By Rose Luminiello |
As we rapidly approach the most festive time of the year, I am reminded that I will be facing that odious question from various family members and friends yet again: ‘What are you going to do with a history degree?’ A fair question, but one we’ve all heard ad nauseam for years. This year, I think I finally feel confident enough to answer with a simple ‘whatever I please’ (but with varying, impolite additions). Recently, a lightbulb went off in my head: obtaining a PhD shouldn’t stop you from doing whatever you like, whether that’s academia, business, charity work, or travel writing. The real question is how to market yourself to the outside world with a PhD in hand.
In an interview a few years ago, my interviewer expressed excitement to have me on board primarily because I was a historian.
That was something I had never expected to hear. He explained that he loved working with history majors because we knew how to research every angle of a project quickly, we were able to communicate our finding concisely, and most importantly: we can write. While I was with his company I completed many projects and tasks that were completely outside my past experience, but all of them relied on my historian’s skill set. All business relies on a simple premise from which you develop a set of questions, problematize them, and then dig for the answers until you hit the core. Sound familiar?
With this mindset, I suddenly found myself responsible for learning how the science of a new feline analgesic so I could help create a comprehensive training program for a national sales conference, I researched and policy advised on investment into non-GMO and non-BPA products for multibillion dollar companies, and, among other things, I researched molecular diagnostics to build marketing content and materials. The fast-paced environment and constantly evolving research projects in any business can be daunting, but every historian and the majority of research academics have all the skills they need to be successful in the business world.
Recently, I’ve had two separate experiences that have convinced me that business and academia can go hand-in-hand. First, I’ve recently used my business to further my academic career by building an interactive workbook and reference guide for our first years at the University of Aberdeen. The second experience was perhaps more striking to me: in the spring of this year, my Uni advertised internship opportunities with local corporations; the programme was started by a young, driven woman who had just completed her PhD in Scandinavian Studies (history), and believed wholeheartedly that academics in the humanities and arts are more useful in the business world than even we know. After taking my background into account, she set me up with a short internship as the Research Manager for International Globalization for a Spanish shoe company. To me, these experiences were what I needed as proof of how business and academia can be a completely symbiotic relationship.
If you want to get into the business world and still be an historian or other academic, I say go for it; educated people are needed everywhere. All you need to be able to score whatever job you want is good timing, a few connections, and a really good answer to the inevitable questions about your multiple degrees. Preempt it on your cover page, and be prepared with an interview answer. Usually my answer to “why history/what skills has your degree given you?” is something like this, and something I truly believe about all of us:
The skills I’ve learned from studying history are both invaluable and completely transferable to any job, and any market. I’ve learned how to quickly identify both the details of a complex situation or problem, and also to place them in the bigger picture. I can take a huge amount of information and concisely tell you what it all means, what the most important components of the problem are, what we should take away from it, and how we can use this information to come up with a tailored, unique solution. More importantly, I can provide deliverables on complicated scenarios in intelligent, understandable packets.
I’ve often questioned my decision to continue down the academic path. In some ways, working in business often feels much more productive than academia in that it often has a relatively quick turnaround for tangible, meaningful results. On the other hand, giving up academia means giving up the roundtables, the camaraderie with colleagues and peers that extends far beyond that one Irish revolution we all like, and the ability to teach the next generations.
Academics are far more equipped for whatever we set our minds to then we sometimes give ourselves credit for.
Rose is just finishing her second year of a History PhD at the University of Aberdeen on sectarian violence and religion in Ulster and Poznania, where she is currently dying amidst things written in languages she does not know. If you want to contact her before this eventual demise occurs, you can find her on LinkedIn or Academia.edu.
(Cover image (cc) www.flickr.com/photos/129657698@N02; Image 1 (cc) https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk)