The Next Step in the Humanities “Counterattack” is “Translation”


In my book Why Study History: A Historical Introduction I wrote:

But there are also larger issues that history teachers and professors, and school and college administrators, must confront if they want to be effective career counselors.  For example, we must equip students to be confident in the skills that they have acquired as history majors….Rather than apologizing to potential employers about being history majors, our students should enter job interviews boldly, discussing their abilities to write, communicate, construct narratives out of small details, listen, empathize, analyze, and think critically.  As Stanton Green, a humanities administrator notes, “People find jobs where they look for jobs.”  We need to instill our students with confidence.  The ability to do this must somehow be embedded in a history department curriculum.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, University of North Carolina-Greensboro  Emily Levine and Nicole Hall describe this process as “translation.”  Here is a taste of their piece:

After years of being on the back foot, the humanities have launched a counterattack. A shelf of new books, including Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) and Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro’s Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn From the Humanities (Princeton, 2017), attest to the usefulness of the humanities for the 21st-century job market. Their fresh message makes the old creed that the humanities are a “mistake” or not “relevant” seem out of touch. Surveying these works in the July-August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, J. M. Olejarz dubs this countermovement “the revenge of the film, history and philosophy nerds….”

But where we go from here requires the hard work of identifying just what is the common denominator being learned in the humanities and how to parlay that knowledge and those skills into professional success. How do you apply Virginia Woolf to write better code or marshal your skills conjugating Latin verbs to execute an IPO?

At the University of North Carolina Greensboro, we have taken the next step of improving career outcomes for our students in the humanities by implementing the Liberal Arts Advantage, a strategy that articulates the value of the humanities to students, their parents and the community.

Directors of career development are realizing that they can’t do this work alone. They must engage faculty as their partners.

Jeremy Podany, founder, CEO, and senior consultant of the Career Leadership Collective, a global solutions group and network of innovators inside and near to university career services, says that helping faculty teach career development is part of the job. “I actually think we need to go to the faculty and say, ‘Let me teach you how to have a great career conversation,’” said Podany. The relationship between faculty members and career development offices — experts in the humanities and careers — is essential to preparing students for the job market.

Why? Because the central issue in realizing a long-term strategy for student career development is translation. That is, how students translate the skills they learn in the classroom into workplace success. This is particularly true in the case of the metacognitive skills that professors in the humanities can, and should, help contribute in their students.

Read the entire piece here.

Thinking About Careers in History: Join Us!

One of my favorite annual events sponsored by the Messiah College History Department is “Career Night.” Each year we bring back two of our alums to talk to history majors and anyone else who wants to attend about how the study of history has offered a solid foundation to their career and vocational pursuits.

The format of the event is a public Q&A hosted by your truly. It is followed by questions from the audience.

This year our speakers are Justin Bollinger (’06) and Katie Garland (’12).

After a stellar career at Messiah College and Penn State-Dickinson Law School, Justin currently works as a lawyer with a central Pennsylvania firm.  He was also one of the first students I ever taught as a new Messiah professor in 2002.

Katie Garland had an equally stellar career at Messiah and then went on to pursue an M.A. in Public History with a certificate in Arts Management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.  She is currently loving her work as a fund development coordinator for the Girls Scouts of America.

The event is open to the public. If you are the parent of a high school student interested in studying history, a history teacher, a student at Messiah College considering a major or minor in history, or just someone in the area who wants to have their mind stimulated for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon, please join us.

The event will be held at 4:00pm in Boyer Hall, room 237.  Light refreshments will be provided.   See you there!


Where John Kasich Is Wrong About Job Preparation


In last night’s CNN GOP Town Hall meeting, John Kasich had some advice for young people preparing for the work force.  Here is what he said:

And one final thing: workforce development.  We have got to begin to teach our kids in K through 12 and also in the community college and the four-year schools to be getting an education for a job that exists.  Don’t get educated in a vacuum.  Make sure you know what you want to do, and look for an education that can lead you to a real job.

