Saturday, March 05, 2005

A little uselessness

I often say, in jest, that I'm not cut out for "useful" professions, such as those in business that so many on this econ-focused campus seem to prefer. And though it's only in jest that I refer to my alternative--an intended career in academe--as "useless," it's been essentially labeled that the people I'm interviewing with in my ongoing job search:

Interviewer: So what type of law would you like to study?
Me: Well, I'd eventually like to be in academia, studying constitutional law. [This is mostly true. I don't mention my desire to study gender issues in the law in interviews.]
Interviewer: (confused look) I see...
Me: I thought ever college undergrad wanted to do con law..?
Interviewer: No, just the University of Chicago grads. You have a biology degree, you don't want to go into patent or trademark law?
Me: Not in the long term, no.
Interviewer: But that's where the money is!
Interviewer: Was there some reason for the double major?
Me: Reason...?
Interviewer: You know, reason. Any intended field for double-majoring in International Studies and Biology...?
Me: I found them...interesting. I also took a lot of classes in art history...
Interviewer: Oh, so what was the point?

It's fine that there are people in this world who value information only so far as it gets them somewhere. But while we may eventually be asking "do you want fries with that," we the information-gatherers generally don't call them ignorant and mindless cogs in the wheels of a brutal capitalistic their face.* Why must they put us down?

*Not that I'd recommended "fixing" such a machine with socialism.

1 comment:

Adam Kraus said...

I've always held the view that one can be in the more practical professions and still pursue the higher ideals in life, whatever those might be. Now obviously the system isn't set up this way, but I've always seen no reason why someone couldn't work an unrelated job during the day, and then come home and specialize in whatever interests them in their spare time - whether that's music, art, science, intellectual enrichment, etc. In fact, many great accomplishments have come about by the person laboring under their own direction - not the direction of a multinational research and development program. Examples of great achievements coming from non-professional outlets are common in the sciences (Einstein, Volta, Newton [I think]), and also music.

It's true that in certain fields, it's hard to make a contribution unless you have some kind of professional investment. It's hard to imagine people being able to publish socially influential treatises or studies who aren't in some way connected to it in their job, and this usually means being in academia. On the other hand, there is certainly such a thing as movement between the private and academic sectors - many academics get notoriety from their success in another sector.