The Columns

My W&L: Bayan Misaghi ’15

— by on September 5th, 2016

Bayan Misaghi '15

“A liberal arts education hones transferable skills.”

Why would a biology major spend a summer interning at the Chicago Mayor’s Office? More curiously, why would that same biology major spend the following summer interning at a global investment bank?

These are two questions that I am asked by my parents, family friends, and high school classmates whenever I visit my hometown. You would think that having already attended W&L for three years, I would have a solid explanation by now. But the only honest answer I can offer is, “because I have varied interests.” Reactions, of course, vary from the courteous, “That’s nice…” to the sarcastic, “Couldn’t make up your mind?”

The truth is though that I am interested in biology. I am interested in public service. I am interested in finance. And Washington and Lee University has allowed me to explore all of these interests and more.

As a first-year, I spent my summer—like many other science majors—engaging in research. I worked in Dr. Watson’s neuroregenerative lab scouring scientific literature, participating in experimental design, executing procedures, and ultimately analyzing data. Since then I have had the chance to present posters of our lab’s work at both national and local symposia.

I would have never predicted it, but my experience in the Watson lab was the perfect preparation for my summer in Chicago. The skills I honed analyzing articles found in Cell and Science were utilized in reviewing law journals. My experience organizing and interpreting data was useful for all of the spreadsheet-based projects on which I was staffed. My practice in communicating ideas logically and concisely at symposia was certainly helpful when drafting letters or delivering project proposals. And I have a hunch that as I work in the financial field this summer, I will draw on some of these same skillsets (among others) that my research and coursework aim to develop.

I am convinced that a liberal arts education is more than manipulating Coulomb’s Law, reading 19th century British literature, or debating political philosophy. A liberal arts education instead hones transferable skills. It teaches one to think critically. It demonstrates the importance of being able to solve problems regardless of the field. And it recognizes that knowledge is exceedingly more useful when it is effectively communicated and shared.

My time at Washington and Lee has been underscored by encouragement from my peers, professors, faculty, and alumni to explore a wide swath of disciplines. It has granted me permission to learn about seemingly unrelated topics and then challenged me to connect the dots. And it has given me reason to believe that being unable to “make up one’s mind” might not be so bad.