Kasich could not be more wrong here.  Here was what I tweeted last night:

For a candidate who talks so much about community, moral philosophy, social healing, and what it means to be human, Kasich has bought into the rhetoric of vocational training often associated with advocates of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and politicians such as Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Barack Obama, and Jeb Bush.

Kasich misses what most career professionals have been saying and writing about for more than a decade.  Namely, many of today’s students will one day work at jobs that do not yet exist. Students–especially college students–are better off training broadly and generally in the liberal arts and the humanities.  This will allow them to obtain the skills needed to adjust and adapt toa  constantly changing marketplace.

My tweet solicited a few responses along these lines:






Andrew Henry: Careers Beyond the Academy: Another Plan A

Andrew Henry is back, reporting from the floor of the American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta.  See his previous post here.–JF
Careers Beyond the Academy: Another Plan A
Lest I rehearse a tired refrain, I’ll simply say: Tenure-track positions in the humanities are increasingly scarce. As the reality of this situation sinks in for the academy, large academic organizations such as the MLA and AHA have turned the discussion to supporting “alternate academic careers,” or alt-ac careers, for their recent graduates. The AAR and SBL have somewhat lagged behind in these efforts, but a new working group, The Applied Religious Studies Working Group, seeks to change this.
Dr. Cristine Hutchison-Jones, a successful alt-ac guru in her own right, spearheaded the working group. Dr. Hutchison-Jones graduated with a PhD in Religious Studies from Boston University and immediately entered into an administrative position at Harvard University. She now serves as an administrative director at Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics.
Her first order of business was to change the rhetoric from “Plan B Careers” to “Another Plan A Career.” “Plan B,” she argues, implies that a non-academic career is a place of last resort and subtly shames recent PhD grads into thinking they haven’t managed to secure the actual goal.
Rather than thinking of PhD training as a one-track rail to academia, the panelists urged the audience to embrace the multi-linear nature of careers, the way that careers grow organically based on how you respond to the opportunities put in front of you.
Indeed, the panelists reflected the multiple directions a PhD in Religion can take you. In addition to academic administrators, the panel included a marketing analyst, a non-profit director, and a media and communications specialist. Each one of the panelists clearly leveraged the skills they obtained in graduate school in imaginative ways to find challenging and fulfilling work outside of the academy.

Imagination, it seems, is the critical skill. In the words of Dr. Hutchison-Jones, an alternative Plan A Career is not an issue of preparation, “but an issue of imagination.” And although traditional PhD programs may be slow to offer better preparation for the realities of the job market, the Applied Religious Studies Working Group hopes to lay the groundwork for fostering future imaginative thinking about careers beyond the academy. 

A Busy Week in the Messiah College History Department

Philip Deloria will deliver the 2014 American Democracy Lecture

We in the Messiah College History Department try to give our students an array of opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.  Last Spring our students studying digital history and Pennsylvania history spent a lot of time doing archival research.  This semester the students in our public archaeology course are hard at work studying a farm connected with a nineteenth-century Anabaptist group known as the “Bermudian Brethren” and uncovering an eighteenth-century Lutheran church building that has been buried for 250 years in the congregation’s graveyard.  Several students continue to work on our Digital Harrisburg Project while others provide research support for an array of faculty research projects.  We have put a new Public History concentration in place and have been working as well on a new concentration in “Administrative Studies.”  In the past few years our students have interned at historical sites all over the mid-Atlantic.  It has been a fun ride.  I like to think that we are hard at work in creating a new kind of undergraduate history department.

In addition to all of our regular extra-curricular activity, the next few weeks will be particularly busy in the Messiah College History Department.  We are very excited to announce (or re-announce) the following events:
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, Philip Deloria will be on campus to deliver the American Democracy Lecture, the most important lecture in the life of the department.  I am sure many of you know Deloria’s work. He is a professor of history and administrator at the University of Michigan and a scholar of native American history.  His talk “American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination” promises to be an excellent talk. Learn more about it here.  Also check out the Facebook “event” page.
Tibebe Eshete

On Thursday, October 30, we will hold our annual “Faith and History” lecture.  This year’s lecturer is Tibebe Eshete, our new visiting lecturer in African history and the author of the definitive work on the evangelical movement in Ethiopia.  In the 1970s Tibebe was a young Ethiopian Marxist who was active in the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie.  His talk will describe his journey from Marxism to Christian faith and his understanding of the historian’s vocation. The lecture will be held in Boyer Hall room 335 at 4pm. If you are in the area feel free to stop by.  It should be a good one.

