I found this week’s reading rather light on substance. I feel that if I need an academic to tell me that I need to think outside of the box, I’m not really thinking outside of the box. It is like having to be told to be proactive. (It would seen that one being told to be proactive must have missed the boat on being proactive). I’m not sure whether these catchphrases are really and honestly parsed by those who use them. At any rate, that is my rant for the week, now to the business of the history business.
I read through the different articles and browsed the websites this week—I even signed up for The Versatile PhD, which I felt provided a greater scope of insight, or perhaps outsight than most of the other career focused jargon on the other websites. I chose to get my MA in history because I felt that of all the academic disciplines it provided the greatest scope. By that I mean that historians are trained thinkers and analyzers, taught, as one author this week put it, “to assess conflicting interpretations.” I also have discovered along the way that many employers value a history degree, even when it does not directly relate to the position for which they are hiring, because they believe that these people have the ability to bring together data and create understandings about that data. Historians also tend to withhold judgment toward more fringe interpretations. In a world as fast moving as technology, these are very desirable skills. Historians do have one great flaw, by and large, however: over-analysis, and sometimes, stagnation of thought.
As I read through the websites and considered the data presented on the Department of Labor website, I considered whether this is all being too thought. I have heard so many times from professors, bosses, teachers, even some of my students, parents, spouse, family in general, friends, etc, “You’re overthinking this.” In talking to my colleagues that practice history, I hear the same story from them; that they have been told the same thing. So maybe all this talk of career is being greatly overthought. At first I thought the statistics were depressing, but then I realized, “Hey, I don’t have to be a statistic.” Just because x is what everyone else does with their history degree does not mean that I have to do x. I have a particular set of skills that works for me, others have their own. In truth, just because I am not directly employing my skills in history, does not mean that they are not being used. Skills are a part of who I am, which means that I will use them somehow in whatever I do. Having spent nearly four years (and tens of thousands of dollars) getting a graduate degree, I would hope that I want to more directly employ these skills.
Back to the issue of getting out of the box. In order for a person to really emancipate himself from the box, he must remove himself as a whole, body, mind and soul from that system. When we talk about a box, we are speaking of a system. It would be foolish to say that I was out of a box if I was simply imagining what the outside looked like while I remained firmly locked in the box. Likewise, it would be a simple mind who, having been liberated from the box, kept his mind entrenched in thinking about the comforts and ease of being in the box. (BTW, for those who were with me in 501, remember the fishbowls? This is very similar) In terms of academia, or whatever you may call it, as a system of thought, it is based on data analysis and scientific method with some good old fashioned common sense thrown in the mix. Academics are taught to withhold judgment until the data has all been analyzed and an interpretation has been sussed from that analysis. I felt like that was much of the reading this week, we were being told that it was a different system of considering employment for historians, but it amounted to being simply different ideas within the same system. I found myself still analyzing the data for historians, looking at the jobs that historians get and trying to draw new conclusions based on the same evidence in the same system. This I didn’t like.
Perhaps it is just me that got trapped in that thinking as I read, or perhaps not. What I do know is that I do not plan on spending my life and time in the academic system. There are so many other systems tow which I could apply myself, why stick within only one.
I did find some of the results of USA jobs quite fascinating when I searched for historian, because many of them were not historian jobs at all. They were, however, still within a more, or less, similar vein of thinking to the academic system, since Government seems to mimic the academic models in many ways. What I find more interesting is a search on Monster, or other job sites that list private businesses seeking employees. While many of those are large corporations, or institutional companies (private museums and educational facilities), there are a few that are smaller businesses. To some degree, even large corporations operate as institutions, and along the same systems that are employed in academic institutions, so I am more interested in small businesses that think differently; businesses that are developing their own systems of government and new ways of performing work. These are the businesses that are experimental in how they perform, and create systems that adapt quickly, rather than to bleed dry resources then panic as they realize that their system is no longer working.
There was another great article published this week in Forbes that addressed the issue of an entity that actually manages to work on a different system with great success: BSU Football. And Yes, I said Forbes, not Sports Illustrated. In order to make things work, and to continue to make them work, the bar for setting expectations must constantly be addressed and redressed. Such thinking is indicative of organizational out-of-the-box thinking.
How does this all play into historians and finding a job? Well, it is simple, first think out of the box, get out of the box and be out of the box. Look to make a paradigm shift within your own life, thought and existence. Reflection can provide some good insight, but it can also create a very enclosed box. While the reading this week is perhaps a good starting point, it is not a paradigmatic shift in thought or process. It does not raise the bar for where historians can achieve excellence, it maintains a firm root in academic systems of thought and analysis. I think for those who are of a like mind to myself Guillebeau’s book was far more insightful.
I told you it wasn’t about a garden. What did you expect?