“So what can you do with a degree in Cultural Studies?” I felt the deer-caught-in-headlights look come over my face as I realized that I couldn’t easily answer the question in the ten words or less the situation required.
I was alone at a theatre – a friend was performing in a musical that no one wanted to attend with me. I was happy to have the twenty minutes before curtain to get started on reading the first assignment in my newly minted-graduate program (Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” if you’re interested). Unfortunately, the woman next to me was chatty and mistakenly thought I was bored and in need of entertainment.
She asked me about what I was reading (and was surprised to discover that I wasn’t a high school student!), and what my program involved and furrowed her brow as she tried to wrap her head around the concept of taking a degree just for the sake of taking it. I wasn’t trying to become a “Cultural Studyologist.” I just thought that the program sounded interesting. I did recognize that in some hazy, distant day in the future, it would probably serve me well to have a graduate degree if I were to continue my career in a post-secondary setting. But most importantly, I liked the kind of abstract thinking that taking these courses gave me. It’s an exercise in critical thought that doesn’t occur very often in everyday life – outside of Academia that is.
So often we tend to get caught up in the idea that to engage in a Master’s degree automatically means that the next step is seeking out a PhD program followed by a life in the Academy. When surrounded by academics in this kind of environment, we forget that the vast majority of students do not in fact become professors and researchers and published authors. And that’s OK.
Often I think that students can get immersed in the concept of what they’re supposed to do. What they should take to get further in life. But occasionally there’s simply the idea of education as a joyful experience - one that can enrich you as a person, and broaden your view on the world. There doesn’t necessarily have to be an end goal in view – one can simply appreciate a beautifully crafted program for the simple fact of its existence.
I attempted to explain this to the woman beside me, but I have to confess, I was grateful when then lights began to dim before our conversation was over. I didn’t want to have to justify myself to anyone. I was still reeling from the simple fact of being a graduate student, and having strangers question the validity of my life choices didn’t offer great peace of mind, as innocent as their confusion may be. Having the option to participate in post-secondary education is a beautiful privilege, and one of my wishes would be for the entire world to recognize its value, beyond simply that of finding a higher-paying job.
Deanna is writing from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. She is a graduate student, college administrator, and member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.