Profiles in the Humanities
Download Profiles in the Humanities 1.1 (updated 1/31/18)
This document represents the results of an informal survey conducted beginning July 18, 2017 via Google Forms. Participants were asked for their first name, the Humanities discipline(s) they studied in undergraduate coursework, their current position of employment, and a short narrative about the relationship between their studies and their current work and life. Most participants also supplied a picture of themselves. All participants agreed to allow their responses to be used for the purpose of advising undergraduates about possible careers after undergraduate Humanities study. I am making this document available so that readers may discuss it with their students, friends, and families as they make choices about how to plan for a good life in an uncertain world.
The results of this survey are qualitative. The survey does not attempt to predict causal relationships between majors and careers, or between careers and happiness. Participants are not asked to supply their financial information, such as income, tuition, debt, or family wealth, all of which are better represented by quantitative analysis. Rather, the survey results merely describe a wide range of real experiences and employment opportunities that some former students of the Humanities have pursued. Edits to responses have been made for length or style when necessary. Many respondents have provided pictures so that their narratives appear in an appropriately individual context. Some of the participants are recent graduates in their first jobs; others are at the peak or end of long and distinguished careers.
I conducted this survey because, as a professor in the Humanities, I have students who are passionate about their studies but unsure about whether a Humanities degree can result in meaningful employment, even though our discipline is not as obviously focused on vocational training as some other disciplines are. Rather, the Humanities can (and I believe, should) serve as the backbone of the “liberal arts”—an education traditionally designed for free people who are empowered to define and seek happiness for themselves, including in their work. As the results of this survey show, the paths taken by former Humanities students are astoundingly varied, deeply reflective, and often richly rewarding.
Although it is clear that Humanities students often go on to brilliant, joyful work lives after college, it is also clear that Humanities professors and our institutions often fail to provide adequate counseling about post-graduation possibilities for Humanities students. For many of these students, the most obvious career path for a Humanities graduate is to teach, as we do. Teaching can be enormously satisfying work, but a student without an inclination for it will never teach well or happily. Teaching and academic research are represented here alongside many other experiences of post-graduate employment. This document provides teachers, professors, counselors, administrators, students, and families with a series of narratives about a range of careers and lives that can be (and have been) possible for Humanities graduates in the past.