In Defence of the Useless Degree

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If you are anything like I was as a student, you may be spending your intervening hours between bouts of creative genius on your Liberal Arts or Intro to Psychology papers, or mindlessly scrolling Facebook for any form of distraction. Inevitably you will, or have already been lured by the click-bait titles of The Most Useless Degrees or Top 10 Useless Degrees—is your degree on the list? A strong wave of existential crisis usually informed my brain, making my fingers click the link and surf down the page to make sure Anthropology wasn’t too high on the list. Invariably, it was. I consider myself an optimist and a glass-half-full kind of guy, but seeing my chosen direction under fire, whether directly or more generally, under the banner of Social Sciences always sent a mixture of annoyance and insecurity to my furrowed brow. 

The tales of heated debate in many households on the “use” of one’s intended scholastic endeavours are nothing new. It could be your mother pushing you into a Business Administration direction, or a father wanting you to follow him into Education. The weight of familial expectations can be crushing. But let’s say you were encouraged to—or actually did—break outside such expectations to pursue what truly inspires you. From analyzing the influence of Titian on contemporary art and literature to discussing the pros and cons of Nixon’s policy of détente with China, degrees in the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Theatre excite the mind and inspire deeper and further discussion around who and what we are as a society. They all share the distinction of being labeled, at one point or another, “useless” in comparison with a trade, business administration, or “hard” science, to name but a few. 

My intent is not to defend your choice in major and minor. You chose this path, or had it chosen for you. What I am here to discuss is what you can do to put your “useless” degree to good use.

I followed this path. My parents didn’t give a toss about what I studied as long as I followed my interests and actually considered post-secondary. My interests in 2012 were largely watching whatever was on TV and avoiding the question of what I wanted to do with my life. As I watched Harrison Ford shoot three Nazis at once while atop a tank in the desert with his fedora stapled to his forehead, I remember thinking, there might be something to this whole archaeology thing.

Regardless of what drove you in the direction of your intended major, having a passion for it is key. Archaeology is taught as a subsection of Anthropology at VIU. Having learned alongside some incredibly smart colleagues and hard-working, endlessly knowledgeable and engaged professors, the work they continue to do to this day up in building 356 is anything but useless. So why do we laugh when “World’s Deadliest Spy” Sterling Archer continuously berates a timid anthropologist for his choice of a dissertation topic pertaining to a pirate tribe with a distinct lack of communicable idioms and marriage practices? 

As a society, we largely value productivity, efficiency, and real-world value. Business pursuits merit international recognition. Personal passions are usually popularly perceived as being a “pastime” or “hobby.” However, have you ever heard the tired old proverb “find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life?” Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Imagine being so happy and content that you never actually make the effort to put your passion, your craft, your skills, and knowledge to good use.

Enter the question: how can my “useless” degree work for me? It’s all well and good to chase your penchant for baking or sociology, criminology or political science. But the trick to getting these professions working in your favour is to borrow from the habits of those gym-loving quad-builders: consistently push your limits.

It is highly unlikely that all your professors knew they wanted to be professors after they finished their undergrad. They certainly had an idea of what they liked and what they wanted to start working towards, but not everyone has an iron-set vision of where they want to go. This degree that you are working on right now is your ticket to taking the first step. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what degree you are working on (unless you have a set goal in mind, in which case, follow that with all your heart and drive), just so long as you keep building your experiences. Habitually seek out field schools, work-ops, and volunteer opportunities in and out of your field of study. Look at extracurricular opportunities like VIUSU, The Nav, Campus Rec, and Student Residences. These all build your employability and add to your skillset, only making your once “useless” degree all the more enticing. You are the sum of your experiences, (even if you don’t know it).

Anthropology, Archaeology, and History fueled my desire to learn. I saw them top a few “useless” lists in my time as a student. I still do. It is what you do with them, and your time at VIU, that makes their, and all the other degrees offered here, uses apparent. Anthropology taught me to look at and understand people in a more global and human way. History has made me aware of the cycles we all go through if we don’t look to the past for guidance. Archaeology has provided me the opportunity to travel internationally and meet some amazing people while helping dig up our cultural past. They have made me a better Event Coordinator, Art Specialist, and Manager, not an Anthropologist or Historian (yet, anyway.) Sure isn’t what I studied, but their use is always and forever obvious to me. Uselessness is in the eye of the beholder.