The Universal Truth of Subject Stereotypes

Sorry Mathmos

If University teaches you anything, it is that stereotypes, whether cultural or sexual, are laughably false.

Whilst Fresher’s week is bewildering for a number of reasons, no aspect was more shocking for me than finding myself surrounded by people of such an incredible variety of backgrounds (given I’d basically never had a friend outside the southern half of Manchester). Quickly you realise that all those things you secretly thought might be at least a little bit true about Southerners, or Americans, or whatever disparate culture your neighbour has inherited, aren’t.

Despite the incoherent rantings of my Grandad, foreigners weren’t exclusively evil people and Londoners didn’t hate me for my Mancunian roots (apparently the hate stemmed from my shitty personality) . Most people it seems can’t be grouped with character traits on the basis of background or sex (shock horror) and usually you have to take a second to observe a person before deciding if they were a twat or not (at times longer than I gave…).

Your average architect

So stereotypes aren’t true, yay! Now presumably we can all sing kumbayah ‘round the fire till all the nasty things like prejudice and the deficit are gone. Well, sadly not, for one particular set of stereotypes does seem to have a strong empirical basis in reality. You’ll joke about them on first meeting people (because really, who has the conversational skills to talk about anything other than their subject or home town?) but oddly won’t credit their existence as much as you may others.

Yet as the year goes on you’ll come to realise that they are so unbelievably true that you begin questioning the lovely liberal dogma you managed to develop about everything in your first few weeks. As the headline of the article evidently gives away, I talk of course, about subject stereotypes.

Architects are invariably hip, engineers socially awkward, medics almost cultish in their cohesiveness. English students are naïve rural kids, art historians went to boarding school and mathmos while making up 10% of the undergraduate base seem to represent 0.001% of the people you see in clubs. These all ring so disturbingly true you’ll start questioning whether your entire uni experience is but a figment of your imagination, the dream of a brain in a jar being fed antibiotics by some mad scientist (which seems to conform to every assumption you made about NatScis anyway).

If the Tab’s pornography and sex surveys taught us anything it’s that Land Economists have libidos larger than their projected earnings, and the Divinity department has a pretty massive guilt complex. Oh, and that scientists, mathmos and engineers aren’t getting any, but who really needed the survey to work that one out?

Now that’s not to say that every single member of your fresher cohort will conform to some set of pre-packaged characteristics, and indeed if you searched hard enough you might find a theologian who is actually interested in the subject (honestly what is that acceptance rate?). Some people seem born to defy every presupposition you could make: the female engineer or the HSPSer without 15 committee positions.

All NatScis here

I secretly envision myself as some kind of anti NatSci, maybe because I can string a sentence together, but probably because the bleak image of the lab coated unic isn’t exactly a sexy thing to aspire to. Plenty of me still conforms to the sad little physicist tradition: the social awkwardness, the long hours, the caffeine dependence, and as much as it pains me there really is no point in trying to escape the cosy little box your subject confines you to.

Maybe it’s best just to accept it: to an extent, your subject defines who you are. It might not be genetic, but really, there is no point in rebellion. Embrace the little quirks your course will instill in you, take the comments lightly and enjoy the fact that you aren’t a mathmo.