a, Opinion

An & in the wilderness

Last year, I transferred from the Faculty of Arts into Arts & Science after falling in love with the Cognitive Science program. Having entered McGill from the U.S., I had actually expected Arts & Science to be the default––at most universities in the United States, it is the largest faculty, not one of the smallest. My fellow ArtSci peers have deemed this degree to be the best option for us, but we still worry a lot about our post-graduation plans—perhaps more so than most other students.

The McGill Bachelor of Arts & Science (BA&Sc) website cautions, “The breadth that is characteristic of the BA&Sc programs necessarily comes at the expense of depth in the Arts and the Science components viewed separately.” That’s all. Thanks for the warning, but McGill should do more to help assuage our fears. In an increasingly competitive job market, why are BA&Sc students content with spreading ourselves so thin? As one of many students unsure of the future, I am both comforted and terrified in my decision to choose an interdisciplinary academic program. I’m excited to be graduating with credits in philosophy, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, and psychology, but I won’t be trained enough in any of these fields to stand out to a prospective employer in any specialized area. All I can hope for is that knowing the fundamentals in all of these disciplines will give me a unique edge, enough to propel me in my yet-to-be-declared future.

Recently, I came across a quote by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, which captured the BA&Sc mentality: “A human being should be able to […] design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem […] cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, [and] die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

All ArtSci students will have to struggle with the benefits and drawbacks of our broad academic program. On the one hand, we are limiting ourselves from several higher-level courses and highly-specialized career opportunities, but on the other, we are striving for well-roundedness, holding on to the faith that a degree in Arts & Science will open more doors than it closes. We all have a conviction that dabbling in various fields is a better fit for us––personally, academically, or professionally.

Still, we need more exposure to interdisciplinary career opportunities, and we need encouragement to be creative and entrepreneurial. We need mentors and role models, and we need more integrative courses. The ampersand symbol is a source of anxiety as well as inspiration––it represents our rewarding multidisciplinary curriculum, but it also reminds us that we are caught between two faculties, without a real home. More often than not, we are swallowed up by the umbrella that is the Faculty of Science for issues related to advising and exchanges.

The ampersand thus serves as the perfect emblem for the Bachelor of Arts & Science Integrative Council (BASiC), which does what it can to relieve the anxiety and harness the creativity of Arts & Science students. While the university should be doing more to support its students, BASiC provides two initiatives through which students support each other: a conference and a journal, both entitled Ampersand, that serve as resources and outlets for the Arts & Science community.

This month, the conference will be bringing together students and leaders from all disciplines to network and engage with one another in order to generate dialogue and creativity. BA&Sc students stand at the intersection of potential cultural, technological, and artistic innovation, but McGill needs to do more to mediate discussion and engagement among its small population of Arts & Science students, and to give us the support we need to finish our degrees and do something useful with them.

Esther Vinarov is involved in organizing Ampersand: the Conference, which will take place on March 21 and 22. To learn more, join the Ampersand McGill Facebook group and follow the link to buy tickets ($7 for two days, $5 for one day).

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