Thursday, September 28, 2006

No one told me.

When I first registered as a History major in the Faculty of Arts, I'd already started hearing the propaganda. While I'd also heard from people like my sister who claimed that Arts was only for those who didn't know what to do with their lives, and that I'd be flipping burgers with my degree, I'd already started to hear another story. I read it in newspaper articles, on job search sites, at informational sessions set up by the Faculty of Arts.*

"What can I do with a BA?" the story would always begin. Apparently, plenty. Apparently, the job market was clamouring for eager beavers with Bachelors of Arts, with all of their tranferrable skills in researching and writing, all of their creativity and flexibility. There was an Arts fair that had a booth showcasing all the jobs you could get as a History major. I had no idea I was in such demand!

I didn't think about grad school until my fourth year. It had never occurred to me. Why did I need to think about it, when there were all these fabulous jobs out there where they would be in awe of my research skills and my critical thinking? A couple of professors suggested that I pursue my MA, and I half-heartedly looked into it, but I was still set on finding my way into a "real" job. (Nevermind the fact that I hated the only "real" job I ever had, and wrote dystopic short stories about the office environment.)

In the winter of my fourth year, my university hosted a career fair. I printed off my resumés, wore the closest I owned to a power suit, and went along with an engineer friend. It was entirely disappointing. Everywhere that Dan went, potential employers fawned over him. He gave out so many resumés. I think I gave out two. Everyone I would meet would be so welcoming at first. I would receive a lot of pamphlets and free gifts. Then they would ask about my major. At the word "history" I watched countless faces fall. They would stumble over their words and say something about how they don't know what they have open in my field. The only booth that continued to pay me any attention was a temp agency.**

When I returned to the University, my feet in pain from my high heels, I ran into Dr. B, who I'd gotten to know when I took his German history course (I'd done really well). He asked why I was so dressed up, and just shook his head when I told him about the career fair. He asked why I didn't study German history under him, and I told him that I'd love to, except I didn't know German. He said that was laziness talking. I'd be fine.

And I went home and put away my power suit, having decided to become a grad student.***

* I've been talking about this experience with Ky lately, as she's been trying to find employment with her MA in English.
** I know one person, with a BA in History, who is working in a related field, and that's Ky's sister Lynniec. And people tend to be amazed when they hear that she's a researcher, and found work in Saskatchewan.
*** The happy part of this story is that I love it here, and that the decision to become a Germanist has provided me with non-stop work and experience since then. And I've had opportunities to wear professional clothing. Take last weekend, for example. However, I'm dreading that point when I graduate and have to find full-time employment, as Trillwing is doing.


Matt said...

Well, it is definitely challenging finding work with a B.A. (and a bad attitude), but I'd say you've done well for yourself in your chosen course.

I seem to be going a hybrid route, pursuing my masters and my career at the same time. This class has actually been really good, but very busy. I swear, I've learned more in this two week class than in pretty much all of my semester-long undergrad ones.

dixie said...

Man, I'm going to have to let Marc read this. We had the EXACT same experience at that EXACT same fair, probably the previous year. A BA being marketable is BS in my opinion. I just wish someone had told me I'd need a Ph.D. to get anywhere in my fields. Think how they must have laughed when I told them my majors were History and PHILOSOPHY!!! I don't regret studying those things, but it'd sure be nice if society appreciated the importance of those fields, instead of just money, money, money.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Matt, I actually mentioned you to Ky when we were talking about the frustrations in job-searching, in terms of "Matt's a scientist, and remember how long it took for him to find a good job?"

And Dixie, I was also thinking of you when I wrote this. I suspected that both you and Marc had similar experiences.

Marc said...

Oh man, was that an incredibly depressing event!

I was so pathetic towards the end of my time there that a government employee gave me a free t-shirt.

We went with Geoff E., who was working on his computer science degree. It was a positive experience for him, too!

Life of Turner said...

The A-Team had a "B.A.", and they didn't have any problems getting work. And pretty soon, I'll also be a "Mr. T" who has experience with a "B.A.", but I'll be using my experience in "B.Ed" to get me work. And hopefully pityin' some foos along the way.

May-B said...

I still can't help but hear the skit from Kids in the Hall "Heating up our BA. Eating up our BA." It seems to be too true.

(I won't rub it in that neither of my degrees are BAs. Although... one of them is just as useless!)

Queen of West Procrastination said...

May-B, "Eating up our B.A.s" was the alternate title of this post. Of course.

Big C said...

At least the Arts are approachable. No one knows what I do, no one cares. But I don't mind since I am going academic anyway.

On a positive note, I could actually hear your idealism getting crushed as I read about the fair.