Finally, on November 4 the History Department will sponsor its annual “Career and Graduate School” event.  This year we will focus on careers. Our speakers will be two Messiah College history alums who have gone on to do amazing things with their degrees.  Beth Baggett was a Messiah College history major who currently works as an executive in the New York City fashion industry.  Caitlin Babcock, another Messiah history alum, works for a non-profit organization focused on the assimilation of new immigrants.  It should be a great afternoon.  Stay tuned for more information.  If you ever wondered what you can do with a history major you need to be at this event.
We continue to try to make the Messiah College History Department an intellectually vibrant place that merges a classic liberal arts history education with the kind of experiential learning that allows our students to build their resumes and develop transferable skills that will be useful in the marketplace.

Why Framing College as a Return on Investment is "Wrongheaded"

Gene Block, the chancellor of UCLA, criticizes Barack Obama’s “College Scorecard” and Marco Rubio and Ron Weyden’s Students Right to Know Before You Go Act.  While post-college salaries are important, they do not account for college graduates who want to use their lives to serve society, regardless of salary.

 A taste:

Last year, 3.1 million college students performed 118 million hours of service across the United States — a contribution valued at $2.5 billion. Here in Los Angeles, students from English classes helped high schoolers with college essays; German classes interviewed Holocaust victims for oral history projects; environmental engineering classes taught K-12 kids about climate change and water quality.

That service ideal stays with them after graduation. Each year, thousands of students will find jobs in nonprofits that assist people throughout the nation and the world. And they choose to do it — based on the critical thinking skills they developed at our campus. It’s true they will bring down the average salary of recent college graduates, but their dedication and sacrifice will also inspire many more.

Calculating the value of higher education will inevitably exclude factors critical to society. We should not let what’s measurable determine what is meaningful.

We need the next generation to ask questions grander than “How much money will I make?” That’s an important question, but it cannot be the only one.

They, and we, deserve better. “What barrier will I break?” or “How can I change the world?” These are the questions we must inspire every student to ask.

Business Professor: Major in the Liberal Arts

Hamilton Nolan’s post at The Gawker is a little too uncharitable toward undergraduate business majors for my taste, but it does make sense.  Here is a taste:

Over in Israel, the land of truth, Haaretz reports that Shmuel Ellis—a business professor and administrator at Tel Aviv University—emailed students with a little something called a truth bomb:

Ellis said in his email that the business school recommends undecided undergraduate students choose disciplines like pure sciences, math, economics, psychology, computer science, history, literature, philosophy and architecture.
“Study of academic disciplines prepares students to think scientifically in these fields and form the foundation for advanced studies in graduate degree programs,” he said.

Lemme translate this biz-speak for all you non-biz majors out there: “Don’t major in business, major in a real field of study instead.” What is this guy, Sojourner Truth, Professor of Truth at Truth University? (Learn about who Sojourner Truth was, and what “truth” means, in real majors, like history or philosophy.)
Nevertheless, people continue to major in business. God bless em.

What Was Your Favorite "Useless Class?"

Is “favorite useless class” an oxymoron?  No.  Katherine Brooks explains in a piece called “The Hidden Gem in a Liberal Arts Education.”  Here is a taste:

As a career center director, I often ask alumni about their job titles, employers and other career-related topics. But of all the questions I pose to alumni, my favorite by far is an unexpected one: “What was your favorite ‘useless’ class?”  I go on to explain what I mean by this: the class you took because it fit your schedule, because it fulfilled a requirement, or maybe even because it was the only class still open when you registered. The question confuses some readers: “Wait a minute — if it was useless how could it be my favorite?” So some reply literally about a class they wish they had never taken; and perhaps you remember a few of those yourself. But most liberal arts graduates get it. They know exactly what I’m referring to: that “useless” class that changed their life in unimagined ways.

