I graduated from a History of Science program in May of 2018 and have been serving as an intern in the human resources department of a relatively large and well-known industrial construction company.
Talk about contrast.
I have been forced through exposure and an increasingly intense desire to get out of my parents’ house to evaluate the skills I have accumulated during my tenure as an academic hopeful against the needs of the real world. I have been confronted with and made humble by the realities of corporate America. In knowing so very much about the importance of context and deep, contemplative thought, I have come to realize that I know very little about the importance of directed, practical thinking. About the importance of real-world skills and the amazing power of their impact on today.
I have found the pragmatist in myself, something that always felt like a hinderance in academia. I tried to throw it off, to disown it, in my first semesters of graduate study, expressing dissatisfaction in group discussions centered around historians who used the first and last chapters of their books to tie their work into current issues and thus politicize (read: sully) their work by exposing its current applications. History should be produced for history’s sake, I thought in an unreflective reaction to deep-seated concerns about what in the hell the study of history could do for the world.
My time out of academia has brought on the realization–already partially developed–that it isn’t quite where I belong. It could be my background or my natural inclinations, but I have an awareness of immediacy and practicality about me that makes the idealism of the university setting seem a bit naive. I understand its importance and have all the respect in the world for those who choose to remain there, but it’s not home for me.
The skills I developed under its wing and the weaknesses I exhibited when measured by its standards, however, are telling.
- I am an excellent writer that thoroughly enjoys the process of taking an incomprehensible amount of data or an unwieldy process/idea and reformulating it in a way that means something to a predetermined audience.
- I know how to structure evidence in order to formulate a convincing argument. (Yes, law has crossed my mind. No, it’s not for me.)
- I understand the importance of context. I know it is vital to consider audience, the source of information, and perceived or actual motives when building or evaluating a narrative. I know that narratives are constructed things, and I understand that they can be manipulated… and I also know how important it is at times to be in control of the way that an event, person, process, place, etc., is understood.
- I understand–having tried to widen the perspectives of people indoctrinated with this mentality as well as working within it–the importance of numerical data (the “business case” in HR terminology) in building arguments.
- I couldn’t ever get on board with the egos academia requires. Even if you know your argument has holes, you have to work your way around them. Diminish them. Not show weakness. I’m more collaborative than that, more interested in the overall outcome than playing up my own attributes in an attempt to validate my position. This may be considered a weakness in other circles as well, but that’s me. I’m a team player at heart, more interested in overall outcome than my own professional success.
- I am and will continue to be a lifelong learner. I will always seek out and consider the opinions of those around me. I value feedback–positive and negative–and will integrate it into my decided courses of action.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that I have a skillset and mentality that will render me successful in positions that value initiative, curiosity, and coachability. I am passionate and love to learn, and I credit my time in academia as a major contributor to my desire to continue fostering those traits. I don’t know that a masters degree in history is the way everyone develops these characteristics, but it certainly worked for me and I am grateful for what I learned and not the least bit upset that my original plan–to become a part of the university system–didn’t end up becoming my calling.