So what are you going to do with a Sociology degree? Become a popcorn seller? This is how I am often mocked by my Engineering friends or those with degrees that can be directly applied in the workplace. This is the reality; society measures success in the job market through the ‘applicability’ yardstick. Whether this university subject is relevant to the job market, and most importantly whether this subject is broad in terms of its job opportunities. A degree in Mathematics can earn you a career in the government, in education, in engineering, in business, in statistics… The list goes on.
What about degrees in the Arts and Humanities? Take Philosophy. Apart from becoming a Philosophy lecturer in a university, what can you do with that degree? Coming up instantly with a list becomes harder. Of course there must be a context to the emphasis on practical subjects rather than perceived “airy-fairy” subjects such as my own major, Sociology. That context is the economy. With Singapore’s economy not expected to show much improvement in the next year, experiencing a modest growth of 0.3% in the first quarter of 2017, employers would prefer graduates who have skills that can ensure the financial success of the firm. In other words, skills that are practical. Arts and Humanities degrees have an unenviable infamy for the stereotype that they lead to low-paying job. What so great about this degree that deserves you a salary big enough to dwarf your wallet right?
This is where the misconception needs to be corrected. Arts or Humanities degrees need not be seen as the ineffectual siblings of a Science degree. Rather, they compliment one another. Rationality can only get you so far; one needs to be critical minded also. You may have a degree in Finance and be working in a bank but posessing writing and communication skills would also be an asset should you be required to produce research findings for your boss. This is where an education in Sociology and Philosophy come into play.
Beyond the job market however, having an Arts or Humanities degree is also important. Critically dissecting contemporary issues such as racial discrimination is a skill a Sociology graduate would be trained in. Understanding why the Middle East is plagued with warfare requires extensive knowledge on that region’s history. How are we to solve such problems if we don’t even understand them, or know how to understand them?
While having an Arts and Humanities in Singapore today degree may not reap huge financial rewards, that doesn’t have to be a reason to avoid taking these subjects in the first place. If you want to major in Philosophy, do so. Don’t worry about what you can do with a degree, worry about what you want to make out of it. Next time someone tells you that you can only become a road sweeper with a Sociology degree, systematically enlighten them on the ways to sanction acts of littering, and how one must not just think of sanctions numerically (in terms of increasing fines). Rather, one should consider whether such measures will encourage citizens to show greater care for the environment rather than continue to litter as a means of rebelling against the law which they deem forceful. *Mic Drop*