able to say that it would be very stupid to turn this down. :) Especially since you own a studio, or something...or at least have industry contacts.

Yes, thank you!, I will at least take a crack at it. I've only done screenplays in the form of adaptations of my own stories so far, but with enough of a synopsis I should be able to come up with something. How often have we looked at Hollywood's "finest" and said that we could have written better dialogue in one night, after all?

Are they all originals, or are any adaptations? What kind of genre? Well, you can email me all that if you want, I guess.

There, I knew complaining must have some productive use. :)
(no subject) - kenshi - Aug. 1st, 2003 08:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Aug. 1st, 2003 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 31st, 2003 08:51 pm (UTC)
I've got a Major in Theology.

However, in order to earn a living, I'll be doing two more years post-grad in secondary education. *sighs*
Aug. 1st, 2003 10:53 am (UTC)
Well, again, at least it was interesting, right? :)

I would have supposed that people who intended to go into the clergy would major in Theology, but maybe they have separate courses altogether...
(no subject) - sweetfires - Aug. 1st, 2003 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 31st, 2003 10:10 pm (UTC)
I have a BA in English because I couldn't hack differential equations. (Where I went to school no one started out majoring in LA, we just sort of landed there through anumericism)

I'm a library paraprofessional. I'm going to get my MLIS so I can be a librarian.

Many people are deliberately underemployed because it gives us time for our alternate lives. Mrs. S the library paraprofessional keeps Angel the fangirl and Lady Aethelynde the SCAdian in paper, zines, cloth and events.

And the job gives me lots of time to think, as well as access to all sorts of stuff. Now if I can just get the Boyz to quit making out in the stacks when I'm trying to shelve, I'll be in good shape. The flyboys flirting is only slightly less distracting than Henry jones Sr. quoting dirty Shakespeare right behind my ear.

Aug. 1st, 2003 10:54 am (UTC)
Many people are deliberately underemployed because it gives us time for our alternate lives.

Yes, I sometimes think of it that way too. It calms me when I consider that really this is just a way to fund my outside interests.

But actually, I think I'd like being a librarian. I love books and quiet places, so there you go. :)
Jul. 31st, 2003 10:41 pm (UTC)
Would you like fries with that?
Mmm. I've done that rant myself fairly often in the past. I've a few degrees in subjects that are way more useless than yours. Let's see... After months of futile searching, I felt lucky when I finally landed a receptionist/typist slot. Later, I did my time as a staff instructor at a state university; I'd concur on the screwed and screwing nature of academia, and I realized quickly enough that it wasn't an environment I wanted to spend the rest of my life in.

Even now, I still quietly resent those humanities departments that I trotted through for providing zilch in the way of career counseling for students. The party line is that "employers want liberal arts majors." But somehow no one ever gets around to identifying which employers those would be, or in what capacity they'd want 'em. To participate in co-op/intern programs while in school is probably the wisest, most practical decision any humanities student can make. It's a shame the colleges don't emphasize this heavily; as it is, most liberal arts majors still graduate without even realizing that such programs exist.

So I'd agree that it's not a bad idea to educate toward an end goal of employment, rather than educating willy-nilly and hoping the job situation will magically sort itself out later. But that's with the caveat that it's possible to narrowly educate yourself into a hole that can be difficult to climb out of later should you discover that, in actual practice, you loathe your chosen career.

At any rate, it IS possible to find work that's appealing -- and doesn't involve filing or flipping burgers. I wish I'd realized that a little earlier in life, as I would have wasted less time on the wrong turns and moping. But I figured it out eventually. I expect most people do.

Maybe this sort of thing depends in large part on age or individual personality, but for me the best route was to go it alone. I did my own homework, sorted out my own options, located a few relevant people and picked their brains. I decided that publishing in general was what I'd really been interested in all along, and that ultimately I wanted to work for myself. Lack of experience and the gruesome job market at the time meant I couldn't persuade anyone to hire me and teach me how to do the work I wanted. So I just skipped the messy intermediate step, hired myself, and taught myself. Worked out fine in the end.

(A little more is required of a professional proofreader than basic knowledge of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I'm glad, because I've always found grammar in the abstract to be yawn-worthy. )
Aug. 1st, 2003 10:58 am (UTC)
Re: Would you like fries with that?
it's possible to narrowly educate yourself into a hole that can be difficult to climb out of later should you discover that, in actual practice, you loathe your chosen career.

Yes - I think that's what I've been dreading and trying to avoid by my loosely defined studies. Ideally, we could all find something specific, likable, and marketable...but that's the trick, isn't it? Heh.

