We'll dance on your grave

15th August 2003 at 01:00
ACCORDING to research in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, your lifespan may be related to the type of course you follow at university. If you are an arts graduate, tough. Chances are you are going to buy the farm sooner than a medic, engineer or scientist.

I learnt this from an "a-ha-h-and finally . . ." television news report. To illustrate the piece, the news team wheeled out an arts graduate who looked like Shaggy with a perm, and a medic in a blazer.

OK, so scientists live longer, but what about quality of life? Being a scientist meant being able to read Superman comics at the age of 80. Dr Blazer (or Mr Blazer if he was a consultant) resorted to cheap stereotyping but made it sound plausible. Arts students had a lot more time on their hands for debauchery.

In fact, the precis of the study that I read later made a couple of interesting points. The tendency for arties to prematurely follow the path of Monty Python's Norwegian Blue Parrot could be influenced by the fact that proportionally more of them experienced socio-economic deprivation in childhood (this surprised me - not being above stereotyping myself, I always thought arts students were posher). Second, more of them died of lung diseases because more of them smoked (this surprises me less because smoking is irrational or, as we scientists say, "stupid").

Shaggy-with-the-perm did display a mindset that was a bit worrying. Even allowing for the fairly tongue in cheek nature of his musings, it was clear that he could not conceive of someone actively aspiring to be a scientist or engineer or, having become one, finding the job interesting or enjoyable.

My son, aged eight, wants to be an engineer. I don't know whether he'll still want to be one in 10 or 20 years. He likes making things and he likes understanding how things work. He also supports Livingston Football Club and read The Order of the Phoenix during his holidays. Sometimes he makes up his own stories and sometimes he makes models out of Lego or Meccano.

Some of my friends and I were the same at that age. There was no feeling of having to categorise ourselves. That came later when one discipline would prove to be more difficult than another, or later still when everyone else was putting themselves into categories. Little did those who became engineers, scientists or doctors know that they were in fact choosing life.

Gregor Steele lost the will to attempt single-handedly to restart the Renaissance when a politics student he was arguing with repeatedly mispronounced the word "nuclear".

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