Combining Passions from Polarising Disciplines

Or, why it’s time to embrace slashie culture

I am almost at the end of my double degree, and in a few months will be awarded a bachelor of science together with a bachelor of arts, with majors in physiology and English lit. For the duration of my degree, I was affronted by the following exchange:

SOMEONE:  Oh, you’re at uni! What do you study?
ME: Science and arts … 
SOMEONE: Wow, what an interesting combination!
ME: … so I’ve been told.

Yes, I am passionate about both areas of my degree. No, I do not have a favourite. Yes, I am aware that arts degrees in general are frowned upon, and associated with a life-long career as a barista. No, latte art is not one of my passions, but inventing new sphygmomanometers out of random junk is, and so are poetry, skateboarding and yoga. So although I may have narrowly avoided the disparaging stereotype of being a dole-bludging arts student, now I’m just a weirdo. 

Somewhere along the way, people became scared of students like me, who attempt to combine their passions in polarising disciplines. A few hundred years ago, academics were encouraged to read widely. In fact, most covered multiple disciplines by design. Leonardo Da Vinci (not Di Caprio) was an inventor, but he was also an artist and a linguist, who wrote his notes in mirrored handwriting. Florence Nightingale may be known as a pioneer in nursing, but she was also a talented writer, and an especially adept mathematician (Parker, Kill or Cure, p. 189). Doctors were often philosophers, barbers doubled as surgeons, botanists expanded into epidemiology… it was normal to practice multiple professions, over many seemingly divisive disciplines. 

However, at some point in time, society became fixed on the idea of what I am going to call The Single Pursuit, in part inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s moving speech on stereotypes. I may not be discussing race as Adichie did, but I am writing about stereotypes of a certain kind, and these stereotypes also perpetuate the dangers of what she calls a single story. 

Like the single story, it seems to me that the idea of The Single Pursuit is a truly dangerous one. In an era where young people are told they will have as many as five different careers over their lifetime, it is very counterproductive to encourage The Single Pursuit

Instead, surely it makes more sense to be encouraging ‘the slashie’? Slashie culture, loosely defined as having a job title that includes multiple ‘slashes’ or hyphens due to one’s multiple career pursuits, promotes a portfolio approach to the workforce instead of a career driven one. 

Currently, I have three different sets of resumes. One for my experience in retail and pharmacy, one for my writing, and one with my academic achievements and work experience related to my degree. I have become hyper-conscious of my conflicting passions to the point that I no longer disclose both at the same time. 

If I’m applying for an internship related to medical sciences, I avoid mentioning that I freelance as a poet and spoken word artist. Conversely, I rarely explain my health-related pursuits when developing the writing ‘side’ of my career. Sure, it’s not your conventional job title, but I long for the day when it is perfectly valid to introduce myself as a physiologist slash writer slash web designer slash editor slash poet slash pharmacy assistant slash yogi slash aspiring physiotherapist… that’s a real job, right?

Beginning to adopt the slashie approach at university may be too little too late, however. I believe it needs to start in senior school. Instead of encouraging the pursuit of a single stream of subjects (like stem or humanities or arts) with our future careers in mind, it should be acceptable to combine passions from different disciplines. 

Who cares if the prospective doctor enjoys skateboarding as much as science, or the athlete likes mathematics? Does it really matter if the future dux of the school studies visual arts and drama, as long as it makes her happy? (Yes, it very much does, as I learned in year 11 and 12).

Being different is what makes us unique — funnily enough — and the unique combination of skills from slashies like myself are what the next working generation will be known for. In fact, it’s what we should be known for, just as famous historical figures are now known for their work as nurses-slash-mathematicians, inventors-slashillustrators. 

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