I receive long replies about how they have spent every summer touring Civil War battlefields due to the history course that sparked a lifelong interest in the Civil War. Or how they practice medicine differently from their colleagues due to the philosophy class that changed their perspective on life. Or the language course that led to study abroad and then led to an international consulting career. How the readings in a literature course touched their soul and started their career as a therapist. The sketchpad and pens they tuck into their suitcase when they travel because of the art class that taught them a new way to view and interpret the world.

My current students get it too. When I ask them if they have taken a class they thought would be useless, only to find it was valuable, about 60-70 percent of them raise their hands. And I learn about new majors pursued, career paths forged, connections to professors and ideas they would never have known otherwise, and life-changing decisions made.

Read the rest here.

Five Myths About College Majors

College majors are overrated.  I recently heard one scholar say that the emergence of the academic major in the early 20th century “destroyed” American higher education.  With this in mind, here are some common myths about academic majors, courtesy of Penn State Division of Undergraduate Studies.

  • Myth #1: The best way to find out about a major is to take courses in it.
  • Myth #2: I should get my Gen Eds out of the way first.
  • Myth #3: Picking a major and a career are the same thing.
  • Myth #4: Choosing one major means giving up all the others.
  • Myth #5: My major will determine what I do for the rest of my life

Read the entire post.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Some people assume that students who major in the arts, humanities, or social sciences are either not qualified for any jobs (“What can you do with a degree in philosophy?”) or qualified only for careers in those specific areas. Actually, students who major in theatre, anthropology, history, psychology, and similar majors do find jobs in business, research, human resources, teaching, the military, and a variety of other occupations…
Did you know that studies have shown that within ten years after graduation, most people are working in careers that aren’t directly related to their undergraduate majors?…

Most jobs also change over time, whether people want them to or not. Many jobs that exist today will be very different five years from now or may even be obsolete by then. New types of jobs are emerging every year, and most of us have no way of knowing what those jobs will be or what type of education will be needed in order to qualify for them. 
The current emphasis in career planning at the undergraduate level is on the development of general, transferrable skills (e.g., writing, speaking, critical thinking, computer literacy, problem solving, team building) that employers want and that graduates will need in order to adjust to rapidly changing careers. 
People change; careers change. The connection between the major that you choose now and the career that you’ll find yourself in ten years from now is likely to be very small.

A Physician Defends the Liberal Arts

Over at The Edge of the American West, Eric Rauchway publishes an e-mail from one his readers.  Great stuff:

I do feel discouraged by this recent onslaught against the liberal arts. I appreciate and applaud the light you and your colleagues have shone on the recent travesty at the U of VA, as only one example of this trend. Academic historians need to bang that gong as loud as they can.

I graduated from Haverford College in 1974 with a double major in history and religion. I went on to medical school, and my dean there had been a Rhodes Scholar in one of the humanities. Fully half of my Haverford classmates majored in one or another of the humanities and then scattered across their business and professional careers. This is a wonderful thing, and was once regarded as a wonderful thing. But a similar craze in medical education for “practicality” has changed things such that many, many students now arrive having majored in something called “premedical studies,” which is nothing at all. I spent 4 years on a medical school admissions committee in the mid-90s and I saw it happening.

I’ve practiced pediatric critical care (intensive care) medicine for over 30 years. It is clear to me that the very best preparation I could have received for what I do every day — the essential, nontechnical stuff — was a liberal arts education. It gives you the to-do list, the reading and thinking list, for the rest of your life. It opens your eyes. And the cliche is correct: it does teach critical thinking. I think a key contributor to the dreadful spiral of our recent politics is that what little history people know is wrong.

As you guys say, history can save your ass. Maybe our collective asses, too.

