CAS Colloquium: Panel addresses how humanities majors can find career niche

Librarian Lora Smallman organized a panel discussion consisting of faculty, students and alumni who addressed how to find career paths following humanities studies. They shared their journeys as part of the College of Arts and Sciences Colloquium Series. Photo provided by Smallman

A panel of faculty, students and alumni addressed students during their discussion, “On the Prowl: Alternative Career Moves for Humanities Majors,” as part of the College of Arts and Sciences Colloquium series organized by librarian Lora Smallman.

The panel consisted of Smallman, English professors Jessica DeSpain and Kristine Hildebrandt, SIUE alumna Kayla Hays, also a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign library sciences graduate student, and senior English major Cassidy Jacobson.

According to Smallman, articles written about the humanities often describe the discipline as “being in crisis,” perceived as not geared toward a specific profession.

“But to be successful professionally, you don’t need a major that sounds like a job. Choose the major where you feel most at home,” Smallman said.

According to Hildebrandt, students should “not necessarily jump to a particular degree program simply because they see the end result as a specific job.”

“They should view their undergraduate experience as a way to explore and develop a wide variety of professional and also life skills and they should consider the professional process as part of a longer journey and not necessarily only worry right from the beginning about one specific job as the outcome of the degree,” Hildebrandt said.

A benefit to majoring in the humanities or earning a liberal arts degree, according to DeSpain, is that it teaches communication skills, how to work individually and in teams, meet deadlines and write, which can be applied to the job market.

Hildebrandt said when searching for jobs, “hide job titles, look for the skills [that you need] and look at yourself.”

DeSpain agreed with Hildebrandt–that students need to think about their priorities.

“What do you want out of your life? Consider how much money is necessary for you to be happy and what role you want your career to play in your life,” DeSpain said.

When looking for a career, students should approach it as a research project where “you need to go out and meet people and network,” according to Smallman.

“Network with a librarian. They are information detectives,” Smallman said. “There is a lot of info out there on industries and the employees and skills they are looking for. It’s beautiful.”

As a high school student, Smallman job shadowed a surgeon and later a college professor. As a result, Smallman said she learned that medicine was not in her future, but education would be.

Smallman majored in German at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign though she said she did not have a career chosen, she was “just very excited about the humanities.”

Hildebrandt said she was “lucky” to find her position during the “bad economic period after 2001” when she earned her doctorate and taught at the University of Manchester in England.

“Teach abroad for a year-you learn a lot,” Hildebrandt said.

When asked how to gain technical skills with a liberal arts degree, DeSpain said students can learn skills in computer technology related to their major such as writing for the web at The Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship (IRIS) Center at SIUE.

DeSpain and Hildebrandt co-direct the center which, according to its website, “is an interdisciplinary facility designed to support individual and collaborative scholarship (at faculty and student levels) that applies digital content as a primary methodology.”

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