Students in humanities and social science majors often face doubts as to the viability of the degrees they are pursuing. Photo by Feitian Ma.
“Oh. You’re an English major? So do you want to be a teacher then?” I have grown so accustomed to hearing these words on this campus that now I can manage to suppress my eye roll completely, or at least until the conversation has ended.
There is nothing wrong with being a teacher. In fact, the world could use many more dedicated and passionate teachers. The exasperation that this question fills me with comes from the fact that the people who ask it seem to believe that there is only one profession for English majors.
English is not the only major for which many people see limited possibilities after graduation. Students majoring in the humanities are often faced with the question of what the future holds for them, which is fine, except when the question is accompanied by a dubious look.
Even so, I have come to accept the regard people have for certain educational paths. At UMBC, this lower regard for non-STEM majors makes many people a potential target for scrutiny. As a double major, sometimes I tell people I am an English and psychology major, but other times I say one or the other. Much to my surprise, psychology has also received some pushback from others, sometimes more than English.
“Oh. You know you’re going to have to go to grad school, right?” people say with a furrowed brow. This often comes before they regale me with their career aspirations. Did I know that they can start working right out of college, or in some cases before they even graduate?
I did know that, and I, too, could begin working right out of college using skills and knowledge directly related to my major, as could many non-STEM majors. Even if some career paths traditionally require more schooling, there should not be a stigma attached to delving further into higher education.
Sometimes it can be easy to buy into the idea that the work of non-STEM majors is not as important or valuable as that of STEM majors, but that is a lie. The range of career paths in humanities majors, social science majors and arts majors is so much wider than people know because these majors teach vital skills even when students do not go on to work directly in the fields that these majors initially bring to mind.
One of the most important things these majors can impart is patience. I have learned that being a non-STEM major at UMBC is a masterclass in patience. It means patience in explaining to people your plans for the future. It means patience in searching for opportunities to get relevant work experience, because the options that are most advertised are not necessarily targeted to your interests. It means patience in waiting for people to appreciate that your work is important.
Everyone at UMBC has the chance to make a difference and the potential to change the world, and it is important that we start acting like it. We should celebrate everyone’s work and take an interest in it when we can. Instead of inquiries from preconceived notions that lead to condescension, we can all keep an open mind and value each other’s strides to become more knowledgeable people.