Rethinking Success

On Wednesday I am joining several Messiah College colleagues at a conference at Wake Forest University called “Rethinking Success: From Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century.”  According to the conference website, the three day gathering “aims to raise awareness and engage national thought leaders and leaders of premier higher education institutions to discuss the role and value of liberal arts education in the 21st century and specifically to address the question: Is higher education fulfilling its role to intentionally prepare students for life after college.”

Speakers include Condoleeza Rice, Andrew Delbanco, Nathan Hatch, Katherine Brooks, Stanley Katz, and Scott Jaschik.  With the exception of Rice, I think we have talked about all of these speakers, or posted parts of their work, at one time or another here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

I am hoping to get some insights into how to develop a culture in the Messiah College history department in which students see the history major, a bedrock liberal arts major, as leading to a host of different career paths

Stay tuned.  I will blog as much as possible.

A Vision for Undergraduate History Departments

This past weekend’s AHA conference has confirmed much of what I had already been thinking about regarding how an undergraduate history major should function in light of the changes taking place in the historical profession.

Earlier today I linked to an article on how graduate programs in history should respond to these changes. But what are the implications for undergraduate programs?  How should we be retooling the way we deliver a history major in light of changing times? 

First, history departments need to be self-conscious about integrating career planning and exploration into their majors.  At Messiah College we have worked closely with our Career Center to create a well-designed pamphlet detailing a four-year plan for thinking about how to use a history major in the marketplace.  We distribute this pamphlet to all incoming first-year students and all prospective students.

We are making serious efforts to embed career counseling into the advising process.  This requires advisers to challenge students to think about crafting their undergraduate experience with future vocations in mind.  This might require doing an internship or two in a non-history related field.

We want students to be more aware of the skills they have acquired as history majors so when they sit across the desk from potential employers during an interview they will be able to articulate clearly what they have to offer.  We want our undergraduates to land jobs because they are history majors and not in spite of the fact that they chose to major in history in college.

Such career planning requires a change of culture.  Too often we, as history professors, gravitate toward students who want to pursue Ph.Ds and become history professors.  We feel most comfortable working closely with students who want to be just like us.  These are the students who win departmental awards and receive the most praise.  But instead of touting all the places where our students have attended graduate school, we should be featuring students who used their history degrees in a variety of professions and vocations.  (See, for example, my “So What CAN You Do With a History Major” series that we have been publishing here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home).

We in the History Department at Messiah are also planning a 1-credit course that will introduce students to the study of history as a liberal arts discipline.  The course will be required of all first-year students and will focus on the transferable skills that the discipline of history has to offer.  A goal of this course will be to get students to see what they can do with an undergraduate history major and help them to develop confidence in the skills they will learn through their study of the past.

Second, we are committed to strengthening our public history concentration.  At the moment, we have a public history concentration that requires students to take an Introduction to Public History course, do a history-related internship, and take three upper-division courses in American history. This year we added a “Teaching History” course to the curriculum.  It is open to both secondary school certification students (future history teachers) and public history students who want to learn how to effectively communicate the past to a public audience.

We are also looking to tap into the coursework being offered by our colleagues in other disciplines. Many of us are convinced that public history students need to know something about web design, GIS technology, new media, film, computer programming, museum studies, graphic design, and digital humanities. 

Third, we want to introduce our students to the possibilities of digital history.  We are thinking about a way to offer an introductory course in digital history and we already have a faculty member interested in educating himself in this area.  We are also working with a newly formed digital humanities group on campus to create a cross-disciplinary digital project. Our hope is to apply for a start-up grant sometime next year.

Career exploration.  Public engagement.  Digital history.  The goal is to develop these areas of our history major without sacrificing the kind of thinking and practical skills that the study of history has traditionally offered to its students.  There is much work to do.

Do America’s Top History Departments Need to Rethink How they Train Historians?


This seemed to be the overwhelming sentiment at this year’s annual American Historical Association meeting in Chicago.  Inside Higher Ed reports on Thomas Bender’s plenary talk: “Where Did We Go Wrong?: The Past and Prospects for the History Profession.  You can watch the talk here.

