Comment, Student Life

College Diaries#2: The knowledge that Courses through your veins

As June approaches, many new graduates will descend on the job market across the world which begs the question “What is a bachelor’s degree worth?”.

The answer seems to be that different college majors have different values, in terms of their monetary payoff. Salary website Payscale.com reports that the majors with the highest earning potential are all related to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For example, a degree in petroleum engineering would give a graduate a starting salary of 94,600$ followed by a degree in actuarial mathematics and in actuarial science providing an immediate return of 56,400$ and 61,200$ respectively.

So where does this leave non-STEM, liberal arts majors?

Employment website Monster.ca reports that completing any form of university education is still the best way to succeed financially in Canada although it concedes that certain majors are in higher demand in the job market than others.  A bachelor’s degree holder earns 30% more than an individual without any degree while a master’s degree or PhD holder can increase their earnings by an additional 15%.  Individuals with degrees professional degrees like commerce, nursing an engineering have a higher earning premium than those in the social sciences, life sciences and humanities. Therefore, some kind of degree is better than no degree at all.

A liberal arts degree, however, provides a different set of benefits, some of which may helpful in a competitive job market. Writing for the Globe & Mail, Scott Stirret observes that the benefit of studying a popularly reviled humanities subject can give one considerable intercultural and communication skills which can be very useful in a rapidly evolving, global work environment. He also suggests that it is the interest of all types of companies to hire individuals from different academic backgrounds, challenging the myth that organizations only hire one type of candidate.  In his book In Defense of a Liberal Education, which I had the pleasure of reading, Fareed Zakaria notes that a liberal arts education gives an individual the ability to keep learning which is a valuable skill to have in a dynamic work environment where the type of skills one needs to remain competitive keeps changing.

Conventionally high earning majors such as computer science can provide graduates with immediate financial certainty and professional clarity which is decidedly harder for liberal arts graduates to achieve. That does not mean, however, that all the non-STEM graduates are about to go extinct. Their degree teaches them how to adapt to different circumstances, giving them a freedom of a different kind.

 

Comment, Satire, Student Life

College Diaries #1: Essay writing

Mission: To write an essay on (insert elaborate topic of desperation/ choice here) by (deadline inflicted on innocent students by sadistic professor(s)).

What the ideal student does:

1)Spends some time analyzing the essay prompt after which (s)he creates a draft outlining the initial ideas buzzing around the organ where the little gray cells reside.

2) Makes a plan of action which illustrates how much work needs to be done each day, in order to finish the essay two days before the deadline. Proof reading is important after all.

3) Visits professors’ office hours and inundates the TA’s  inbox with inquisitive emails.

4)Does research- lots of it- and is friends with The Library and its formidable guardian, The Librarian.

5) Avoids using Google Scholar because (s)he knows how to utilize the help of The Library’s cousin, The Online Library.

6) Uses correct grammar and concise language.

7)Monopolizes office hours and TA mailboxes some more.

8) Temporarily feels guilty for this.

9)Delights the folks at the Writing Center with his/her company. Everyone deserves happiness and joy.

10) Proof reads. Multiple times. Three days before The Deadline.

What the rest of us do:

1)Glance at the essay prompt. Then spend twenty minutes of Facebook.

2)Check out the latest from the Trolls on Twitter and a (presumably sensible) few others.

3) Complain about how much university sucks and how the professor is out to “get us”.

4) Worry about what everyone else is doing. Panic calmly.

5) Scare ourselves silly based on what other people say they are doing on social media.

6) Try an ask a somewhat intelligent question in course groups on aforementioned social media.

7) Get coffee at (insert name of cheap caffeine supplier). When feeling Rich (or Foolish), visit Starbucks.

8)  Panic frantically (two days before the deadline) when we realize we have no content to write an little time to think.

9) Start writing. Share tips on Facebook for “struggling students” while having absolutely no idea about how to proceed ourselves. Who said groping in the dark was worthless?

10) Start considering the merits of the Late Penalty. Pull one (of many) All Night-er.

Student Life

That time of year

I haven’t written anything new in the last month and a half, partly because I was writing for the two organizations that I am a part of: college and The Varsity. Essays and mid-terms have taken up much of my time; when those don’t occupy my attention the rest of my life does. The story that I have been working on for The Varsity is intended for this year’s winter magazine and explore censorship in Canada. I do hope that those who follow this blog (thank you!) and others who stumble across it will glance at it when I post the link.

I had some time to reflect on what (and how) I write and I realized a few things:

  1. This blog has a grand total of….. 8 followers. One of them is my father and he is biologically obligated to read the stuff I write – starting with my discovery of the magical alphabet.
  2. Writing needs to be personal; we should do it for ourselves and derive inspiration from things around us. It does not need to be, and should not be, about the emotional value of one’s wedding sari or the time the goldfish died. Nobody cares.
  3. Being funny is hard and exhausting. Writing funny is even worse
  4. Self-promotion can occasionally seem desperate. After discovering 8 followers, I know it is. I’m fairly certain that the bundled-up, tired looking person sitting across me on the TTC did not care about the twenty posts I wrote, but they’re Canadian so they feigned interest anyway.
  5. But we (read: I) still do it because good (read: fairly remunerated) journalism is nearly extinct. Responsible journalism seems to be dying too, but that unfortunate story needs to be told elsewhere.
  6. Everybody cannot write; I work as an editor at a newspaper so I know.
  7. Caring about what others think, kills a writer; in the Age of the Troll this is no joke. But we still do, because nobody likes to be told that their work is shit.
  8. The more politically aware you become, the harder it is to be (and write) humour because what if that joke was inappropriate/ racist/ sexist/ not-applicable-to-the-entire-targeted-group.
  9. Fact checking is essential, unless you enjoy looking like a fool. Reading a book about grammar is wise, but most people aren’t. Editing is important and a good editor is priceless.
  10. Knowledge of social media is a must for every serious 21st century writer.
  11. Every time you share a blog post on social media, your heart beats a little faster and your brain screams out in defiance at the inevitable commentary.                            Every. Single. Time
Comment, Student Life

