In the last year I have come to terms with the decision that I am going to, either permanently or temporarily, leave academia; and as a Master’s student who jumped into her program immediately after graduation, I have found this decision trying for a number of reasons. On the one hand, I felt like a traitor to my discipline, abandoning the Ivory Tower for a corporate desk job. On the other hand, I look at my own work experience, or lack thereof, to be woefully inadequate as I venture out into the job searching world. In an effort to combat, at least what I perceive, as a complete lack of preparedness to stay afloat in the “real world”, I enrolled in a summer graduate course entitled “Liberal Arts at Work: A Professionalization Workshop”.
Despite being only a two-week course, this class demanded a lot. In addition to reading three books over the course of four days, amongst other various assignments like creating job portfolios and giving presentations, this workshop required all students to take two career assessments so that we might determine and learn about our own strengths and weaknesses. My own results revealed some aspects of myself that I was already very familiar with; but more importantly, I discovered how I can effectively market myself, my strengths, and my liberal arts education to a myriad of potential career paths.
While many of us would like to think we know ourselves pretty well, and I’d like to consider I’m one of those people, there is something about seeing the major aspects of your personality laid out on paper. It’s comforting, perhaps even encouraging, to read what you might already know about yourself; but it’s equally as humbling to discover certain aspects of your character or work ethic that you were unaware of before, especially if you may not see in a positive light.
My five strengths revealed by our primary assessment, “Restorative,” “Input,” “Achiever,” “Context,” and “Learner”, are in many ways self-explanatory; but some of my strengths prompted me to seek a more in-depth definition. For example, apparently a person who excels in the “Input” theme has a tendency to collect and archive information of all kinds; while someone who scores high in the “Context” theme enjoys looking to the past in order to contextualize the present. In a lot of ways, these make sense to me. In addition to pairing naturally with my “Learner” strength, my need for “Input” and “Context” speaks to my academic nature, especially seeing as I’m equal parts historian and Medievalist scholar. My “Restorative” strength indicates that I’m a person who likes to problem-solve; and my “Achiever” strength absolutely confirms my tendency to over work and over-achieve to the point of being called neurotic. While it’s all well and good to know your strengths and weaknesses, especially when transitioning to a new career, it’s hard to know exactly how to make use of these in an authentic and effective way; moreover, I was deeply concerned with how to sell these qualities in the supremely terrifying, chaotic business world because I had never been trained to do so.
Another important aspect of this course, well like any humanities course, was the reading tied into our major projects. For anyone who has sat through some type of literature course, and for those who haven’t but may be aware of certain stereotypes, the readings lean towards the lofty and theoretical; more often than not, you would use words like enlightening or abstract, definitely not practical, to describe the texts found on the syllabus. So it was a breath of fresh air for me to pick up these books and find tools, guides, and strategies that not only apply to my career situation, but that also actively and pragmatically prepare me for the challenges and opportunities that await me on the job hunt. Of the three textbooks that we read for this workshop, Katharine Brooks’s You Majored in What? stands out in particular. In addition to providing practical tips and tricks for landing a great job outside of academia, Brooks pitches a whole new line of thinking for conceptualizing the transition from college to career; rather than seeing a linear path that connects our college major, or majors, to a corresponding career, we should see that straight path more as a zigzagging trail that winds through chaos.
My initial reaction to reading the word “chaos” was anything but comforting; but not only does Brooks make a rational argument for her chaos theory, she convinces her reader that chaos SHOULD be comforting for any college graduate. Why? It is a common misconception, and frankly a rarity, for a student of a particular major to end up in its so-called designated career. For example, my family friend completed a major in Art History (much to the concern of her father who is a civil engineer); but not only did she opt out of some type of art or humanities career, she went on to complete an M.B.A. and land a job at a respected corporation where she makes a hefty salary and manages her own team of employees. In addition to representing this non-traditional career path from liberal arts graduate to corporate supervisor, this Art History major successfully navigated her way through and out of the chaos. If anything, she used that chaos to her advantage (Brooks).
All that said, this workshop has taught me to embrace the chaos, and that the traditional linear path of college major to designated career maybe shouldn’t be seen as all that traditional anymore. It’s much more common, and this is statistically proven, for a college graduate to end up in a career that is far outside their area of study; and what’s more is that there’s nothing wrong with taking this zigzagging trail as a liberal arts graduate, because we’re more qualified than we think we are.
This workshop, while designed for students in the liberal arts, is applicable to anyone trying to join the modern American workforce; because in addition to helping me determine my own strengths, this class has also given me the tools to navigate the unfamiliar and chaotic business world that awaits me when I complete my Master’s.
References: Brooks, Katharine You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career. First Plume Printing: April 2010.