Wednesday, October 4
One of my hugest pet peeves is when people equate having certain degrees with having certain knowledge about certain topics. And I'm not talking about specialized academic topics; of course, your average biology major should be able to explain DNA replication better than your average sociology major, and your average French literature major probably knows more about A la Recherche des Temps Perdus than your average just about anything else major. I'm talking about more general things, like child-rearing.

For example, I often browse the baby-related sections of Craig's List and see numerous college students looking for babysitting jobs. Many of them emphasize the fact that they are majoring in child development, as if that somehow makes them more qualified to look after your kid. I guess I can see how that might make them more appealing candidates to some people, but let me tell you, I've spent several semesters grading the papers and exams of numerous child development majors, and some of them don't even know what a uterus is.

Last week I was in a store buying diapers for Sardine, and I could not help but notice how the overzealous owner managed to bring up several times in the course of our conversation that she has a degree in child development--as if that should somehow make the items in her store more appealing. My favorite was when we were talking about the advantages of having just one kid and she said, "People say that the second kid is easier, but it's not as if I don't know what I'm doing this time around. I mean, I have a degree in child development." I seriously almost laughed out loud. Do any of us parents know what we're doing? My roommate my first year in college was the product of two pretty famous child psychologists, and trust me, she was a freak.

Today I returned to the store to buy more Happy Heiny's, and as I sat on the floor and fussed like an art major over which designs I liked the best, Ms. Child Development sat behind the counter swearing at her computer, all the while declaring, "I was a child development major, for God's sake, so I don't understand a lot of this computer stuff!" I mostly managed to ignore her until I had to actually make my purchase. Since I had previously bought four diapers and was now buying eight, and she had promised me a 13th diaper for free, I also got to see first hand that apparently having a degree in child development prevents you from learning how to operate a cash register, too. The problem was that she wanted to give me the 13th diaper, but she also wanted to enter it into her register, and for some reason she couldn't enter it as "no charge." Finally she ended up multiplying eight by the price of each diaper and then dividing the total by nine and charging me the resulting amount per diaper. She gave me this long, drawn out explanation of what she was doing and why, lest I think she was ripping me off. Of course her explanation was accompanied by the disclaimer that she was a child development major and so didn't understand some of the more business-y aspects of running a shop, as if charging me $15.95 per diaper for nine diapers instead of $17.95 per diaper for eight diapers was some complex concept requiring a Ph.D. in mathematics to comprehend.

On and on she babbled until I finally smiled at her and said, "It's okay, I get it." Then, because I couldn't help myself, I added somewhat snarkily, "My degree is in economics."


fraud, in denim said...


The thing that cracks me up about "degree talk" in situations like these is that when people find out that my doctorate is in Astronomy* they ask if I can tell them what their astrological profile is and whether they're most romantically compatible with Libras or Virgos.

* Of course this may or may not be my field, but it doesn't detract from the illustration. The point is, it seems that the majority of people have no idea what Astronomers do.

Navy Blue Blob said...

Oh, Salmon, this sounds unbelievably frustrating. It's great to see that you can put a humorous spin on it though! And I am SO glad you told her that you had an econ degree. Any particular look on her face at that point?:)

I never realized baby-sitting ads had that info (I guess I don't have much experience with browsing baby-sitting ads), but that is very amusing.

Anonymous said...

My favorite one is the claim that having an English degree qualifies someone to be an editor. It doesn't. It only qualifies you to talk about literature.


Salmon Ella said...

My favorite one is the claim that having an English degree qualifies someone to be an editor.

ME TOO! I think that's actually my #1 pet peeve as far as equating degrees with knowledge goes. I see so many job announcements for editors that REQUIRE a degree in English, which annoys me because I think I could do the jobs just as well as any English major, but since I've never even taken a college-level English course, I am not at all qualified. It's not as if English majors are the only students required to write using proper grammar.

Salmon Ella said...

Any particular look on her face at that point?:)

Actually, the snarkiness bounced right off her. Her face lit up and she said, "OH, so you DO understand all of this!" (Meanwhile, I'm thinking to myself, "Yeah, because I managed to pass fifth grade math!")

fraud, in denim said...

Most of my friends with degrees in English have horrible grammar.

Fitz said...

My experience with "what is your degree" talk usually ends with a comment that since I was a science major, I must not be a "people person" as opposed to the other person who was a "communications" major or some such. How judgemental and prejudiced this sounds! I am glad you got your comment in.

Salmon Ella said...

Just yesterday afternoon in lab I was talking to a student who is struggling a little bit. Among other things, she struggles with correct spelling, since English is not her first language. Then she told me that it doesn't really matter how well she does in the course because "My major is English." Ha ha! I immediately thought of the conversation here about English majors being the only people qualified to be editors.

Anonymous said...

In my experience in both the commercial and scholarly worlds, English majors with no actual job experience make the worst editors because they are pretentious. They either want to impose stylistic affectations or arbitrary rules.

I once read a similar complaint from a laboratory director, that he never hired science students for detail work because they spent too much time musing about the theoretical implications.