Here is a snippet from the IHE article:

“Such students preferred to pursue the profession of history in museums, historical societies, film making, and the park service, among other possibilities,” according to the paper. But the students fear that if and when their advisers find out their plans, they will not be supportive. That’s why a radical change is needed in the way history departments think: not only acceptance of a new normal, but also a realization that the market may even worsen in the years to come.

Bender, in his paper, said that the idea that academe is the only suitable option for Ph.D students in history took hold in the mid-1950s. “Oddly, not only was this narrowing nourished by the flush times of the so-called academic ‘Golden Age’ that ended in the early 1970s, but it even accelerated during the hard times since,” he said.

Bender called out to historians to recover the deep roots of history beyond the world of academics.  He even tackled what many would call the elephant in the room by calling for departments to produce fewer Ph.D.s. and suggesting that the AHA encourage the shutting down of subpar programs.

To expand the field of history, he suggested collaborations with professional schools, including business schools. That means developing the right courses. History of the Constitution, anyone? Or legal history for undergraduates, or a joint B.A. in history and a M.A. in public affairs. History as a discipline could play a significant part in educating those opting to take up careers in civics or business, he said. “Advanced training as it developed in the 19th century included a commitment to civic life and leadership, and I hope we recover that forgotten legacy as we go forward,” according to Bender. “Those students who seek nonacademic careers deserve as much moral and practical support as those who seek to emulate their professors. Both are important and enriching career choices.”

But will history departments take the all-important step of trying to reduce enrollments in their graduate programs like Bender suggests? James Axtell, a history professor at the College of William and Mary, who presented a paper at the session called “A Long View: Graduate Education in America” does not seem to think so. “In a competitive climate of rankings and relative prestige, precious few universities are willing to take the first step toward reducing their graduate enrollments because reduction smacks of entropy and loss of face; some governors, trustees, and state boards of higher education seem less reluctant,” he said. But change is imperative and is needed, he said. Greater costs and sky-high debts demand that hard questions be asked about entrenched processes in the academic world.

Community Colleges Are Liberal Arts Colleges

While we normally think of community colleges and junior colleges as places where students go for vocational training and hands-on skills, Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia-Perimeter College in Georgia, reminds us that most students who transfer from a community college to a four-year institution receive nearly all of their liberal arts and humanities coursework at the community college level.

Jenkins wants to rid academics of the idea that liberal learning is at odds with work-force development.  He suggests several reasons why this is the case:

Here is a taste:

I wonder, though, if those seemingly conflicting views of the community-college mission are as mutually exclusive as they appear. Employers rank communication and analytical skills among the most important attributes they seek in new hires, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Perhaps those of us who teach those very skills at community colleges should embrace the integral role we play in preparing the nation’s workers rather than rejecting the idea of work-force development as somehow beneath us.
Such a paradigm shift would have at least a couple of happy consequences. For one thing, we would be able to argue more persuasively for the importance of the liberal arts, especially in this era of draconian budget cuts and increased oversight by external bodies.

More important, this new perspective could have a positive effect on student success. If we come to see ourselves as preparing students not just for transfer but ultimately for the work force, students may be more likely to understand the relevance of the skills that we teach them and better able to use those skills for some purpose other than just getting a passing grade. That, according to Susan de la Vergne, a nationally recognized expert on preparing liberal-arts graduates for careers in non-liberal-arts fields, could give them a tremendous advantage.

“Businesses spend a lot of money on ‘training’ classes for their employees,” she says. “Classes in business writing, presentation skills, business analysis, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and cross-cultural teamwork are deemed critical to success in today’s business environment. But most are aimed at essentially backfilling the liberal arts, making up for education gaps.”

Community-college faculty members are well positioned to help alleviate the need for so much “backfill.” But to do so, we must reimagine the way that we teach. Here are a few suggestions that might help make our courses more practical, relevant, and useful for non-liberal-arts majors.