But, a good workplace with a fun atmosphere can go a long way toward making up for boring tasks. Publishing definitely sounds good. I sent a resume to the Seattle Times yesterday, just in case...

Anyway, thanks for reading all that and responding. Needed to rant, you know. :)
Jul. 31st, 2003 11:12 pm (UTC)
I was having this kind of problem a few months ago when I was picking classes for sophomore year. It'd be nice to do what I like for a living, but what I like to do is read and listen to music. Really, there's not much I can do with that. My grandmother had all the big diplomas for English and taught at some local colleges, but she was never able to secure tenure and ended up working for Lockheed Martin. My mom always wanted to be a writer, and she writes in her spare time, but her job is with computers. She's been telling me to look into that, since I do know HTML and the basics and whatnot, and it'd probably be a good idea to look into computers as a career, it pays well and since we live in Silicon Valley, that's a good help as well.

But it depresses me to think of being stuck in a boring job for the rest of my life. It's a concept that depresses everyone. I think I could be willing to sacrifice a high-paying job for doing something I love because I cannot handle doing something boring for more than say, 20 minutes -- but what if I change my mind and would rather become a lawyer instead so I can live comfortably?

The point to this comment is that I've been hearing rants like yours from people like my parents and other adults, and I wonder exactly what I'm supposed to do about it. Submit myself to a career of boring jobs I don't like or care about? Scrounge around penniless for the sake of a career doing 'what I love'? Bah, these rants make my future look bleak.
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:33 pm (UTC)
Well, don't worry - that was me in negative mode. :) Here's me in positive mode:

Keep doing what you love doing most, and what you're best at; and eventually someone will notice that you're good at it and will put it to work. This has proven true even for me, and I have to remember that.

A workplace with friendly coworkers and a good atmosphere makes even a relatively boring job pretty easy to take. Heck, I did accounting for three years even though I never had wanted to, but thought it was all right since it was for a big construction firm here in Seattle, and they took us on tours of the new job-sites sometimes, and I could point to things in town and say "My company built that." I think it'll all work out, and neither of us has too bleak a future, job-wise. :)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:36 pm (UTC)
Well, at least, while you're still in school, take advantage of those career counselors that they keep around, and ask them for some direction. I never did that, and I've been told people can get cool internships and leads that way.

And it does actually mean something to employers when they see that you completed a 4-year degree. It shows you can stick with your tasks and have some discipline.

Whatever happens, December will bring us RotK, oh yes!
Jul. 31st, 2003 11:25 pm (UTC)
As a side note to your advice...I did my first two years at community college and it was great. I played eenie-meenie-major at 1/10 the cost, lived at home (sucked in some ways, worked well in others) and paid my own way with part-time jobs.
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:38 pm (UTC)
I encountered a lot of community college transfer students when I was a T.A. at UCD - they often had to take the class (Linguistics 1) for a communications major. They tended to be hard workers, since they were concerned that the university setting would be too hard for them after the community college. But they needn't have worried; most of them were good students!
Aug. 1st, 2003 12:42 am (UTC)
A riposte ;)
I don't really like the utility approach to education. Learning should never just be about application; it should be about mental stimulation. So that may not directly lead to a practical field, but it does produce people who are intelligent, articulate and enthusiastic - far better than people who have grudgingly done a "practical" degree so they can do something they merely tolerate.

I will never be rich, I don't think. Never mind. People will employ me, though, because nowadays (in this country at least) it's often less what degree you do but how well you've done in it that counts. A good degree from a good university is what employers are often looking for.

Besides which, the world has enough lawyers :) Seriously though, my time at university has been the most challenging and fulfilling time of my life, and I wouldn't give that up for any job prospects. You can learn from private reading at home, but I would never have the breadth of knowledge that I do now if I'd just turned my attention for a couple of hours a week to some texts I'd found in a bookshop.
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:41 pm (UTC)
Re: A riposte ;)
I would never encourage anyone to get a degree "grudgingly," in something they didn't particularly like, just because it was marketable. Ideally, we could all think about what we like, and how we could use it in a practical sense, and thus follow a course of study that would combine those two things.

And I'd never want to be a lawyer myself! You're right; we have enough already. But apparently some people like that line of work.

