An Ode to the English major

UR Stuck On Campus | Samantha Lish | December 20, 2015

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Like everyone else waiting for their car to be serviced, my friend and I sat in the waiting area of the car dealership pretending to be interested in the magazines from 2013 and avoiding eye contact with everyone. To our dismay, the woman sitting across from us decided to strike up a conversation. Because we had nowhere to go, we were forced to engage in conversation. It wasn’t 30 seconds before she had asked for our majors and told us about her family friend who had recently started at the U of R Medical School. At first I thought she was bragging, but I soon realized that she was doing the opposite. As an undergrad, her friend’s son was an English major. She started expressing her disapproval for his choice of career. How could he become a doctor when he was a lowly English major (even at a very prestigious liberal art school)?

All of a sudden I found myself in an incredibly awkward situation. The woman had just heard that both my friend and I are double majoring in English and an additional social sciences major, yet she had no qualms about criticizing the lack of preparedness she felt her friend’s son had and (even better) the overwhelming discomfort she would feel if ANY non-science major were to be her or anyone in her family’s doctor. She went on to say it didn’t matter what medical school any doctor went to, if they had a humanities or social science background she would not let them treat or advise her. She explained how science majors think in a way that’s analytical, data driven, and intelligent while non-science majors don’t have the capacity to do so; hence, only science majors should be doctors.

I have, throughout my almost four years at the U of R, encountered many people like this. I, along with my fellow humanities/social science majors, am oftentimes looked at as lowly and smart….but not nearly as smart as science majors. I’ve heard that my coursework (consisting of 2 majors and a minor) was the ‘easy route’,  that ‘I won’t do anything with my life’, that I should ‘look forward to a low salary if I can even get a job’, and that I ‘shouldn’t be complaining about the amount of work I have because my major requires no time’.

None of these things are true. However, it seemed that the wonderful woman waiting for her taillight to be fixed (who is ironically employed by UR Medicine) didn’t stop to think for one second that I might be capable of something in the medical field.

When I told her that I have plenty of friends with humanities and social science majors who have decided to pursue jobs in medicine, she responded with an uncomfortable smile and nod that indicated her simultaneous surprise and distaste. Luckily, her taillight was fixed before I got a chance to respond to her idiocy discomfort.

I may not scribble on the Carlson or Gleason whiteboards with endless equations or reactions. And no, I am not constantly worrying about if my work (that I got help with from Wolfram Alpha) will turn Webwork green. However, why does this mean I don”t work? Why does it somehow indicate I spend less time studying? Does this mean that I am not equally as frustrated with tests, essays, take home exams, and the like? Absolutely not.

So, here’s to the English major. The student who discovered his or her passion and was not afraid to declare their major while simultaneously being judged by those waiting to talk about medical school applications. Here’s to the student who spent hours adding footnotes to English essays and seeking out better versions of Google translate. Here’s to the student who highlighted 40-page texts that are required to be brought to class. And most importantly, here’s to all of the English majors who deal with the endless shade emitted by fellow students, family members over the holidays who just don’t get it, and strangers who like to have conversations while waiting for their car to be serviced.

                                  May 2016 bring a more open mind to all.