College—a place of safe spaces, loud parties, quiet libraries, questionable fashion choices and…academia-fueled judgment? As a Broadcast Journalism major, I can’t count the times my friends and even random party acquaintances, told me through their smirks that my major is “easy,” while they use up every ounce of their brainpower in their major classes. No, unlike aerospace engineering, journalism is not rocket science, nor rock science (AKA geology). But I would never write off journalism as “easy” because it doesn’t involve a heavy science or math course load.
My major falls somewhere near the top of the long list of fields (fine arts, humanities, communications, etc.) that come under fire from business, science and math majors for being undesirable in the job force. Despite the ridicule my major and other “dead-end” majors receive, I seldom hear my classmates disparaging other disciplines in this way. But, I do hear them say that engineering, accounting, computer science and people in similar majors have sold their souls to boring, grueling classwork only to guarantee they’ll earn six figures right out of college.
Still, why do people who study heavy math or science majors so often assert that their course loads are harder and more important than what anyone in communications or liberal arts learns? Why do people seem to value some skills more than others, when, really, they’re too different to compare?
Anne Pauley, a recent Penn State grad who double-majored in mechanical engineering and music, sees both sides of the debate. “[Mechanical engineering] is important because engineers design and build everything we use and are pretty much the people that make our society run,” Pauley said. “Music is important because it’s the core of our culture and what makes us human.”
Granted, we all have different sets of priorities and values, but it seems impossible to choose between a functioning society and our culture and humanity—eh, maybe that’s just me.
For those of us on the humanities spectrum, professionals agree that fields like communication prove necessary to almost every industry. Penn State’s Dean of the College of Communications Marie Hardin said, “[The field of communications] is essential for all other fields, for society and for the successful functioning of government.” She believes this is generally understood, across all fields. “…It’s easy to overlook the arts and humanities because they are not ‘professional.’ But I think we are coming to a point, as a society, that we understand the importance of these fields.” And perhaps the connotation of a field being “professional” (or not) shapes our opinions much more than we think.
Differing goals after college can further separate people from pursuing different majors, as Anne Pauley explained. “It seems that engineers tend to look for the job they want and figure out how to get there, while non-engineers tend to study what they want and then figure out what job best matches what they studied,” Pauley said.
Apparently, this isn’t an uncommon perception. Penn State senior Chemical Engineering major Julia Selden said, “I think [most liberal arts and humanities majors] benefit society, and are necessary, but at the same time I see an excessive amount of people majoring in these, and I believe it’s extremely difficult to get a steady job in the long run even after grad school…” For these reasons, Selden chose a major that she knew would land her a job one day even though she’s drawn to music and dance.
Some students choose their majors to get jobs. Others major in something just because they like it. Is it possible that this contrast is the real point of contention between us, and not the idea that one group undervalues the other? This doesn’t mean that engineers and finance majors don’t also like what they study—it just so happens that the job market needs their technical skills (I’m a little jealous). Pauley said, “I’ve often heard the claim that many engineers aren’t majoring in it because it’s what they’re actually passionate about, which in my experience is the opposite of reality.”
So, nobody is faultless, here. It seems it would serve us all to respect other people’s majors, and—get ready for this one—assume that we chose them because we actually find them interesting, unless told otherwise.
We, my fellow communications majors or liberal arts or humanities majors, should accept that some people actually enjoy the subjects that we tend to dread (math, science, more math). And natural sciences, business, tech and engineering majors should understand that it doesn’t mean we’re irresponsible or unemployable just because we chose majors that seem less marketable.
Imagine what the world would look like without the left-brainers of the world. What if we couldn’t visit museums, filled with artifacts unearthed by archaeologists and curated by historians, to remember all the triumphs and failures of humankind? What if we weren’t able to play music from our cars and phones and computers, performed by artists of all kinds to listen to digitally or through satellite, while hipsters insist “it sounds better on vinyl”?
Not to sound ridiculously “Kumbaya,” but everyone’s work serves a purpose. Of course, we wouldn’t have any of these things without engineers to design interactive museum exhibits or figure out how to manufacture records and record players, or businesspeople to make sure that a nonprofit organization runs properly and effectively. So how about we stop judging each other’s life choices, no matter our reasons, and instead work together to make the world run more happily and efficiently?