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aHuman's avatar

How can a college student be whole-brained in a system that wants you to be either right- or left-brained [long details]?

Asked by aHuman (16points) May 23rd, 2014

I’m in college and I’m stressed out. Not because of the work but because of the future. Sure I enjoy what I’m studying, but I want to learn more.
I am currently in an industrial design program. I love design, the whole holistic viewpoint and the care for the user experience, but I don’t have the opportunity to study my other interests in more detail. I’m starting to think I have to pick either an artsy life or become some sort of scientific specialist. It really resonated with me when James Dyson expressed similar ideas in his autobiography.

To give more context, I just finished 1 year of university in Canada. The school doesn’t have the best overall reputation but there aren’t many options for a design program up here in Canada. It was a good year but I got depressed when I wasn’t aloud to take more difficult courses. I also worried that I would mainly become a stylist that just makes things pretty. I noticed that some product designers who I admire had experience/education in some other field in addition to design (e.g. James Dyson with engineering and Buckminster Fuller, Eric Migicovsky (founder of Pebble) with product design and systems design engineering, etc.) I guess that’s why I applied to and have the opportunity to attend a top school in the fall for computer science with connections to Silicon Valley. Although it’s a great school, I love technology, and I would have more opportunities to study my other interests I’m starting to have second thoughts about transferring.

I think I’m having conflicting thoughts between the whole idea of “If shoe shining is your passion, be the best shoe shiner there is” and wanting to have more than a general outer-surface-type knowledge of things. I know I’m more passionate and have a more intrinsic motivation to be a designer but I want to be more than a “jack of all trades.” I guess part of me wants to learn it all, I want to study the the liberal arts, the laws of the universe, computer science but how much can I really self-teach myself??

Sorry for the long details and thanks for reading. I find it funny that I now remember asking fluther how I could be an industrial designer when I was in high school on my old account.

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8 Answers

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Sorry, your details got lost in my left-brain.

But my answer is quite simple. The system does not control this. You are either left-brain oriented or right-brain oriented, or you are able to use both sides equally.

This is up to the individual. If you allow the system and the energies forcing conformity upon you to win. that is your choice.

Okay, I read most of it. It sems your real question here is, how much can I really self-teach myself??
You can self-teach yourself , well, just about all there is to know. It just takes a desire to learn and discipline.

So you have to ask yourself if you want to be part of the system or do you want to be a free man?
Most people can’t have it both ways.

JLeslie's avatar

In America most major universities require, or at least provide opportunity, for a student to take electives outside of their major. I think it is a good idea during the freshman and sophomore year so you can explore new subjects you might not even know exist. My husband found his passion and what he wanted to major in by taking a class in college he never had even considered before.

Haleth's avatar

“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”

There’s life beyond college. The way higher education is set up, you’re somewhat forced to choose a discipline, while you’re in college. But later in your life, especially for someone as driven as you are, there will be opportunities to learn other skills and create your own discipline.

Based on your interests, industrial design seems like a really great place for you to be right now. But it sounds like you’re frustrated at not having more technical work. You should definitely apply yourself as much as possible to your current degree, because finishing it will open up a lot of future opportunities for you. If you can handle the workload, is it possible for you to audit courses at your college? Even if it doesn’t tie into your current workload, having the knowledge will help your intellectual curiosity, and it will build a foundation for your other work later on. There are also college courses available for free online, or maybe you could attend public lectures (if your area has them) or go to the library and get textbooks in your subject of interest, and start teaching yourself.

Higher education, the workplace, and society in general encourage people to specialize in one area, because work is becoming more complex. It takes longer to learn any one trade than it has in the past. If you want an interdisciplinary career, you may have to create it yourself, rather than following a premade path. But if you’re intellectually curious, you probably have the drive to do that.

Do you have a mentor in industrial design, anyone you especially respect? You should also sit down and talk with them about your concerns. Or ask if they can refer to anyone who has successfully combined the disciplines you’re interested in- and then talk to that person.

James Dyson and Buckminster Fuller are GREAT examples of modern-day renaissance men. See if you can find any other examples of people working today who have combined disciplines like they did. And then, either learn from their examples, or send them an e-mail, explain who you are, and ask for advice.

Also- I think some colleges will let you design your own major, or double major? Are there any schools that are strong in both arts and sciences? That would narrow down your focus for grad schools.

In the end, you may have to choose one discipline to be an expert in, with the others complementing or supplementing it. Industrial designers create things that are functional and beautiful- it seems like it takes more training and hard skills to create things that work, while beauty is more a matter of intuition.