Advocating the Detox

There’s an unintentionally funny, tiresome practice ‘trending’ on campus- students are often found completely engrossed in the events unfolding on the screens of their phones and laptops. So essential is this daily practice to their mental and physical well-being that they often ignore anyone who tries to engage them in conversation ­, at best, or listen with their ears closed, at worst.  The few people strong enough to resist the seductive screen stand out in the silent crowd gathered outside lecture halls and classrooms across campus. The pattern of behaviour is so ingrained that it seems futile to challenge, yet there are a number of reasons why doing so is crucial. The most obvious, but regularly forgotten, reason is that an individual should control the technology he uses- not the other way round. For the purpose of this article, the purpose of using technology is to use any instrument or practice that makes accomplishing a goal easier. In the case of social media — for instance, Facebook boasts that it enable users to “connect with friends and the world around you” — the result contrary to its purpose is achieved. And this why taking a break from social media and the screen is relevant to optimizing your university experience.

Production time

Count and record the number of times you check social media over the course of the week, and notice when and where you did it. I recorded about five times a day, usually when I was travelling alone on the TTC or when I was bored in class and needed a shot of adrenaline to stay awake. When I briefly disabled my account — as I (try to) practice what I preach— I realized that a massive amount of effort was required to pay attention to the details around me. Facebook allowed me to access a world away from me, providing me with an escape from the world around me. This had translated into a reduced span of attention that I could successfully exercise in the classroom. Across the world similar symptoms have been observed and the phenomenon has been described as “shocking” because, like me, other students seem unable to absorb the content taught “no matter how riveting the lesson.” Apart from disengaging students with academia in the lecture halls, Facebook and other kinds of social media also provide a constantly available distraction when students are studying independently. Quickly logging in and ‘stalking’ other people, checking the news or updating your own profile routinely diminishes students’ productivity levels due to the large number of minutes wasted.

Maintaining the façade

Before digging into a gorgeously plated meal, almost everyone snaps a photograph of the dish and immediately posts it on Instagram. And if you’re really clever and keen, you can ‘share’ the image on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. If you’re away from friends and family and cannot control the urge to spread the joy, you can send them the image on WhatsApp or WeChat, along with an implied message of ‘Look what you’re missing’. By the time the festivities are over, the food is cold. When somebody does the same to you, it is likely that you experience a feeling of sadness or inadequacy. The reverse may well be true: what you ‘view’ of other people’s lives, particularly if they are miserable students whining about the hopelessness of college life, you may build up a misplaced overconfidence in your own abilities. Projecting constantly happy versions of ourselves is an inescapable part of maintaining an online presence– after all who would ‘share’ their darkest moments with a bunch of strangers. The point is that apart from greatly compromising the spontaneity of life, and thereby making it a lot less enjoyable, maintaining an image is a high pressure job. The New York Times magazine defines it as “keeping it all up can feel like working as an unpaid intern for a Z-list celebrity known as Oneself.”  In an academic environment as demanding and competitive as the one at UofT, we must ask ourselves if the effort involved is worth the result.

The case for continuous connectivity

There are a number of valid reasons why many of you will turn the page and move onto greener pastures. Now, more than ever before, it is easier to study in groups. Simply create a group on Facebook or create a Google doc and you’re good to go. Most students are part of online course unions and course groups. There is a plethora of advice available from upper years and if your peers are so inclined, the glorious potential of shared notes. It’s a great tool to supplement class attendance and self-study. Secondly, most of student social life is connected to their online presence. A friend, who goes home every weekend, recently commented that he does not miss much on campus because he is in touch with both his friends and the occasionally alive campus life at St. George. As I discovered in my brief, sans Facebook sabbatical, one can and will likely experience feelings of isolation once off Facebook due to loss of knowledge. To keep up with events, you will have to visit campus club offices, read the sparsely decorated soft boards, contact your College Registrar or Programme Coordinator ( if you’re at UofT) and —heaven forbid — actually speak to people you meet outside class. Your well trained fingers will itch to type in the domain name for Twitter and the Instagram icon on your phone screen will look even more inviting. Thirdly, if most of your socializing happens via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp it will seem — at least for the first couple of days — that most of your friends dropped off the face of the earth. And finally, the scariest part is that since it is unlikely that everyone in your life will concurrently abstain from social media you will feel disoriented and confused about how to proceed because everyone around you is part of a world you chose to abandon. Think Neo vomiting after he leaves The Matrix for the first time.

The aftermath

I have the following advice for anybody, should they accept this mission, braving this dark path

  1. Try to stay the course for one week. On the seventh day decide whether or not to log back in.
  2. Write a diary recording your experience. If all else fails, you can recall, at a later stage in your life, and laugh about that crazy thing you did a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
  3. Make it known to your friends, family and acquaintances when you’re logging off your social media and when you decide to begin using it again.
  4. Set a given time for your period of abstinence from social media. Evaluate your feelings on a weekly basis. It helps build the discipline and allows you to regain control over your technology. Alternatively, it helps to regulate the time you spend on your social media accounts when they are alive.
  5. Fill up the time you usually spend on Facebook with other real-time activities like going to the gym, reading or exploring the city. That way the temptation to log back on is limited.

Concluding disclosure:

I use Facebook to promote this blog, but have deactivated my account so that I am not tempted to share this and future posts there to boost readership. Watch this space to see how I hold up.