Monday, January 18, 2016

What Can I Do With My Degree?

“So you want to be a lawyer or the Prime Minister?” This is often the comment I get from people when I tell them I am a political science major. As someone who works in a Career Services department and who has no interest in entering politics or law this is an incredibly frustrating statement. For those of us in the social sciences and humanities, we and society in general often minimize our job prospects to the handful of well-known careers in our respective fields. For instance, those in psychology may believe that they can only be psychologists. Those in history may believe they can only be historians, archaeologists, or archivists. Those in English may believe they are on a path to becoming authors. For those like me in political science, we often assume our degree will lead to a life of long hours, travel and scandal as politicians or as a lawyer. 

We seem too focused on jobs that incorporate the knowledge we gain in our degrees. This may be the case for those in other faculties and science/math based programs. For instance, most students in the Faculty of Education want to become teachers, while many people in the nursing program have ambitions to become nurses or healthcare providers. However, for those of us in the social sciences and humanities, our job prospects are not as cut and dry and for many of us, we have no idea what we want to do after we graduate. Adding to this frustration of seeing those in other programs know what they want to do, the countless “studies” and articles written about degree career prospects all show that we as social science and humanities students are doomed to be unemployed after graduation and suffer a lifetime of under-employment. What is the purpose then of our degree? Did we waste all our money and time? Short answer - NO!

A popular question we get as Career Assistants in the Resource Centre is “what can I do with my degree?” To this I often ask if they know who Martin Dempsey is. Dempsey is a US General and former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reporting to the Secretary of Defence and the US President. As one of the highest ranking military officials in the United States, Dempsey holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Duke University where he wrote a thesis on Irish literature. Dempsey serves as a great example of someone who had a meaningful and successful career outside the "traditional jobs" English majors occupy. Like Dempsey, we must look beyond the information we learn throughout our degree and look more broadly at how we learn and engage with course material in order to better understand a) the skills we can bring to an employer and b) the endless job possibilities available to us. 

Instead of knowledge, those of us in social sciences and humanities should focus on transferable skills. Organization, teamwork, communication and leadership are all transferable skills that we gain throughout our undergraduate degree and are invaluable in any workplace. We gain these broad transferable skills by attending lecture and recording notes, preparing and presenting in seminars, researching and writing papers, and so on. Aside from these broad transferable skills your program may focus on more specific transferable skills. A full list of degree specific skills can be found on our degree exploration guides. By thinking outside the "traditional jobs" of our fields and focusing on the transferable skills we gain throughout our degree, those of us in the social sciences and humanities will find that a diverse selection of jobs and industries are available to us. While jobs directly related to our degree may be hard to come by, our degrees give us the skills we need to succeed in other job categories. 

Don’t be tied down to the restrictive list of traditional jobs for your field, think outside the box and DO NOT give too much weight to the studies that underestimate your degrees worth. Every degree and graduate is unique and can bring something to an employer. Stop by the Career Resource Centre in the Learning Commons and let us help you realize your degree’s value and job prospects. 

Mike Pratas
4th Year Political Science Major
Lead Career Assistant 

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