It’s hard to be an undergraduate studying in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) in the National University of Singapore (NUS). Not because of the tremendous workload, nor the fact that we literally travel uphill for every single class we have to take. It is because we have to face this question from quizzical but well-meaning friends and relatives: “What are you studying at NUS now?” – and more importantly, the infamous follow-ups. Here’s a typical scenario I face:
Relative 1: “So you’re studying in the Faculty of Arts ah? Doing drawing is it? I thought your arts and craft in secondary school always fail one!”
Me: “Uh no, I study Political Science lah, I don’t do drawing. You also know I cannot draw!”
Relative 1: “WAH, that means you’re going to be a politician is it? Join PAP (People’s Action Party) right! Good, will earn a lot of money. Must remember us when you strike it rich leh!”
Relative 2: “Ya, and must tell the gahmen to drop the COE and close some ERP gantries also lah!”
A well-meaning sentiment, but in my opinion, far removed from reality. This exchange might seem amusing, but the idea that what you study is what you become in the future is still paramount in the minds of students and parents alike today. Such a paradigm governs the tortured thoughts of O level students who are choosing which course to go in the respective Polytechnics, or which subjects to take in Junior College. Similarly, recently graduated A level students work backwards – they think of their desired career pathways, and from there, determine which course they want to take in University. After all, this approach is the “tried-and-tested” and therefore safe and reliable – or is it?
This idea might be true in certain cases – but in today’s world, a mere minority. Today, we have Science majors becoming human resource managers, and Arts majors becoming social entrepreneurs. Gone are the days where a Psychology major becomes a counsellor. Today, a Psychology major could become a user experience researcher at Google, or go into market research. No longer do employers look out for the name of your major and take it at face value – they look at the adaptable skills behind it. Most undergraduates would have developed excellent analytical, communicational and administrative skills in the course of their studies. These skills are the key that can open many doors, and not just one.
Of course, such an approach requires a drastic paradigm change. Perhaps, students should start to choose courses on the basis of interest instead of practicality. Because of their sustained interest and engagement in the subject, they would be able to develop their soft skills far more than another student who grinds through a technical course because it seems relevant for them in the long-run, but fails to interest in the short-run.
This is not to say that one should avoid taking technical and difficult courses. Certain courses are the fundamental building blocks that are necessary in some professions. What I am trying to point out is that the flexibility afforded by this new paradigm opens up a massive variety of opportunities and pathways for students. Try new things, delve into what you are passionate about. Do not let the fear of practicality paralyze you, but follow your heart.