“You do Geography? So what do you do?”

Let’s rewind back 5 years to a conversation I had. 

‘Oh, you do Geography? So what do you do? Colour in maps?’

I had this same (one-sided) conversation with countless people over and over again for 3 years. The joke very quickly wears off when reality sets in that people have this preconceived notion of what is a ‘good’ subject and what isn’t. And clearly, based on this same 10 second conversation, Geography was not. The study areas most associated with ‘STEM’ are those like Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, and not Geography. After scouring through lists online of STEM subjects, Geography (and specialised areas within Geography) were listed on about half. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths, and focuses on both analytical and creative skills, and problem solving – all of which are encompassed within Geography. So what’s up with this dismissive response? 

Studying a degree with 200 students, I could count the People of Colour (including myself) on one hand. For 3 years during and even now 2 years post graduation, I still hear that response every so often. The same demeaning tone and close-mindedness that influences the way people see certain studies, and potentially the same reason that there isn’t enough representation. Environmental organisations and leaders have for a long time been White males, making decisions and directing initiatives with little experience or perspective on what they were deciding. This is especially evident in the fight against climate change, where women, especially Women of Colour are not given precedence or a place where decisions are being made that affect them. Is it because I don’t study law, medicine or engineering that what I do is insignificant and not classed as a STEM subject? And yet, the majority of my degree was statistics, analysis and data mapping, economics and research. All of which are the very same foundations that makeup the study of maths, physics or engineering. 

‘You know about economic theory?’.

Yes. I studied urban economics, my dissertation was based primarily on assessing the impacts of international migration on regional economies. This was a friend who was studying accounting and finance, who found it almost incomprehensible that I was well versed on something he studied. 

‘But what you do is easier’. 

Actually, no. This was what I heard countless times as a rebuttal to my exam and research results. Both my cross-national research project and the local city research I conducted used regression analysis as a central part of the work. A challenging statistical method which is used widely across Physics, Maths and Engineering. Geography is multi-disciplined, and entails the use and understanding of systems, practices and methods across the board, so no it isn’t easier. If I was actually colouring in maps all day for 3 years then fair enough, but I wasn’t. 

There’s no arguing that doctors, lawyers and engineers are crucial to the developing society we are in, but so are geographers. Everyone can see the environment changing – the ecological destruction, the climate changes, the exponential growth of cities and populations, the tonnes of plastic and air pollution. Who is needed for that? Geographers. We are the ones who study global issues that affect the environment, development and resources, the ones who monitor the landscapes, processes and environments across the earth, the ones who map changes and find connections between people and places. 

Geography crucially addresses the links between and across different study areas, how they relate and how they can be used together. It looks at social, political, economic, cultural and technological sides of different areas to problem solve, create innovative solutions and drive growth. I studied Geography but incorporated skills from Maths, Economics, Statistics, Biology, Languages, Politics and International Development (just to name a few). 

Geography is all around you, the cities, the landscapes, the diverse environments and the people. That is why I wanted to study it and why I continue to, just because it is not Medicine or Law does not mean there is an absence of research, high quality work, understanding or importance. This goes for all other study areas that are overlooked and not represented well enough, because of the negative stigma that it is not a STEM area attached to it. Call them STEM subjects, acknowledge their importance in society and support and encourage people that want to study them. 

‘So what do you do?’.

We plan, innovate, design, create solutions, adapt, build resilience, protect, preserve and integrate disciplines. That will be my answer from now on, let’s see what kind of response that gets. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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