Saturday, 24 March 2012

On serious things...

Apparently people have started actively checking for new posts - you know who you are. And I am pathetically grateful, and really appreciate it!

So then, serious things...

I have to confess, when deciding to do a Masters, I don't think I thought it through thoroughly enough (try saying that after a beverage or two) - for some reason, I didn't think that signing myself up for a further 11 months of academia would be quite the commitment it has turned out to be.

And for the record, this is what I actually do:

Having spent the preceding however-many-years writing essays, meeting deadlines by the skin of my teeth, procrastinating endlessly and talking about how much work I should have been doing, I thought one more year of it wouldn't be a problem. It would be beneficial, in fact. But right now, the idea of spending my summer writing a 20,000 word dissertation fills me with nausea.

This post actually comes out of a particularly grumpy, hormonal Tuesday - I had a bit of an internal tizzy the other day about how if I'd left school at 16 or 18, and gone to train as, I don't know, ANYTHING - a plumber, an electrician, a hairdresser, a dental nurse - I'd have money in the bank and I'd be doing something useful. Instead, I read about language. I talk about language. I write extensively about language - and indeed other things, writing is something I will always enjoy, almost regardless of what it is I'm writing about - but is it actually of immediate use to anyone? Is what I do actually relevant to anyone outside of an academic setting? I chose Forensic Linguistics specifically because I thought it was one of the few areas of linguistics that is in fact relevant to the "real world" - and I must admit, I haven't been proved wrong on that score. But this "get me out of academia, stat" strop did get me thinking about the value of higher education (i.e. post-sixth form/age 18), and how useful it really is...

Because, as I said, I could have money in the bank, and possibly a flat of my own by now, if I'd chosen differently. I'd have some real independence, as opposed to the pseudo-independence that being a student brings.

I should probably add that, to be perfectly honest, my parents (well, my mother) weren't going to let me not go to university. She as good as told me that. And I'm grateful - don't get me wrong, I am so grateful, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have parents that cared as much as mine did about my future, and also my interests - for as long as I can remember, Mum has said "She'll go to uni to do English, she's always reading..." I'm lucky she noticed, I'm lucky she embraced my academic strengths in the way that she did, even if at the time it felt like she was just nagging me to do my homework. 

It's somewhat obvious to say that I'd be a very different person if I hadn't gone to university, and had gone straight to work instead. I might be a little more organised and motivated if I had gone straight into a work environment, but I've had part-time jobs since I was 14. I know how the workplace functions.

It's also somewhat obvious to say that after considering the question, "How valuable is higher education?" I had to come down on the pro-university side. Because ultimately, I think the last three and a half years have allowed me to develop skills and qualities that I wouldn't have had the chance to develop otherwise.

My writing skills and style have improved (honest!), I've learned to research effectively, I've learned to form arguments and find evidence for them, I've learned to see all the sides to a given issue (something my grandmother says a lot, "You're very impatient, darling, and you always think you're right, but you're always very fair"). 

And a lot of what I've learned - most of it, in fact - hasn't involved a lecture theatre or a deadline in any way - I've learned that bills absolutely must be paid, landlords tend to be a bit mad, I've learned to cook (a little bit, anyway), I've learned how to drink (and how!), and I've learned more than I ever wished to know about boys (still haven't entirely solved that mystery yet, though). Because while heading straight out to work at the age of 18 probably would have taught me all that too - and possibly a damn sight quicker - in terms of independence, university life does provide a "halfway house". You're responsible for yourself most of the time, but you're still a student (so family members do tend to take pity from time to time, and spoil you a bit). It makes the "flying-the-nest" process a little easier; you do it a bit at a time. Which must make it a bit easier on parents, too. Especially if you're the first one to go, as I am.

I'm aware that this has turned into more of a pro-university post than anything, and I hope it's clear I don't think that going to uni is better than going out to work after your A-levels. I'm simply saying that it was probably the best thing for me (I'll let you know, though, in a year's time, when I'm unemployed and overqualified for some things and woefully underqualified for others).

Because, if nothing else, over the last few years, I've learned this: both inside linguistics and outside, in the real world, there are far more questions than there will ever be answers.

Still not convinced about this dissertation lark, though.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm, While occupations like electrician, plumber and hairdresser I'm certain appeal to some, Kirsten the plumber? Well, perhaps if you have the arms for it... Kirsten the hairdresser? Not sure about that either, I mean what if you, say, held staunch Aryan views regarding hair colour? I can see many awkward situations involving an inability to dye clients hair the corvect gvermanic blonde colour...

    No I'm sorry, joking aside, whichever way you cut it, earning a steady small wage as opposed to developing your qualifications might have paid short-term, but would be awful long-term. Unless you find the job is enjoyable and satisfying, or there is some prospect of things improving or of movement onto new and better positions, it would be a miserable position to be in, and probably a dead end.

    You have real gifts for language, writing and creativity (or at least that is this anonymous writers' opinion anyway). Don't devalue that by measuring it in short-term earning potential. You would have been selling yourself short if you hadn't given forensic linguistics a go. At the end of the day, whether or not your course is a blind alley as far as 'usefulness to humanity at large' is concerned, It will be useful in demonstrating those gifts of language, writing and creativity to employers.

    Oh and as for the whole University vs. life debate, I do agree University value is all about the life experience, not so much the degree course substance. That said all degrees from the eponymous usefulness of mathematics or English to the highly specific and mostly useless-except-in-one-discipline degrees like... say... archaeology? do help develop skills like time (mis)management, how to write effectively (at 2am in the morning before hand-in), and perseverance (because the celebratory bonfire/ shredding of university assignments must only ever occur after the course is complete, and until then the urge to cremate said work must be resisted). Things that are surprisingly useful when you are working and your hair is on fire because that last piece of work you swore you would do over the weekend wasn't done and now you have from 2am to 6am to finish it up before Monday so the boss doesn't notice you are about as reliable as a cardboard oven glove or used condom with 'made in South Africa' written on it.