I can't actually bring myself to regret studying Linguistics, because really I did enjoy it. But I wish I had done something other than Anthropology as an undergrad. I didn't even particularly care about the subject, so it was useless *and* tedious. :)
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:02 am (UTC)
I hated trying to get a proper job took me 9 months even after doing computing. I ended up teaching the internet to people for a few hours a week, this was when the unwashed masses were starting to get it. Which was ok apart from some man who complained to the college where I was teaching because I couldn't teach him to make the internet come around to his house and wash his windows for him or something equally impossible. Then I got a job doing 2nd line support, which put several noses out of joint, because I walked in a picked up stuff faster then people who had been there for 4 years and had the ability to work out things a damn site faster than they could. Anyway the point was sometimes even if you have the paper that says "I can do something useful" it doesn't always lead you to where you want to go. Though I do know someone what has an MSc in Chemistry, but hated it couldn't get a job and ended up doing a degree in computing.
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, I suppose even proper certification doesn't always guarantee a job. The economy right now, so they tell us, is not the best for people seeking work - nor perhaps for those in the tech industry. Perhaps it's just as well I didn't learn programming, at least for now.
Aug. 1st, 2003 04:14 am (UTC)
At the other end of the spectrum
I didn't finish college because I couldn't see the use for it way back when. I went to travel school and made a pretty good career of that for 10 years - until 9/11. And for a year, I tried to break into a new career. I was willing to do anything. I applied for many management positions that I did not get. I was told that if I had a degree in anything that I would be far more marketable because it showed that you were able to finish something you started. I am back at school now, and I am now pursuing something practical. It is "what I wanted to be when I grew up".

I have never felt that my job defined who I am. I have always felt that my job was something that paid the bills and allowed me to be who I am for the rest of the time. I like movies. I like reading. I like to travel. Anything that pays enough to allow me to do the things I enjoy is a successful career.

I hope that you are able to find something to do that you enjoy. If you can use your hard won college skills, that would be even better.
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:46 pm (UTC)
Re: At the other end of the spectrum
Good points - thanks for the perspective, and for reading through all that ranting. :)

I do relax a bit when I make myself think of a prospective job as just a way to pay the bills, and certainly that alone is a big improvement over grad school life, which is a world of chronic undercompensation.

Guess I have to remember that life is hardly over once I make the decision about my next job. I could always quit, and take another direction. My mom earned her Ph.D. at age 60, after all!
Aug. 1st, 2003 06:19 am (UTC)
I think I've got it right.

I'm doing a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honours, specialising in neuroscience. I'm utterly fascinated by neuroscience and I'm really motivated to do it. Additionally, James Watson, a biologist who revolutionised science by discovering the structure of DNA in 1953 (along with Francis Crick) and who is one of the most respected and inspirational scientists in the world, recently said that the future of science is in the study of the brain and research in neuroscience. If I have his approval, I must be on the right track. I hope.
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:49 pm (UTC)
Definitely, the brain is practically uncharted territory as far as medical science goes, if I understand correctly. There seems to be an almost unlimited number of ways that brain injuries can mess people up, so we certainly need researchers to figure out how it works and how to fix it. Keep at it! (Honours too, very good.) :)

Thanks for reading through my complaints.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:51 pm (UTC)
Yes, I suppose the tech industry actually isn't doing quite so hot these days. Perhaps arts are as good as anything else!

Anyway, I can look at things more positively today; I just had to rant for a while. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my madness. :)
Aug. 1st, 2003 09:51 am (UTC)
RotK Trailer???
Do you mind coughing up the RotK site? Cause I can't find the right trailer ANYWHERE! Though I did find one for 'The Hobbit', coming out in 2006... Not a bad one, either. But I reeeeeeeally wanna see the RotK trailer, so... site address please?
Aug. 1st, 2003 10:21 am (UTC)
Re: RotK Trailer???
I found it here (right click and save, or if on a Mac, click and "Save as..."). Enjoy!
Re: RotK Trailer??? - (Anonymous) - Aug. 2nd, 2003 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 1st, 2003 10:48 am (UTC)
I totally sympathise...also have a degree in English and Translation Studies. Thank goodness I had 6 years worth of programming experience which opened door for me to become a technical writer. Which is not a bad way to get your foot in the door in terms of earning a salary and getting into the market...I didnt know what I wanted to do in terms of a career and am still drifting a little, although I always seem to get drawn back to education and training...

As for the ROTK trailer...it was awesome!! I am really preparing myself for a scary, exciting, sad, thrilling, breathtaking,awe inspiring 3 hours in December...
Aug. 1st, 2003 01:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Challenge
I guess it isn't such a bad thing to keep trying new career directions, as long as they overlap a little bit. Makes us well-rounded people, right? It's a luxury of the modern age.

Anyway, thank you for reading the rant, and for the response. :)

Come what may, December WILL bring RotK. I can live for that!
Re: Challenge - i_kat_i - Aug. 1st, 2003 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Challenge - mollyringle - Aug. 3rd, 2003 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
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