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 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 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.


Food & Culture

A Sign of Hope

Societies across the world have pursued the ideal of beauty and of perfection over the centuries. In the Age of the Internet this exercise has become a sinister routine, largely due to the fact that our thirst for perfection is fueled by the media and by society. Individually and collectively, we become averse to confronting the more uncomfortable realities of life such as social inequality, hunger and poverty and most unfortunately, human disability. But at the SIGNS Bar & Restaurant on 558 Yonge Street in Toronto, an optimistic approach to the challenges of disability can be found.

A range of food is served- chips and guacamole, Vietnamese Banh-Mi (sandwiches), Pad Thai and the omnipresent Indian butter chicken. The last dish appears to have conquered eateries in the city rather like the British conquered its land of origin, but that rant merits a separate article. The ambience of the place is young and cheerful, enhanced by the smiling staff and by the black and white photographs adorning the walls. The drinks cost from 5-10 $ and each dish is priced between 15- 20$, therefore the description of “upscale” on Google is justified. However, this is an eatery one would want to experience more for the servers working there than the food- because they are deaf and mute.

On entering the premises, one is greeted by the silent but smiling staff and seated by a member of the team who can speak. The speaker introduces the server who will be waiting on the table for the evening, providing instructions on how to communicate with him or her. Taking photographs of the menu, which has been designed to include images instructing the reader on how to convey their order in sign language, is forbidden. But one is permitted to take a photograph in, or of, any other part of the restaurant. Alongside the menu a flipbook, containing information about using phrases like ‘Good job’ and ‘More water please’ in sign language, is provided — presumably intended to encourage the server.

Despite the slightly steep prices and fairly conventional menu, visiting this restaurant is worthwhile. It highlights how lucky most of us are — which is often easy to forget in a consumption driven society — simply because all our faculties of communication are working. Communicating with somebody who is handicapped is very challenging, and one would often not want to do so. When one does, one is likely to feel deep pity towards the other person. In fact, in 2011 CBC News reported that “less than half of Canadian adults with disabilities have jobs”. Diane Bergeron — the national director of government relations and advocacy for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind — suggests that the reason visually impaired individuals, and by extension anyone with a physical or mental disability, have scarce employment opportunities is because of “a perception and an assumption that they can’t do the job.” The beauty of SIGNS is that it takes a factor out of the equation — by thematically structuring an economic opportunity around it. In doing so, it provides the people working there with daily experiences of dignity and respect.