Bachelor Of Communication

Is it arrogant for me to state that my Bachelor Of Communication is worthless? Probably.

Aside from being a physical reminder of my ability to (somewhat) focus on a goal for three-plus years, a degree is only useful if a potential employer needs to check that box before hiring me. Since I don’t see myself applying for a job that requires a résumé ever again, can you see why I feel this way?

Andrew McMillen became Andrew McMillen, BComm on July 24 2009. An old dude who speak at the ceremony said to my fellow graduands something along the lines of: “Having invested years of your life studying here at the University Of Queensland, you understand that a university education is more than simply attending lectures and handing in assignments.”

Cue sniggers, because that’s exactly what I found my university education to be: a matter of attending lectures and handing in assignments. Essentially, doing enough to pass, without extending myself.

Why didn’t I extend myself? A good question. The old dude was hinting that a university education is what you make of it. There was a whole lot of extracurricular bullshit like networking, volunteering and university politics that absolutely didn’t interest me. So I opted to show up to class occasionally, hand in assignments, and do enough to pass.

I suppose I always felt that studying Communication was a waste of my time. The cute summary of the program I give to people is that Communication is half journalism, half media studies. And entirely rooted in events that happened decades ago; practices that were established centuries ago.

Why didn’t I quit? Another good question. I’ve made it clear that I don’t value the certificate that’ll sit in my closet for eternity. I guess I took the easy way out by sticking to what I’d started, rather than course-correcting from what I constantly felt was a misguided pathway. Call it parental pressure, call it social expectation; my boss last year told me I’d be fired if didn’t finish the degree. Another example of me not wanting to rock the boat, not wanting to cause a scene, not wanting to stray from the presupposed outcome I’ve allowed others to dictate since high school, even while feeling nothing toward the journey itself.

As I write this, I feel a misguided arrogance tickling the edge of my consciousness. It prompts me to spout something like: “Almost everything I was instructed to learn and understand throughout my degree was written at a time before the internet! Newspapers are dying, traditional journalists are displaced! The internet changed everything! That a university education is valuable is a fucking fallacy!”

That’s my irrational response to this discussion. I’ve attempted to curtail it many times, both psychologically and in conversation, but it still tends to rear its head. I know there are a thousand arguments against what I just wrote; entertain me with them if you wish.

I won’t pretend to empathise with my fellow graduates, Communication or otherwise. But as I sat among the hundreds, I thought thoughts like:

  • How many of them feel entitled to the certificate they’re about to receive?
  • How many of them feel that they deserve to walk right into a job, a career, simply because they passed classes for a couple of years?
  • How many of them are prepared for the world in which we live – one that values the sharing of ideas rather than the submission of formulaic assignments that fit into predetermined criteria?
  • How many are going to proudly call themselves ‘professional communicators’ for the rest of their lives, without irony?
  • How many are going to fail to realise how sad it is to self-define by a Bachelor/Doctorate/Master ‘of’?
  • How many of them blog?

I’d like to think that I’m being realistic, here, expressing these sentiments. Refusing to accept that life is as easy as the steps set out by the people who run the business of tertiary education: study, degree, career, happiness, death.

The cylinder is empty. I SENSE A METAPHOR

I’d like to think that I’m being honest with myself, and that I’m achieving something by sharing my feelings of discontent.

I’d like to think that I’m being pragmatic by shrugging off congratulations; the myth that completing a degree is worthy of recognition.

But it’s probably pretty clear that my assertions are filled with contradictions, hypocrisy and half-truths. I’m not looking for reassurance. I know where I want to be and who I want to represent, and I know that I didn’t need a certificate to signify either.

Maybe I’m alone on this among my peers, but I’d hope not. It’d make things a lot easier for me were they that delusional, but mostly I’d just pity them.

Kind of ironic that the graduation ceremony’s guest speaker, ABC reporter and journalist Chris Masters – whose speech greatly inspired and motivated me – has been awarded honorary doctorates and degrees, but chose to never set foot within a university.

It’s not all bad. My time at university prompted me to write the first post on this site, in May 2008. That single decision – inspired by frustration and helplessness – pointed me in what felt like the right direction. Namely, far from sandstone hallways and dull classrooms.

Thanks for boring me into action, University Of Queensland! IOU $16,306.

Comments? Below.
  1. TDW says:

    I finish university at the end of this semester and I agree with you on so many levels here.

    When I began I expected it to be somewhat like how the movies make it out to be (unless it’s a US thing, I’ll never know for sure), but it wasn’t. It was exactly like you said it was. Sure I could’ve joined in on some sort of extra-curricular activities but whenever I came close to dipping my feet into them, I either couldn’t find anything interesting enough, or found they were mostly loads of crap, not unlike Facebook groups and causes that are little more than “sign up and forget”.

    I don’t regret the program I’ve taken. I know I’m not naturally suited to the career, and despite studying it for 5 years the prospect of doing something totally different as a career doesn’t make me feel like it was a waste of time at all – which seems to confuse most people, particularly my family.

    I tried to quit several times, even went as far as to actually submit an application for a totally different course in a completely different Australian state. But again, families subject you to more pressure than we’d ever like to admit.

    Anyway my point is that I agree that these bachelor degrees are little more than tickets for employment in many circumstances (there are obviously a lot of careers like the one I chose that you really should have a degree in, would you want to drive over a bridge designed by someone who just picked up the know-how along the way?). (I don’t design bridges btw lol).

    ANYWAY, my point again, is that as I come close to finishing, the graduate program applications closed months ago and as a result of the economic crisis I have very, very few chances of getting a graduate program job in my field (and the chances of getting a job in this field without signficant experience seems non-existent). I have two prospective chances left. I have no idea what to do (chosen field or not) if I don’t get one of these grad program roles, but am very interested in figuring that out in a very left-of-field sort of way. Just haven’t figured that out yet.

    Thanks for listening to my rant lol.

  2. Sophie says:

    Uni’s a funny thing. I’m only really starting to appreciate it and I’m into my second-last semester of it. The first degree I began was useless in every way – I didn’t learn anything and didn’t enjoy it. The course I’m currently studying is EXCELLENT, I really can’t speak highly enough of it.
    The staff in my faculty have an incredibly firm grasp on the industry, something often lacking in academia and I feel that almost all of my assessment is directly related to skills I will need to use in my jobs of choice. There are two or three staff members in particular who have really influenced how I approach people, my career and life in general. That said, the piece of paper alone won’t get me jobs or opportunities and I don’t feel entitled to either just because I am lucky enough to be born into a upper-middle class family in a first world country. Like you, I’ve realised that jobs don’t get handed to you just because you have a uni degree, rather you have to network and get to know people and practice and BE GOOD, or at least willing to work hard and learn.
    I don’t feel my degree has been useless, because through it I have learned not to be useless.

  3. Hannah says:

    I see myself doing this kind of post one day. Can’t wait! :D (But what will I write about..won’t be entirely happy)

    My degree is going to cost me a couple of tens of thousands of dollars, time and effort in assignments, costs in relation to study including transportation and potential loss of income from a full time job (ps: at this most extreme). I have consoled myself, though, in this scholarship which I see it as uni paying me to work aka study for a small amount.

    I have felt that university has been in the way of me being able to get a full-time job (I started scoring interviews in the entry level design jobs that I want to be in after my first year) rather than the other way around. But no, status quo and 95% of the people that I talk to just tell me to stick to uni. Time and time again I have looked at job posts knowing with confidence that I can satisfy the criteria – but if my status of ‘not being a graduate’ would be a hindrance, then ‘being at uni full-time’ would be.

    “It’s not all bad. My time at university prompted me to write the first post on this site, in May 2008. That single decision – inspired by frustration and helplessness – pointed me in what felt like the right direction. Namely, far from sandstone hallways and dull classrooms.”
    That’s a good point. If it weren’t for my frustration of what is being offered (not to mention that need to get some experience before I graduate) I wouldn’t be in the roles that I am in now.

    Another Bach. Media and Communication Final Year Student

  4. Tiara says:

    As a B. Creative Industries who

    a) only took the degree to shut my parents up
    b) found it easier to get jobs WITHOUT the degree than WITH it (all the people saying it’ll make my life easier are wrong)
    c) had to pay full fee for being international ($16,000 was the cost per YEAR – thank god for that CI partial scholarship in 2nd year)

    I totally support your statement. Especially the sniggers about the uni being more than paper-pushing.

  5. I agree 110%. I could have written the same post when I graduated my half journalism / half media studies degree (under the Arts banner because there were less prescribed subjects than the journalism degree I started so it was easier to get after hours subjects I could skip :) 5 years ago. And I still feel exactly the same way. The only bright spot was paying off my HECS last year.

  6. Jerry says:

    Another great blog entry, Andrew. Not because I necessarily agree or disagree with you, simply because you cut right to the heart of the matter.

    P.S. In my entire time as a commissioning editor, I’ve never once looked at a person’s CV.

  7. Carly says:

    Great post. I agree with so much. And yet, and yet…

    I’ve had two university experiences. The first, in the US at a lovely (and tiny) liberal arts uni, where the profs hosted dinners and student involvement (while grossly over emphasized) was actually somewhat heartfelt. Funny thing, I can’t remember where that degree (in Rhetoric & Media Studies) is gathering dust. My second experience, at an MA program in the Netherlands where the professors stated in their email signature that you would NOT be receiving a response under any circumstances and the students were basking in the glory of socially supported education into their late 20s (three MAs? Why not!). I do believe my first degree was a stepping stone that has and will enable me to do many things that would otherwise not be possible. And yet…

    I laugh partially because my best friend who grew up in the glorious DDR, joined anti-fascist groups after the wall fell, and dropped out of John Lennon High School in Berlin now has a posh job with a permanent contract, earns much more than I and probably always will. But he is white and male. I’m a girl with brown skin living in Amsterdam. Oh, the shame. And yet, and yet…

    Even though I value my education, I know that what I most learned came from experiences outside an institution. And, of course, from lots of time spent reading more recent literature, like blogs. Thanks…

  8. I’m not sure if you’ve been asked this before, Andrew, but do you ever think that the culture of your university directly correlates with your appreciation of the course it offered?

    I ask this because I currently go to a university that in the eyes of the general public is “second-tier”. That said, I’ve found myself gaining more out of the bare bones of this course than most do out of more in-demand university courses offered by Sydney’s (and Australia’s, at that) more prestigious universities.

    I guess I could counter-blog this to explain my situation, but to put it simply: I may not have the same level of experience as you (who knows what I’ll be thinking in 2.5 years) but based solely upon the descriptors offered it appears like the problem is in how the course is set out and not just universities in general.

  9. Great post mate.

    All spot on.

    Read Dan Tapscott’s The Demise of University. You’ll like it


  10. Albert: yeah. Course content plays a big part in the perceived value of education, and I made it clear that I wasn’t happy with what was on offer.

    Please do counter-blog, I’d like to read it! Thanks the comments, all.

  11. Aah, revisiting this (for some reason I had traffic going to my other blog from this page).

    I now only have a few more weeks left in this semester and then…possibly freedom from studying. Or not, depending if I decide to do postgraduate studies or another degree. I’ve also had my eye on going back to doing some sort of multimedia degree so that I can actually learn how to create and program and develop.

    My need to get the info or the experiences that I need lead me to do things beyond the classroom or computer lab and I am very grateful for that. I really don’t know how I came from what I was like November 2007 as a fresh faced student finishing her first year (not only in QUT but in Brisbane) and into November 2009 (although Nov 07 – I started applying for jobs relating to graphic design) as someone completely different.

    Students = we should always question, challenge and learn.

    PS: Just saw this entry in my own the website. My 3 year QUT plan! It needs a bit of altering though

  12. If I wasn’t already confused, I am now Andrew! I was two minutes away from finalising my application to this very degree when Ive come across your blog. It makes alot of sense to me, having searched through the job applications online, looking for the place where they say ask for a Bachelor of Communication??? Is there anything positive you can say about completeing this degeree??? Anyone? I see you have some pretty quality credits there ( Rolling Stone,etc) so can I say you took something away from this or could you have succeeded thus far without? Thanks, Kate.


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