Random person I just met: So, what’s your major?
Me: Television studies.
Me: I’m a television studies major, with an emphasis in game shows. There’s a great program through the College of Creative Studies.
I don’t like telling people what my real major is. It’s fun to see what other drunk people will believe if you sound convincing. The main reason, though, is that I have yet to meet anyone who reacts positively when I reveal I’m a mechanical engineer. Reactions range from monosyllabic responses like “ugh” to the all encompassing, “So you’re one of those.”
We all know you can’t avoid the question. When it’s early in the evening and most people haven’t reached the point of brain cell shattering drunkenness, we stick to polite small talk when introduced to someone. Among students, this means you must ask the other person’s major. Attending school at UCSB is what most of us have in common, so it’s the perfect starting point for conversation.
This also involves a lot of stereotyping, like knowing someone’s major tells everything about him or her. I know lots of people assume most engineers are boring, antisocial, always study and write at a third grade level. I’m not claiming we’re not these things, but it would be nice to avoid them as a first impression.
The best part, though, is when people assume I know how to fix things. I guess most social science people assume that engineers learn more practical skills than we actually do. Little do they know the lectures we attend on thermodynamics are just as useless in everyday life as the sociology or history lectures they sit through. Still, it never fails that when something needs fixing, the stereotype says I’m the one to call.
Once, immediately after being introduced, the host of a party asked me if I could fix his broken VCR. Not wanting to turn down someone I’d just met – and being very drunk – I agreed. The VCR, which looked like it had been kicked around the room in a game of video appliance soccer, was lying in a puddle of beer. Drawing on what one gains through four arduous years of mechanical engineering education, I got started with the only logical method of repair. I picked up someone’s shoe and beat the VCR with it as hard as I could. Nobody asked me to fix anything else that evening.
I just get mad when people pass judgment so quickly. Sure, a person’s major says something about his or her personality. But many of us don’t so much pick our majors as fall into them. Your major defines how you will spend your time here at UCSB, but there’s more to life than academics. Could it be students are too busy to try and get to know each other? Just imagine all the time we save by relying on stereotypes instead of judging people for who they are.
Maybe I’m being too cynical. Maybe when people ask about each other’s majors, they aren’t trying to pass judgment on them but just trying to get to know each other. Maybe I’m just bitter about being a mechanical engineer.
One thing I do wonder though: Will this continue after I graduate? Will the line “What’s your major?” suddenly be replaced by “What’s your job?” Will people continue to assume I’m boring and masochistic because of my occupation? Or will the generalization that people in technical careers make more money than their peers immediately after college suddenly make me glad to announce my chosen profession?
In truth, probably not. Who wants to hang out with people who judge you by your annual salary? And with the tech economy flailing around at the bottom of a deep, dark pit, there’s a good chance I’ll be spending the beginning of my post-college career sitting on the couch in my parents’ house watching reruns of “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” I wonder if it’s not too late to switch my major to television studies.
I’m sure people in other majors suffer from similar stereotyping.
In fact, I doubt that most people deserve the stereotyping they receive by revealing their major. Except for electrical engineers. Those guys are major nerds.
Jonathan Repp is a senior mechanical engineering major.