Words by Alexi Barnstone
There is a classic joke told about students that study Arts degrees in Australia. The joke goes that the only time you speak to them is when you order a coffee (or in the case of USyd, when you find yourself perched on the high table at Courtyard). This stigma is rampant against Arts students in the yellow and gold nation — a nation whose university education system dictates specialisation far earlier than its counterparts in the other parts of the world such as the United States. Of course, there are benefits to a more linear approach to education when your field is something such as medicine. Doctors need to know how to treat their patients.
However, there is a strong misconception amongst aspiring Australian academics about further education. Too many young adults believe that this type of linear relationship between education and employment exists ubiquitously across the employment spectrum. The reality is far more complex. If a more accurate picture of the employment landscape is built, the stigma against Arts students becomes illogical.
Specialisation is a crucial goal of the educational institution. It is imperative that individuals can indulge a topic to the point of mastery. However, there is an argument as to what the main objective of this process is. Some arrive at the conclusion that the prerogative is to develop knowledge that will later be applied in the field of work. Alternatively, it could be argued that it is the process that is most important — the ability to facilitate the type of engagement in a topic rather than the topic itself. To use an old American cliché, ‘University is about learning how to learn.’ It is the second sentiment that is backed by statistics.
The Washington post reported that 62% of students worked in a field related to their field of study and only 27% worked in a field directly related to their major. In the starkest example of people being hired for how they think rather than what the know, CEO of CA Technologies Mike Gregoire reported on CNBC that his and many other firms hired philosophy students for coding roles. Gregoire stated in his interview that “philosophers understand how to think very logically” and that the type of thinking they learn enables them to pick up coding incredibly quickly. Furthermore, there are many avenues for Arts students to take to kick start their careers in the corporate sphere, rebutting the presumption that graduates of Arts simply move from university to the dole. Enen at the University of Sydney there are initiatives such as ArtSS Career Ready, a program that assists in placing Arts students with career aspirations in great starting positions in large firms and organisations — firms that would traditionally be associated with hiring Commerce or Engineering students.
Now to refocus on Arts students. Those studying Arts degrees are often seen as the students without a conception of what they want to do, without a clear directive. Many argue that this is a bad thing. Unfortunately, those people do not have a clear conception of how motivation works. In recent research published in the Conversation, Anya Skatova found that Arts students were more motivated by love in a subject than money or career options. The significance of these findings was that Arts students identified intrinsic motivators as the reason for their engagement of study, where as other students identified extrinsic motivators as the reason for their endeavors. Intrinsic motivation is motivation born out of a genuine interest in the subject and leads to attempts at mastery, greater dedication and passion. Extrinsic motivation, such as money, has been proven to engender target meeting behaviors where people do the minimum requirements necessary. Now ask yourself, what type of employee would you rather have?
The answer is simple. This information is not necessarily claiming that Arts students are in anyway superior. It is simply an attempt to establish a greater sense of parity between educational pursuits. People are not defined by what they study, and will most likely not work in that field either.