Categorized | Job Hunting, Life

Putting Useless Majors to Use

Posted on 28 May 2009

Who cares if you have impractical knowledge?

If you are concerned that the time and money you spent pursuing a degree in “Colonialism and the 19th-Century Novel” or “Psycholinguistics” qualifies you for little beyond a teaching career, you can officially relax. Because of information technology and the tight economy, holders of marginal (some say ‘useless’) degrees now have more career options than ever. Skilled social scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians are needed in a wide range of job–and for a variety of reasons.

The Numbers Don’t Lie
The Internet has created openings and the resources to fill them, while also allowing people from far-flung nations to communicate and work together in a practical fashion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 10 industries with the fastest projected wage and salary employment growth from 1998-2008 include museums, botanical and zoological gardens, and research and testing services. Not surprisingly, the five fastest-growing occupations are computer-related. Yet “employment in all education and training categories that generally requires an associate’s degree or more education is projected to grow faster than the 14 percent average for all occupations.”

The most important thing for non-traditional degree holders to keep in mind when considering a career is this: Job opportunities are forged by the individual, not by the program which one follows in college. Karl Monger, a successful freelance commercial writer and editor (who actually did major in Psycholinguistics) echoes this sentiment. “It’s not that I’m using my degree,” he says, “I’m using what I learned for my degree. A lot of what I learned in the classes that comprise a Psycholinguistics degree stays with me and becomes a part of my writing and makes me a better, more effective writer. Understanding the things that people respond to and how readers tend to keep certain things in mind, or approach different reading situations, provides a solid backbone for effective writing of all kinds.”

Job opportunities are forged by the individual, not by the program.

Culinary Anthropologist Ken Rubin holds an MA in Anthropology and an undergraduate Latin American Studies degree. He now serves as co-founder and program director of FoodWorks International, a non-profit food research, training, and consulting organization. He originally intended to study biology in college. “I was interested in food and wanted to do the science part of it,” Rubin explains. “I didn’t get into the first biology courses I signed up for, and got put into an anthropology class.” This fortuitous blunder enabled him to explore his interests, earn a Master’s degree, and prepare him for the working world. “People who have gone to college and who are good at things like critical thinking and problem-solving   know that they have a foundation of skills that sets them up for lifelong learning.”

Use What You Know
The American Anthropology Association (AAA) agrees. According to its studies, anthropological training provides skills that are particularly suited to the 21st century. “The economy will be increasingly international,” claims the AAA. “Workforces and markets, increasingly diverse; participatory management and decision making, increasingly important; communication skills, increasingly in demand. Anthropology is the only contemporary discipline that approaches human questions from historical, biological, linguistic, and cultural perspectives.” It goes on to make the following conclusion: “Whatever anthropologists’ titles, their research and analysis skills lead to a wide variety of career options, ranging from the oddly fascinating to the routinely bureaucratic.”

An article in Observer, the magazine of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasizes the need for even stronger academic programs in the social sciences. “The discipline has not only begun to acquire academic legitimacy,” the article stated, “it has already attracted the serious attention of businesses eager for a detailed understanding of the behavior of households, investors and the like. This is particularly true of multinational enterprises dealing with cross-cultural operations.”

What about people trained in Art History? Scanning the classifieds and Internet career sites, one may notice the curious wealth of job openings for those who studied Dadaism in college–and these openings aren’t just on campuses, in museums, or at art galleries. As a professor of Art History at the University of Notre Dame, Charles M. Rose recently published a compilation of Career Alternatives for Art Historians. Among them are surprises such as Independent Producer for Film and TV, Curatorial Consultant, and Antiquarian Book Trader. He counsels, “computer skills, including familiarity with e-mail, Internet discussion groups, and the World Wide Web, are essential for almost all positions which require writing and research.” Herein lies the second-most important aspect of putting your ‘useless’ major to work: You must become familiar with the Internet. As previously mentioned, the information technology explosion not only provides job options, it allows jobseekers to exploit them as well.

Freedom to Work
Camille Luckenbaugh of JobWeb believes that the trend towards higher acceptance of graduates with eccentric degrees correlates directly with the current economy and new technology. “It’s a tight labor market, excellent economy, and one in which technology has proliferated,” Luckenbaugh asserts. “Which will naturally open opportunities to grads across the board, regardless of their major. It’s a time when new companies will start up, existing companies will expand, and businesses will need all types of skills, ranging from high-tech to good communicators to excellent interpersonal qualities.”

And just about anyone can work just about anywhere these days, it seems. There are still a few basic guidelines to adhere to; but, for the most part, seeking a degree absolutely includes the ability to dream. Whatever you want to do, whatever your interests are, you can now feel secure in pursuing a course of study that your parents probably considered a waste of time and money.

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