In defence of my Arts degree

Society’s punchline.

When I tell people I have an Arts degree, I’m generally met with an eye roll and a belly laugh. Or just taunts asking why I wasted time on a three-year degree, when I should have just been taught to ask: “do you want fries with that?” 

Arts degrees are a punchline and stereotyping is rife.

But despite what some people may say, the years I studied Arts were the most intellectually fulfilling of my life. (Yes, I also slept… a lot. I don’t remember going to class past midday well, ever.) 

But it didn’t come without a cost. I’ve had to withstand years of explaining to my snobbish relatives, at every Christmas event, what job can actually come out of such a degree. It’s painful. 

It feels like if you don’t study within the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – then you’re just a lay-about, destined for a life of protest sign wielding, dreadlocks and Centrelink visits. 

Arts degrees aren’t valued. So much so, that through Googling “Arts graduate looking for work” and clicking on the first entry, I’m led to job pathways at supermarket chain Aldi. My future couldn’t be brighter.

My career chances were made worse by the fact that I majored in anthropology and history – possibly two of the most jobless industries to ever exist. Fortunately, like many arts graduates, I eventually found my way into a career in a different but complementary field: journalism. 

Rather than tearing my Arts degree into shreds, I want to defend my studies and lay out all the invaluable life lessons I gained. 

It gears you up to argue your way out of any problem

A large chunk of my Arts degree was spent in stuffy tutorial rooms, debating for hours on end, with students much smarter than me, who had actually done the weekly readings.

…jks, no one did the readings. 

But my point is, anyone that has spent over two hours stuck in a tutorial, arguing the gender politics present in Game of Thrones, is prepared to deal with a range of conflict.

I often accidentally drop working words like ‘problematic’, ‘hegenomic’ and ‘specificity’ into everyday retaliations. Even if the Myki operator doesn’t particular care about my point of view. 

I may not directly use what I learned, but I indirectly apply what I learned everyday 

My qualifications as an anthropologist may be theoretically wasted. But approaching people with an anthropological perspective has heightened my empathy and understanding of different cultures and perspectives. 

How else do I comprehend the culture of Pokemon Go, the herding habits of fashion bloggers, or the unconventional family dynamics on Keeping Up With The Kardashians?

I can’t escape my studies. Lessons like citing my sources are now permanently imprinted in my brain. I’ve even had to stop myself from adding footnotes to my Tinder profile. 

I learned to sniff out dumplings within a 5km radius

Like the bulk of uni students, when I wasn’t in class, I was usually stuffing my face with dumplings. When your savings account is as low as your job potential, any food that is large in quantity but small on price is a go-to. I would thank the snack-heavens every time I was able to buy 15 dumplings for as low as five dollarydoos. 

Dumplings basically became my staple food group, grouped in between Nasi Goreng two minute noodles and way too much Easy Mac.

Eventually, I developed a sixth sense for the proximity of dumplings to any given location. It’s a niche ability but has proven useful in life in general. Especially in my permanent state of poverty and relentless hunger for tiny perfect parcels of pork and chives.

If you can handle annoying mature aged students, you can take on the world 

Mature aged students were the bane of my existence. That’s saying a lot, as I’ve been one before. But I didn’t live off the kicks of hijacking every single lecture, by patronising the class – and often the professor. 

You know the ones. They sit front-and-centre of class, raise their hand like they’re one of Bey’s single ladies and ask know-it-all questions, when they already know the answer. 

After dealing with mature aged students during my Arts degree, any number of annoying personalities I encounter are easy work by comparison. So tolerating that co-worker that’s always sucking up to the boss and throwing everyone else under the bus becomes manageable. I’ve learned to smile and nod through the excruciating pain.

Group assignments taught me the value of independence 

Group assignments are the absolute worst. The group you’ll be in is usually formed on the first day of class, so there’s no vetting period to find friends. Or, you know, people that can string a sentence together. 

Your group is always filled with AT LEAST one complete brainless and lazy flake. The kind that never comes to class, but when they do, they forget which group they’re in. Then they laugh it off like they just landed on planet earth. 

Group assignments made me look forward to single projects, where the only person I needed to depend on was myself and not some loser that never seemed to remember to wear shoes to class.

You can watch movies instead of attending lectures and call it ‘visual learning’ 

Who would want to sit through a two-hour lecture, when you could kick back with a movie and a box of Pizza Shapes? It’s like at high school when you would near Christmas holidays, and all the teachers could make you do was watch Shrek on loop. 

In the case of an arts degree, films are considered a form of visual learning with academic merit. One through which you can learn about WWII, by chillaxing watching Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List

Through these skills from uni, I learned about the real world. By real world, I mean the reality TV series of the same name. Binging Real World: San Francisco was really rather life-changing. 

Watching television and movies is also a great way to distract oneself from the crippling state of debt you’ll find yourself in… after an Arts degree. Seriously, I’m so deep in HECS debt, I can’t even afford “fries with that.”

Tara Watson is a Melbourne-based journalist and editor. Follow her on Twitter via @tara_watson_

Illustration by Twylamae who also made this Larry David tee.

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