More Thoughts on Finding Work for History Majors

Gabe Loiacono, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and a reader of this blog, has challenged us to think about how we as history professors might help our students find jobs. He wants us to move beyond cheerleading and remind students that they have useful skills that can lead to successful careers.

Great stuff.  It is the kind of thing I have been preaching for a couple of years here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home (thanks for the plug, Gabe) and the kind of stuff I have been trying to emphasize as the chair of the Messiah College History Department.

Just today I was chatting with a student who wants to switch majors from psychology to history.  He loves history and really wants to study it, but he is worried about his job prospects. 

What did I say to him? 

First, I told him that job prospects are bad for everyone right now, so he is not alone.

Second, I told him that the job market is constantly changing.  Very, very few 20-somethings today are doing exactly what they trained to do in college.  Many will change so-called “careers” multiple times in the next two decades.  As a result, majoring in history, a bedrock liberal arts discipline, will provide transferable skills that will serve him well in the future as he navigates this ever-changing world.

Third, I told him that he should think about what he wants to do with his life.  Once he has a few options he should work with his history-department adviser to do everything possible to make his goals a reality.  Internships and professional development experiences are key.  If a student loves to study history, but wants to eventually work in the CNN newsroom, then perhaps he or she should get a summer internship in the newsroom at a local television station.  We recently had a history major who wanted to go into real estate.  She spent her summer interning at a real estate office doing research on historic preservation laws. 

Fourth, we must equip students to be confident in the skills that they have acquired as history majors.  Students need to learn how to sell these skills to potential employers.  I recently heard about a high school history teacher who told the parents of his students at an open house night that “I was a history major in college and since you can’t do anything with that major, I decided to teach.”  Don’t get me wrong, we need history majors in the classroom, but this student obviously never thought deeply about the kinds of skills he developed through the study of history. 

Rather than apologizing to potential employers about being a history major, our students should enter job interviews boldly, discussing their ability to write, communicate, construct narratives out of the small details, listen, empathize, analyze, and think critically.  We need to instill our students with confidence.  At Messiah College we have developed, in conjunction with the campus Career Center, a brochure we give to all first-year students that walks them, year-by-year,  through the career-development process.  I think this kind of thinking should also find its way into the curriculum.

The particular student I talked to today wants to go into counseling.  While I told him that if he decides to pursue this field he will need courses in psychology, I also stressed how history majors know how to empathize, understand, and listen to people.  Granted, most of those people are dead, but attempting to understand before judging is at the heart of the historical discipline.

Or consider the letter I recently received from a CEO of a finance company in Raleigh, NC. (I have posted this before).  Here is a taste:

Any good and well rounded liberal arts education is a strong foundation for business.  Ultimately, you have to be able to write, speak, and think.  Still, for me, history is singularly the best discipline for success in business.  In history, you learn and become immersed in why people and groups do things over an extended period of time.  History validates that people and organizations act in clear, recognizable patterns.  You also learn about human nature.  Behavior becomes very predictable, which is vital to understand in business because you have to be able to anticipate how people will behave; you have to stay ahead of actions.”

Like Gabe, I am absolutely convinced that history majors have a lot to offer.  Yet we tend to honor those students who go to graduate school in history. (Largely because they want to be just like us).  So often we hold them up as feathers in our caps–evidence that we are doing the right thing in educating them.  I am not so sure that this is healthy.  It is time that we develop a different kind of culture in our departments–a culture in which our model students are the ones who go into non-history or non-academic related fields where they can find meaningful and fulfilling work.

More Good Stuff on Non-Academic Careers for Ph.Ds

Writing at Inside Higher Ed, Christine Kelly offers advisers of graduate students some advice on advising Ph.Ds who are either not interested in an academic career or cannot land a teaching job in this climate.  She argues that academic advisers need to be frank with their graduate students.  They must

1.  Tell them that there are not enough tenure-track jobs to go around.

2.  Tell them that there are viable career options in which they can use their skills. (On this point I learned about a new website:

3.  Support them in their career exploration.

4.  Tell them that they can find intellectually stimulating work outside the academy.

Here is a taste of Kelly’s piece:

The academic job market has been shrinking since the 1970s and it isn’t likely to get better in the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean we should close down Ph.D. programs. What it does mean is that we need to envision a broader career path for Ph.D.s. Many of us who are in non-faculty positions are happy in our careers and use the skills we gained during our Ph.D. studies on a daily basis. Seek us out and suggest that your current graduate students talk to us about how we made the transition. Enlarging the range of respected career options for our Ph.D. students is an important change that can only strengthen doctoral programs, and it’s a step that faculty can help initiate.

