For Your Grandchildren


When I was going to high school, there were few individuals in town who had a university education. The two doctors, the dentist, the druggist, some of the teachers (although many of the teachers had Normal School and some university courses). A lawyer visited town on a set schedule. The university was, to me, a distant and unknown place. I had no idea what people did at a university.

My father was a commercial fisherman. He needed to have a job when the seasonal fishing was over so he had a barber shop. In that way, not much has changed in rural Canada. In towns with small populations, earning a living from one job is often difficult, if not impossible. Much of the work is seasonal: farming, fishing, tourism, construction. Most people are self-employed.

I never saw myself as a doctor, dentist, or druggist. Someone said I should consider becoming a lawyer because I argued a lot.

I stumbled into university because I had a summer job and my work mates were all going. They suggested I join them. They were the sons of executives with better educations, lived in the city and knew about university.

I think my stumbling into the world of a hundred and fifty students in a classroom amphitheatre with no idea of why I was there except to be at university was pretty typical of many students. How could I possibly know what I wanted to be when I had no idea what there was that I could be?

Has much changed? From what I saw over forty years of teaching in public high school, private college, public universities, I don’t think so. Universities are very insular. They are filled with secrets. Students who are studying, socializing, trying to figure out what is going on, don’t spend a lot of time trying to ferret out these secrets. What secrets? The possibilities of what they could become.

For example, in all the time I taught, I didn’t know that someone could become an expert in range management. Range management?

There is a lot of range land that needs managing. The demand for professionals who can manage large sections of private and public property is high. Generally, to become qualified, you need courses in range management, plant, animal and soil sciences and some related resource management studies. Get those qualifications and there’s probably someone out there who will want to hire you.

Or how about plant pathologist? The first time I heard that someone was a plant pathologist, I laughed. What, I asked, did she do? Autopsies on plants? Yup, that is what she does. Along with a lot of other things. You want to be plant pathologist, you need to study environmental factors, plant diseases, and nutrition. One current job d for a research plant pathologist offers a salary ranging from 69,497 to 126,949 a year. Another ad is looking for a crop protection researcher. With a degree in plant pathology you have knowledge that other people will pay for.

On a site called My Majors, a plant pathologist’s job is described as “Conduct research in breeding, physiology, production, yield, and management of crops and agricultural plants or trees, shrubs, and nursery stock, their growth in soils, and control of pests; or study the chemical, physical, biological, and mineralogical composition of soils as they relate to plant or crop growth. May classify and map soils and investigate effects of alternative practices on soil and crop productivity.”

If someone had asked me if I was interested in agriculture, I’d have said I don’t want to be a farmer. I don’t want to raise chickens, crops or cattle. I’d have said that because that is all that I knew. Good choices come from having good information. I had lousy information. I lucked out and found a job I enjoyed and could do. But the job a person ends up doing shouldn’t depend on luck or chance encounters.

Today, jobs that pay well, that are going to last a long time, that will continue to be in demand for decades, even a lifetime, still exist but to become qualified for them, you first need to know they exist, then you need to take the courses and get the experience required. It’s a good feeling when you know your knowledge and skills are needed and someone wants to hire you.

What doesn’t feel good is drifting through an education with no real goal in mind, getting a degree and finding out that no one wants the knowledge you have gained. Working as a barista after four years of university does not feel good.