If you were to focus an area of your education, I think an education in computer science or engineering might be more useful to your goals. Once you have a basic understanding of art skills, there’s only so much someone else can teach you- most of the gains will come from refining your skills through continued practice (creating things). You can do that by yourself.

Seek's avatar

Hasn’t the whole “right/left brained” dichotomy been debunked as of, like, fifty years ago?

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Gosh @Seek, you may be right, although I don’t think it has been fifty years. I do recall somewhere reading that women have more neural connections between the two halves of the brain and thus are much better communicators than are men.
But that’s probably another myth too.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

The right-left brain thinking is baloney but men and women are wired differently. Women have more grey matter and better connections between the two hemispheres while men have more white matter and better connections within the hemispheres. It is no wonder we cannot understand each other at all. There is still some debate about this but I think it’s probably valid.

Mariah's avatar

I am so much like you (check my profile to prove it)! Here’s how I’m handling the situation.

I go to a technology school and I’m studying computer science. Tech schools are very “left brain” (whether or not the neurology is actually there, the term is an easy and quick way to convey a concept) oriented in general so I get my fill of that here, and my career will revolve around tech. I am fine with this. I am of the opinion that, in general, math and science are harder to self-teach than art. It’s harder to do math and science as a hobby than art, also – you can’t get access to a lab without a degree, but anyone can pick up painting supplies.

Computer science will also get me a well paying job, which is not necessarily true of many liberal arts degrees. I can use my money to take pottery classes, glass blowing classes, welding classes, all the stuff on my bucket list. Also, here at college in my (limited) spare time I paint, I’ve written a novel, I play piano (it’s a great stress buster)...

Also, though my school is a tech school, it does have a humanities requirement to fulfill, which most of my friends bemoan, but I love.

Just some food for thought. :)

aHuman's avatar

Thank you guys for answering, I really appreciate all the posts.

@Seek, @ARE_you_kidding_me I think I’ve heard that before. Whether the whole “right/left brained” theory is true or not, I thought it would be an easier way to communicate the contrast between technical/analytical vs creative/holistic since most people seem familiar with the theory.

@Haleth My school didn’t let me to officially audit a course because I had a full course load (and I didn’t get any electives) but I was still able to sit in some classes I found interesting. About learning things on my own, I did enjoy watching some MIT Open Courseware instead of listening to my math prof since the videos gave me a better intuition behind things instead of trying to learn by rote. I also tried reading books in our library but as @Mariah said, there are some things that are more difficult to learn by yourself.

Strangely it seems that It’s getting harder to sit in classes if not officially enrolled. When I finished my first year I thought it would be fun to sit in computer science classes at the University of Toronto for the summer. Unfortunately, the class was designed for the lectures to be viewed online that could only be accessed with a school account, and for work and assignments to be discussed in class. I don’t really know how common this has become in other schools but I was really disappointed. Of course I could always search for lectures online but I just wished I could have sit in an actual classroom, ask questions, and be around motived people.

I don’t really have many options to design my degree. Other than my school being known for industrial design, there’s not much else to see (it’s actually a tier 3–4 school). In comparison, the other school which i mentioned is a very technical school and known for it’s innovative and entrepreneurial nature (for those interested i’m referring to the University of Waterloo, where Blackberry and Pebble were founded and is probably be our closest equivalent to MIT) but it’s not very strong in the arts.

In our new era where people are now realizing the value of the user experience viewpoint, where understanding people actually does have high returns, and where this is accomplished through integrating the arts and sciences, should it not be the industrial designer’s responsibility to understand both the yin and yang in this situation? Also, shouldn’t the designer have at least some grasp of both sides of the spectrum instead of being deficient in one?

It’s a very stressful time for me right now since I only have a week to decide to stay or transfer schools. I would love to be in a school full of other extremely intelligent people but I wouldn’t have access to much of the arts. On the other hand, I could stay and continue to study something I truly enjoy, but I would be missing out on the technical studies that I want that seems best learned through traditional education.

@Mariah Thanks for the answer. I think it’s great how you are still continuing your studies in the arts despite being in a “left-brained” type school. As I mentioned above, I think that the arts also have an important and practical purpose in the world. I grew up being very inspired by Steve Jobs, I would always get goosebumps watching him speak about the value of the humanities as well as technology. You do have a point, saying it might be easier to learn the arts on my own, but I also think a major part of it is learning from other talented people/students/professors. I just want to study ID in a school strong in both arts and sciences but it’s not that easy up here.

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