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Although it is only February, 2016 seems to be my year of introspection and big decisions. I am in my third year of the Arts and Science program and although I chose this degree to get exposure to a variety of fields, I pushed myself into focusing on biology — certainly not my favourite subject — with seemingly no pressure from anyone but myself. Unhappy with my schoolwork, this year I decided to change that. I took a step back and asked myself, what’s so appealing about science? Why is my story so common?
McMaster students may be more biased towards the sciences since our university is best known for its scientific research. With so much campus space designated for science students, it’s understandable to crave being part of that community. McMaster made a proactive choice when deciding to build L.R. Wilson Hall, a space for liberal arts students to feel the same sense of togetherness and appreciation that science students experience. Perhaps it will encourage students to embrace their interests and not feel pressured into a stream that doesn’t suit them. Perhaps not.
The way in which many students generally speak about the humanities is relatively simplified. When we talk about the humanities, we should be talking about philosophy, art history, French, communication studies, and linguistics, to provide a few examples. It is misguided and inaccurate to reduce a program to nothing but writing essays and calling that “easy.” Not everyone can communicate effectively enough to get a point across in an essay, just as not everyone is able to work well in a biology lab. Yet, we need both types of people. Part of the reason science is so appealing could be attributed to the seemingly infinite options it presents. But if science can be divided into chemistry, physics, biology, and technology, then let’s not forget to acknowledge the diversity within the humanities. Regardless of the fact that studying the humanities can lead to very successful careers, there is a pressure to avoid them at all costs. Maybe that’s because it’s convenient to pursue the sciences to avoid the usual questions about what on earth you’re going to do after graduation. If you’re in the sciences, you tend to get off easier because there’s always med school, right? However, if you’re in the humanities, people often forget the boundless options that exist because they forget how vast a field it is.
Studying science gives the illusion that there’s an obvious answer as to what you will be doing next. There’s either research or medicine, and that’s all. That, too, is a dangerously singular way to think, and yet, this seemingly clear path could be what attracts so many students. Tunnel vision is an interesting thing when it comes to education. On one hand, you may love it because it steers you in a defined direction. On the other hand, you could hate it because you may find that direction doesn’t fit you. The important thing is to take a step back once in a while and ask yourself what you find appealing about your field of study. If nothing comes to mind, it might be time to explore a bit more.
Studying science gives the illusion that there’s an obvious answer as to what you will be doing next.
The reality is that this pressure we feel to study the natural sciences isn’t solely because of McMaster’s reputation, but rather, the wider growing obsession with scientific and technological advancement. While it is important for us to study science and develop technologies to better our world, it takes all sorts of people to better society. We fail to recognize that this growing culture of praise for science and technology is giving us tunnel vision when it comes to our education.
At the end of the day, university education has become the new baseline for future career prospects. The majority of us, no matter what we go into, will have to continue our education. Therefore, if you find science to lack the appeal it’s hyped up to have, then you should explore other fields of study. It would be short-sighted to limit yourself so early in your education and feel pressured to pursue something that has just as many prospects as other fields of study. As a fellow Marauder, I urge you to remain open-minded about other faculties and programs and take courses outside of your comfort zone. You’ll never know what you’ll find intriguing.
Photo Credit: The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore