By: R. Patel
“Why Geography?” This phrase always makes me squirm. As a geography student in the UK, I’ve heard this a million times, and rest assured people are not really interested, but rather they ask this question with an attitude to show their distaste at my “poor decision”. There is a huge stigma about studying geography and as someone who is constantly meeting new people and hearing their take on my degree, I am writing this to remind those who study under the environmental department (and other departments) that no matter what people say, if everyone knew what we know, then there wouldn’t be a need for our degrees, that our study – in school and of the environment – remains crucial.
In the UK (as I am sure is the case in other places as well), geography does not carry a large academic credit from the general public. Many students told me that geography is “not a real degree” or that it is “easy” in my first year at Lancaster University. Each of us in the environmental department has earned a place at university and this in and of itself should be enough to put any questions at bay. However, some comments have gotten to me (and may have gotten to you, environmental reader), and I admit, they have dampened my passion at times. I had to remind myself, and now remind you, that we chose this degree for a reason, and that reason no one can take away with a comment. Personally, I chose geography because I am passionate about it, and it is something I enjoy learning. Clearly, they don’t understand why we’d go into debt for a degree we did not want to study in the first place, as if the only reason to study something is to meet society’s expectations, and not our own passion and curiosity.
This is not about crying over our degree choice in the hope that people will cut us slack and it is not about changing people’s behaviour or asking people to not voice their opinion. I would love to not hear these negative views about my choice, but people are always going to have an opinion (and whether you like it or not they will probably voice it). However, in times of insecurity, you must think of why you are studying your degree because if you have a passion, interest, or simply a love for it, why should someone else’s opinion matter (especially a stranger’s)?
I know very well that is easier said than done. I tend to think that I am quite strong and over the years I have managed to not care too much about what other people think, but recently I must confess I did have a bit of a wobble – I felt insecure for you non-UKers out there. Should I have just studied dentistry or medicine for the sake of “prestige”? As someone who has experienced mostly (if not all) negative comments about my degree (even hearing “wouldn’t you have been better off getting a job rather than studying geography?”), it really made me question my degree choice. Last month I did have a few cries (more than I would like to admit) about this and I even got to the point where I researched post-graduate degrees in medicine and dentistry! This was weak of me and feeling sorry for myself was taken to a new level. I even cried looking for a job. I was thinking maybe I won’t be hired for anything more than minimum wage because no one values my degree, but it is important to note that this was just the insecurity talking.
Deep down I just want to be proud (and make my parents proud) of what I have achieved and where my degree will take me, but it is hard when people (even those I hardly know) are continuously beating me down. However, there is one piece of advice I always remember: why take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from? You can always work through things; there is always light at the end of the tunnel. However, sometimes you need to dig deep and produce that light yourself. No one is ever going to have your back like yourself and insecurity can be brushed off if you truly believe in yourself and your passion.
In the Covid-19 pandemic, everything can seem overwhelming, and as students, we often ignore what we need to make it through tough or stressful times. Act confidently, assured that we have decided what’s best for ourselves (even when we don’t feel like it at the moment). If the current situation has proven one thing, it is that we have to take every opportunity because, for some, these opportunities will never come. We also need to be reminded that we must do things we love and enjoy. The world is solemn as it is, and we do not need to make our lives more difficult. I hope it helps to know that someone is going through what many of you are. Never let someone take away your passion or your love for something just because they cannot appreciate it. This is where your true strength must prevail, and I hope you are able to find it and put it to good use.