Way to feel inadequate: spend the afternoon at EPFL

Here I find myself once again: at EPFL, posing as a phony student in the Rolex learning centre, back in Lausanne to visit Frenchie, surrounded by (mostly) French-speaking scholars. If anyone asks, I’m studying Life Sciences…

I get a strange feeling when I find myself in such a milieu. It is part admiration, part envy, part fondness and part humility. And there is a big dose of

inadequacy somewhere in there. Hey look at me! I studied a foreign language as my degree aaand… that’s about the only solid, quantifiable skill I acquired from my course (if you don’t count “writing”, which is rather vague, and the various extracurriculars which I took up on my own). Oh but wait, all these soon-to-be scientists, engineers, computer scientists and architects around me also know at least two languages, on top of their elected vocational skill that makes them instantly internationally employable, and with probably a decent pay packet to boot.

There they all are, these healthy, promising young people, living their lives as we all do. Drinking coffee with their friends, laughing, listening to music, going through the same highs and heartbreaks, partying hearty like the rest of us… but they have an escape, a profession, something with which they can distance themselves from the tumult of daily life and human feeling. They have their focus of study and most likely future employment, which cradles them in the refuge of cool logic, rational analysis and concrete calculation.

As an art graduate, with my fellows either floundering in the fathoms of unemployment or falling into temporary jobs while the future shimmies uncertainly in the distance, probably with bouts of depression, boredom or frustration, I look longingly and with the romanticism of the uninitiated into this cerebral world. Here, my rose-tinted glasses tell me, unemployment and lack of career direction is probably a result of you actively effing things up, not the inevitable reality you face no matter how high your grades. Here, a purposeful, pragmatic and most likely profitable future beckons. Here, profits will be made not from something dishonourable like manipulating the stock market, or bending human rights, but by engaging in research and making discoveries that are (in theory) to the benefit and advancement of humankind. Here also, boys outnumber girls ten to one. Clever, hard-working boys who will earn lots of money in the future… just saying.

Of course if it was meant for me I would have studied science or IT at school and tried for Imperial or medical school, but you can only be what you are. I do also realise my perception of technical studies is warped by ignorance and idealism, but then again I belong in the world of feeling and imagination; of creativity and… probably financial and emotional collapse, the way the job market’s looking. I far from denigrate what artists and poets, lovers and painters, musicians and storytellers have to offer to the world; they are my lifeblood, my spiritual brothers and sisters, the bread for my brain and manna for my soul. But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could fix a computer in three languages, or whip up a model house in a few hours. It wouldn’t hurt.


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