Friday, April 25, 2014

More Good Stuff on Careers and the History Major

Chris Gehrz, the chair of the History Department at Bethel University in St. Paul and the author of The Pietist Schoolman blog, is doing a lot of good thinking on career paths and destinations for history majors.

His recent post, "Majoring in History, Thriving in Business" tells the story of several Bethel History Department alums who are using their history major in the business world.  Here is a taste:

Enter Brandon Raatikka (’03) and Tim Goddard (’04). A decade out from their History education at Bethel, they’re thriving in the business world:
Tim studied history, biology, and writing at Bethel, worked on a political campaign, wrote a novel, taught science in Brazil, and built from an early interest in web design and blogging into employment with software startups. He’s now vice president of marketing for a group that facilitates mergers between software companies.• Brandon went to law school at the University of Minnesota, wrote for the law review, and parlayed his J.D. into a position as a research analyst for a small company providing due diligence for investments like commercial real estate. He’s now the vice president in charge of risk assessment for that company.
Despite taking such different routes, Tim and Brandon came to some of the same conclusions when asked how a History degree prepared them for careers in business. Both emphasized the skills they’d learned from their undergraduate studies, and that their abilities to think critically, research, and write well very much set them apart in the business world:
(Brandon) …the biggest things I took away from my education at Bethel were how to think more critically about situations where the right “answer” isn’t always apparent, and how to write well (as you get a lot of practice writing in history classes). Apart from certain financial and accounting aspects of it, business is largely a “soft” science. Training in history and other humanities gets one comfortable dealing with ambiguities. It helps you assess the significance of facts and order their importance relative to other facts. Being able to focus on the big picture, while still knowing how the small details relate to that big picture, is a huge advantage in business, and something that studies in history can train one to do. Also, history courses are an important element of a well-rounded, liberal arts education — and especially in the context of a small business, where one inevitably wears many hats, a “generalist” mindset is valuable.

(Tim) …the ability to write well is incredibly valuable across all disciplines, I’ve found. It was certainly true in my history courses, as well as the rest of my Bethel experience and beyond…. Writing skillfully, accurately, and with a touch of flair is an even more significant advantage in the job field now than I think it was a decade ago…. History majors are perhaps a bit more prevalent in the corporate world than you would think. The habits of research, writing and critical thinking that a history degree can build are vital in any field. The ability to critically evaluate sources is particularly valuable…

Great stuff, Chris.  Thanks for sharing these stories from your former students!  Chris gives a nice plug to the work we are doing here at the blog and in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  For more on what you can do with a history major, check out our ongoing series on the subject.