building new castles every day

Posts Tagged ‘university’

An idea for the educated job hunters: Work across disciplines

In Thinkings on May 21, 2012 at 9:28 AM

The other day, I published a piece of work I produced while in university. Finding that paper in my closet reminded me I’m on the right path to working at what I love. It also reminded me why I believe it’s important for any student enrolled in an education institution today to study across disciplines.

For the university student, I say, don’t just study one thing. Take advantage of this academic haven and study everything that interests you. By selecting a variety of courses from traditional disciplines (biology, women’s studies, computer science, history, fine arts, etc.), today’s students — our future socio-economic drivers — learn to see where they can apply their skills from one discipline to the issues of another discipline to create fulfilling, needed work. And that’s something the Canadian economy could always do with more.

Anyway, I digress. Here’s a personal example.

In my final semester at Simon Fraser University, having had become frustrated and bored with my major (Communications) and wanting to get credit for my passions (education and children’s media), I decided to enroll in EDUC 465: Children’s Literature and Culture.

This was a common elective taken by other graduating students, and I was told it was pretty easy. Read a few kids books. Write down your opinions. You could even take it online, avoiding the commute up the mountain.

But I didn’t need another boring course. I wanted something tangible. Plus, I had just gone through one of the most isolating programs at SFU (Communications) and I really wanted community in my final semester. So I registered for the in-class section of Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Marshall’s course and made my goals known: I wanted to use my critical thinking skills (as taught to me through Communications) and dive into the fascinating, self-reflective world that is children’s literature. And meet some teachers.

Instantly, the course and the professor met my needs.

Beth is an academic by trade, a mother by fascination, and a pop culture feminist by exploration. She was the first professor in all my university years that I ever took the opportunity to meet for more than 20 minutes.

Since my own childhood, I have been fascinated with the stories adults tell children through all mediums: television (Sesame Street), magazines (OwlKids), and books (The Giver, just to name a few before the Internet age). Having nearly finished my Bachelor’s degree in a modern discipline that essentially taught me how to research and write my way out arguments, I now had the skills to analyze these children’s texts, back up my findings, and propose changes with plausible applications. (I wanted to produce children’s television programming.)

I attended Beth’s course every week and grew became increasingly overwhelmed with anticipation to get out into the world and start contributing to these stories and to the kids/families/communities they influenced.

The majority of my classmates, however, weren’t as keen. Beth encouraged all of us to speak out with our critical thoughts and to question each other, but it was often dead air between her lectures and presentations. It baffled me. I felt like that annoying kid sitting in the front, using one arm to hold up the other arm high into the air, while most of my neighbours stared out the window or down into their computer.

Ooh, ooh, the 9-year-old keener Jocelyn implored. Let me tell you why I think Marilla is reserved towards Anne of Green Gables! Can I ask everyone’s opinion as to why Twilight is so damn popular?

I was a keener. A keener for dissecting things. For questioning popular culture. And for suggesting alternatives. I was a Communications keener. Oh gawd.

But that kind of ‘Communications’ thinking seemed to be what Beth was missing in her classes. She actually asked me to ask more of my Communication colleagues to enroll in her course. “The education program here teaches curriculum development and planning activities,” she said to me once. “But it doesn’t get future teachers asking why.”

In that semester, I grew to appreciate what my Communications program had taught me. It also solidified my suspicion that teachers need support and should not be expected to educate a child alone. It made me think, maybe there was work out there I didn’t know about, that others didn’t know about, but was really needed.

Since graduation, I’ve made it my goal to continuing working across disciplines. If I could feel the same success as Beth’s course out in the ‘real world,’ then I was sure to find fulfilling, needed work. In the last three years I’ve gained experience in event coordination, professional development programming, administration, outdoor education, advertising, marketing, public relations, project coordination, and online community development. I’m not advocating that contract and fixed-term work is for everyone, but I am advocating that keeping an open mind to other disciplines can be eye-opening.

So study across disciplines while in school, and look and work across disciplines for the rest of your life. It will help all of us see where convergence can be made, where innovation is needed, and what skills we can bring to this new work. Ultimately, it will help create jobs where they didn’t exist before.