How to Get a Job with a Philosophy Degree

This is the title of a piece in today’s NYT on Wake Forest University and its approach to bridging the liberal arts to careers. The article is worth a read but read also the readers’ comments. One point that emerges, and is confirmed by our research, is the need for humanities majors to combine the liberal arts with technical skills. Unless students are going to professional school (Law is a prime candidate for philosophy majors), some hard skill is required for entry into the market. According to a lot of anecdotal evidence, the liberal arts dimension takes over and adds comparative value to careers a little later in the process. Also missing from the Wake Forest approach is any serious focus the international marketplace, international internships, and so on. Our students have found enormous career-enhancement value in combining technical fields with foreign language/cultural study and an international internship.

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Advantages of the Double Major

There are many reasons the world looks to the U.S. as the model for higher education, but a big one is the type of innovative thinking that results from the combination of broad and deep thinking. The American bachelor’s degree, in fact, encourages this hybridity by requiring students to pursue general education before specializing in a major.  While both students and professors often consider GE coursework a waste of time (and it certainly can be), situating thought at the borders of disciplines is a proven source of intellectual dynamism and creativity. This article takes the idea a step further by touting the advantages of the double major, especially when the majors are in fields very different from each other.

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A Humanities “Report Card”

The American Association of Arts and Sciences recently issued a report card on the Humanities. Despite a rash of reports by the popular press on our state of “crisis”, the AAAS points to some positive news, including:

-84% of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major
-humanities majors are more widely distributed throughout the economic sectors than any other major
-the number of majors in the humanities as grown increasingly since the late 1980s
-between 2000-’09 humanities majors scored higher on the GMAT than business majors (!)
and so on.

See the infographic of the report here:

A Reminder of What the Humanities Are Ultimately For

Mark Edmundson (professor of English, University of Virginia) pushes back against those touting the “marketable skills” of Humanities disciplines. Reaching back to Plato, Edmundson reminds us that the Humanities are ultimately about investigating the most meaningful and virtuous ways to conduct one’s life. He’s afraid that too much talk of Humanities and careers will hollow out our core values.

Agreed: Humanities professors should not see themselves or their disciplines as “job training.” And student “success” should not be measured only in financial terms. At the same time, 90% of college students consider university study as career preparation. Inevitably we all must confront students who naturally want some reassurance that their time and money will not be wasted in unemployment. Since there is plenty of market evidence that Humanities students are highly valued, why not share this information? Why not even advertise it so that students who have chosen the Humanities (probably for the virtues Edmundson points to) can cultivate the skill sets employers are seeking while learning how to live life virtuously? We are not engaged in a zero-sum game; there is no sacrifice of intellectual principle or idealism when we point students to potential career pathways. Indeed, the more we can do this the healthier our disciplines will be over the long term.

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Humanities “Crisis” and Demographics

In an article in this week’s New Republic, Nora Caplan-Bricker reprises other recent articles by Nate Silver and Benjamin Schmidt to debunk the Humanities “decline” or “crisis” narratives. Most articles pointing to a current “crisis” are based on a dramatic decline in ‘degrees completed’ in the 1960s. Caplan-Bricker reminds us that a big reason for the drop in the 60s was the opening of professional majors to women. Since then the number of degrees completed in the Humanities has been more or less stable. Why then do critics complain about a crisis today due to a demographic shift from decades ago? If there is, indeed, a current crisis (and there is, for example, in academic employment for recent PhDs) we need to be precise about its causes and potential remedies. The typical strategy is to cite an isolated drop in enrollment here and a department consolidation there in order to point to larger issues with curriculum or the putative lack of marketability of humanities degrees.

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