Prepare majors in the humanities for post-graduation success

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What Do Humanities Graduates Do After Graduation?

Many, not surprisingly, become teachers. Others go to college or law school. Still others pursue jobs in sales, business operations or administrative support. But a very large number become managers.

Indeed, majors in the humanities are particularly likely to become managers.

Management is an exceptionally broad professional category, and levels of compensation and responsibility vary widely. Nevertheless, managers tend to receive higher salaries and have greater autonomy, authority and opportunities for career advancement than most other employees.

This is true, even though these college graduates did not pursue career-oriented studies.

In today’s economy, effective managers are among the keys to an organization’s success.

Even though most humanities graduates do not have formal management training, it is not surprising that many take on this role, as a humanities background in fact provides a fairly good foundation for the functions performed by managers. managers.

  • Managers manage people – they motivate, delegate, supervise, assess and solve interpersonal problems.
  • Managers lead a unit or an organization: they plan, coordinate, organize, acquire and direct resources.
  • Managers administer: they make recommendations and decisions, set priorities, set timetables, solve problems, write reports and make presentations.

Considering the fact that many of our graduates will become managers, what could the disciplines of the humanities do to better prepare their majors for the jobs they are likely to acquire?

Spoiler alert: The answer is unlikely to be lessons in management philosophies, leadership in literature, or the history of business administration. It is also not enough to hand over responsibility to a career center.

What prompts me to raise this subject is a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As Robert B. Townsend, who oversees the academy’s humanities, arts, and culture programs and maintains the organization’s humanities indicators, pointed out to me, the titles of two recent articles on the report are revealing. of the contradictory message they convey.

One article is titled “Humanities Graduates Are Happy With Their Lives”. The other: “American humanities graduates don’t feel prepared for life beyond college. “

Feeling satisfied but not prepared: how to reconcile these two opposing emotions?

Partly, I guess, is because the new roles and responsibilities of graduates are forcing them to stretch and grow and draw on skills and strengths that these degree holders barely knew they had. .

How, then, can humanities departments best set up their majors for post-graduation success and happiness?

Here are some strategies that humanities departments could adopt.

  1. Familiarize humanities teachers with the types of jobs pursued by their majors. Few are those who follow in the footsteps of the faculty. This certainly does not mean that humanists should give up teaching their specialties. But it does mean that we should never – ever – speak badly of jobs outside of traditional humanities fields. If we want to clone ourselves, we will be doomed to disappointment.
  2. Departments need to do a better job of articulating the value of humanities training. The pablum and the clichés will not cut it. I have come across departmental websites that offer an endless array of jobs that graduates do (diplomat, social worker, market analyst). Be explicit about the transferable skills that your department’s courses confer.
  3. Integrate relevant skills into departmental study programs and individual courses. Please don’t think for one moment that I want departments to offer simplified management courses. If an organization needs expertise in accounting, financial modeling, HR, or marketing, it will hire specialists in these areas. But managing people, conducting research, making public presentations, undertaking strategic planning, even working with data, these are areas where humanities majors should shine. We can certainly cultivate these skills in our classes.
  4. Encourage majors to step out of their comfort zone and learn skills that will come in handy after graduation. Obvious examples include encouraging students to study digital humanities or digital history.

What should we do specifically in our classes?

In addition to teaching content, develop skills. Have students give oral presentations and write for a variety of audiences in a variety of styles. Make them work as a team and undertake projects with genuine results. Give them the responsibility of co-teaching the class and be sure to provide substantive and constructive feedback.

Remember: what employers value most are the soft skills that the humanities nurture.

A humanities degree does not require majors to take a vow of poverty. A humanities degree holder should also not feel like they are dropping out of their discipline and calling if they are unsuccessful in enrolling in a graduate or professional program or to accept employment other than that of a school, museum or archive.

The humanities are what make us human. It increases our capacity for empathy; exposes us to the human condition in its rich, sometimes heartbreaking complexity; leads us to ask ourselves fundamental questions of ethics and meaning; and challenges us to see works of art, music and literature in a new light. It also allows us to commune with the divine and to experience the transcendent.

You can always be a skilled humanist whatever your profession. All one has to do is read, think critically and analytically, relish the arts, and reflect on life’s deepest questions.

Freud wrote that “the cornerstones of humanity” lie in work and love: in productive work and love in its various manifestations, one of which is surely the love of creativity, of intuitions. and the depths of emotion offered by the humanities.

Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.


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