Tuesday, January 6, 2015

So what can you do with that history degree? The future of History, the Global Tuning Project, and careers for students

The Thinker, by Rodin
by Penny Messinger

Are you thinking about what you can do with a history major?

You're not alone. Many students love history but are concerned with whether a degree in history can translate into a successful career.

If you're in that group, you will want to learn more about the ways that the study of history has created value and career opportunities.

I was able to attend the American Historical Association's 2015 meeting and learn more about an exciting new initiative, the Global Tuning Project in History. It is helping historians throughout the world clarify and articulate the common skills, habits of mind, and content knowledge created through historical study. It is also helping us all to see how history majors are applying their training in a wide range of career fields.

The American Historical Association (AHA) is the major professional organization of historians in the United States. The AHA recently created a statement about the History Discipline Core to "articulate the ways history supports an educated workforce and citizenry and demonstrate that its value goes far beyond narrow professional training."
You can read the whole statement at the AHA's web page about the Tuning Project, which includes both Core Competencies (abilities) gained through studying history, as well as specific Learning Outcomes (results). These Core Competencies, as stated by the AHA, are listed below. History majors learn to:

  1. Engage in historical inquiry, research, and analysis.
  1. Practice historical empathy.
  1. Understand the complex nature of the historical record.
  1. Generate significant, open-ended questions about the past and devise research strategies to answer them.
  1. Craft historical narrative and argument.
  1. Practice historical thinking as central to engaged citizenship.
Each of these "competencies" includes sub-points that help to explain the specific skill-set of the historian. For example, as a history student, you will learn to research open-ended questions by identifying and synthesizing relevant information; you learn to be empathetic through studying the human past; you develop a sophisticated understanding and skeptical stance about evidence through learning to evaluate the perspectives reflected in the creation of knowledge; you come to understand that all knowledge is provisional; you learn to write effective narratives based on research and evidence; and you learn to be a creative thinker who understands change and is prepared to apply your skill-sets in a wide variety of careers.

Understanding that the world does change and being able to adapt to change is essential for everyone--one of the most important lessons of the past decade is figuring out how to adapt to change, including the collapse or restructuring of many traditional professions as well as the challenges to other fields of knowledge (just for example, consider recent changes in such areas as journalism, economics, finance, law, and education). The future belongs to those of us who can adapt our skills and abilities in occupations that we haven't yet imagined, and who have habits of mind that allow us to understand and adapt to that changing world.

One fascinating example of the ways that the history major (and a humanities education in general) is being appreciated lies in the area of medicine. Another historian clued me in to a recent surge in the number of students who study history (both as majors and minors) to prepare for a career in medicine. He emphasized the many common skill-sets between the two fields: learning to approach patients with empathy and understanding, to compile evidence and evaluate its relevance and importance, to synthesize information, and to master complex ideas and bodies of knowledge, among other issues. There is even a connection from the first interaction that a doctor has with her patient: taking that patient's history.

Interestingly enough, a quick search on the topic of history majors and medical schools revealed a number of stories linking the two areas. One story from Wake Forest University ("So Your Doctor Majored in History") describes its new "Interdisciplinary Pathway to Medicine Program" that guarantees admission to the school's Medical School for "undergraduates majoring in humanities or fine arts." As the story explains,
“Consider the value of having a physician who has learned through undergraduate studies the habit of questioning, of using the imagination to walk in someone else’s shoes, of finding patterns, of balancing moral and philosophical concerns,” says Dean of the College Jacque Fetrow. “When you think about it, the practice of medicine is fundamentally about working with people."
The story continues on to quote the program's director: 
Tom Phillips, director of the interdisciplinary humanities minor at Wake Forest oversees the Pathway program. “We need medical practitioners who know the value of listening,” he says. “So Wake Forest is intentionally looking for undergraduate students who see medicine as a healing art that combines an intimate understanding of human nature in a social context with exceptional science skills.”
A similar story from Butler University emphasizes that
Even as breakthroughs in science and advances in technology make the practice of medicine increasingly complex, medical educators are looking beyond biology and chemistry majors in the search for more well-rounded students who can be molded into caring and analytic doctors. "More humanities students have been applying in recent years, and medical schools like them," says Gwen Garrison, assistant vice president for medical-school services and studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges. "The schools are looking for a kind of compassion and potential doctoring ability. This makes many social-science and humanities students particularly well qualified."
....Michael Sciola, who's been advising premed students at Wesleyan University for the past 13 years, has seen liberal-arts majors become more attractive to medical schools. And he's not surprised that those who stray from science are finding success.

"Medical schools have really been looking for that scholar-physician in the past few years," he says. "We're living in an increasingly complex world, and the liberal arts give you the skills to understand that better."...
History majors can be found in almost every career field, so the overlap between history and medical school is just one example. Stay tuned for more posts about the future of history and the ways that our graduates are putting their educations to work.

1 comment:

Penny Messinger said...

More on humanities as preparation for med school...the revamped MCAT now includes questions on race and class, and more from the humanities and social sciences. Medical schools are looking for applicants with a more holistic understanding of the human condition:

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