Arts and Engineering: the unlikely pair

Arts and Engineering: the unlikely pair

by Meg Panozzo

My laptop was the odd one out; it was like a brick that barely fit on the little lecture tables and it made an embarrassing whir as it booted up. Everywhere I looked I could see the sleek, silver Macbook screens of my fellow students.

It was 2010, and I was in my first year of an Engineering and Arts double degree. I was sitting in a Japanese lecture at Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University’s Clayton campus.

My chunky laptop took notes for the lecture just as well as any Mac, but it also had to be able to code, run specialist design software, and run complex models that sometimes took all night. It’s sheer weight caused an imbalance in my muscle composition as I lugged it across opposite ends of the Clayton Campus, and this geographic separation of Arts and Engineering seemed to mirror the idea that these two degrees sit at opposite ends of the educational spectrum.

Now I’m out in the workforce and the BEng/BA letters on my business card cause some eyebrows to rise; it’s not a combination of studies most people expect. If we scratch deeper than the surface though, these two degrees are complementary in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

My undergraduate experience at Monash provided a platform far wider and deeper than I ever could have imagined. I think and solve problems from a different vantage point; I have a range of skills directly impacting on my professional career, and, most importantly, I am equipped to be a life-long learner. In this fast paced ever changing world, this is a skill highly sought after in any workplace.

The value of different schools of thought

Engineering, broadly speaking, is a school of thought generally technical, theory based and analytical. We aim to solve complex problems based on logic, and use various innovative techniques to push the envelope of current best practice. Arts, on the other hand, has a societal focus. We use an array of methods to learn about our society, whether that is through history, language or literature. One discipline looks at issues from an analytic perspective; the other aims to understand the nuance in our global society.

With experiences and studies in these two schools of thought, I can approach problems from a different perspective. In a team environment I can bring diversity to the table – diversity in thought and experience – and we can solve problems together and apply our different perspectives to arrive at creative, innovative solutions to traditional problems.

The practical impacts: translating to the workforce

The expanded perspectives and different ways of thinking I gained through these two degrees have given me a powerful building block of skills, which I am now strengthening and utilising every single day as I move through my career.

Every personal skill I have can be transferred across disciplines, and combining them results in a skillset resilient and broad in nature. These skills are directly relevant to work and the practical impacts are far-reaching:

  • Communication and presenting information in different forms
  • Multi-cultural fluency
  • The ability to understand nuance in our society
  • Research and critical thinking skills

Not only valuable skills for any employer, but also a foundation to become an innovative thinker; a problem solver; an entrepreneur.

The importance of being a life-long learner

I’ve always had a keen interest in learning. The double degree for me was an opportunity to pursue learning simply for the sake of knowledge, but it also fostered within me the desire to be a life-long learner.

So why is life-long learning so important? Because in my experience, employers are looking for people who can adapt to a challenging and constantly evolving job market, who can literally learn as they go. Arts graduates develop this skill through their degree, are seen as highly mobile and agile, and well equipped for a successful career cycle. But we need to continue to strengthen and develop these qualities throughout our life, not just while we're studying.

If you asked me one tip on how to become a life long learner – do an Arts Degree! – but otherwise: read widely, and read well. Reading a range of formats, from books to newspaper to well-written blogs can allow us to keep abreast of changes in our rapidly shifting society. Words have the power to inspire. Prose can be art, and that art can be powerful.

Arts gave me the thirst for knowledge, and developed critical thinking and research skills to allow me to maintain that. Engineering taught me how to use technical and analytical thinking to come to a practical solution.

Combined, these two degrees created a foundation for me that stretches past any horizons.

Meg Panozzo is a Monash alumnus and has a double degree in Engineering and Arts. She is currently working in a professional services consulting firm, working as a civil engineer on large infrastructure projects. Meg writes a blog where she shares stories about work life balance to inspire other career driven women like her: Her Bold Universe.

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