The Life of the Mind Outside of the Academy

Writing at Inside Higher Ed, Andrew Taggart proposes that intellectual life, or the pursuit of the life of the mind, does not have to always take place within the bounds of the college or university. 

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the meaning of the phrase “public intellectual,” so I definitely found this piece thought-provoking. (I hope to write something on the topic soon).  Read Taggart’s essay for yourself here, but I want to highlight a few things I found particularly interesting.

Taggart challenges the entire notion of “career.”  He writes:

Thinking of one’s life in terms of a career used to make a lot of sense, but it no longer does. The main reason is that the economy has changed course dramatically with the result that the concept of a career is applicable to fewer and fewer cases. To be sure, it still applies to doctors and lawyers and perhaps to a few other professions. The economic trend, however, is moving toward a world of freelancing, with skilled workers cobbling together short-term projects here with long-term projects there. The Organizational Man, someone who exchanged loyalty for welfare, is giving way to the Freelancer, one who’s free to contract and whose value is measured almost exclusively in market terms.

If the trend I am describing is roughly correct, then it follows that the notion of a career will, for many people, soon be a thing of the past. We can mourn the loss of this life-structuring narrative, or we can ask how we might see this problem as an opportunity — in our case, as an opportunity for leading the life of the mind by some other means.

I think this is important.  Many of us who counsel students and talk to their parents at prospective student days tend to still think in terms of careers.  This is especially the case in the humanities.  Parents and students want to know what their kids can do with a history major.  Yet I think this is the wrong way of approaching this issue.  Since it is unlikely that many college students today will actually have a “career,” we should be pitching the humanities as part of a bedrock liberal arts education that will prepare them for a host of opportunities.  Now I know this does not directly relate to the focus of Taggart’s piece on public intellectuals, but there are some connections.

Taggart is a philosopher by training (although he doesn’t work in the academy).  He writes:

According to the career view, the only way I can be a philosopher is to teach philosophy courses in the academy. Though I used to see things this way, I no longer do, and thankfully so. According to the kind of person view, I’ve come to regard my being a philosopher as expressed, for instance, in the mode of my being an educator which is, in turn, manifested in a number of educational consulting activities: I have begun looking further into alternative educational models (The School of Life in London, The Mycelium School in North Carolina, among others); I am a member of New Public Thinkers, a group of eclectic thinkers seeking to reinvigorate the public sphere; I am currently crafting a philosophy for kids curriculum; I have begun moderating Café Philo events and giving public talks in and around New York; I have taught senior citizens during the past couple summers; I write blogs about education, ethics, and philosophical counseling; and so on. Through all these activities, I am able to realize my being-an-educator in the world.

I have been trying to get my students to see this for a long time.  In fact, I was just talking to a group of students yesterday about this.  I told them that perhaps the highest calling of a history major (or a philosophy major or an English major, etc…) is NOT to go off and get a Ph.D and pursue a life of a college professor.  Perhaps the highest calling is to work with the public in a place where one can apply the virtues of historical thinking about the world in a way that serves the public good or local community.

Finally, Taggart writes:

Leading such a life will require satisfying three basic criteria. First, it must be financially stable (once again, this rules out being a “Peripatetic” — see, here, “3 Models for Post-University Life”). Second, it must be morally virtuous. Third, it must be meaningful. And, fourth, it must create a sense of wholeness.

Amen.  I have found all three of these things in the context of the academic community in which I am invested, but I am convinced that not all academics will find these things in university life.

Good stuff.