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The Secret Formula for Success? A Flexible Mind and Internships

Career panels for humanities majors offer advice, encouragement 

By Jeremy Schwab

Humanities majors—whether they’re studying philosophy, English, art history, or another discipline—sometimes get asked the question, “So what are you going to do for a career?” The answer, as many successful former humanities majors know, is that you can do just about anything with a humanities training because of the ways in which it teaches you to see the world. Surveys of employers back this up, emphasizing the value of creative and critical thinking, an understanding of cultural nuance, and the ability to communicate ideas clearly and compellingly.

During a panel discussion and Q&A this spring on “Humanities in the World,” former CAS English major Jay Fielden (CAS’92) highlighted how his ability to solve new problems and think creatively helped him adjust to a major career shift. After years serving as editor-in-chief of Esquire, he decided to try something new, which turned out to be helping a hedge fund communicate its value. “I didn’t find writing for a hedge fund to be horrific,” said Fielden during the March forum organized for students by the BU Center for the Humanities. “I found it very stimulating to start to understand how the global economy works and to think of it as a system.”

Fielden advised students to consider applying for internships in areas that aren’t directly related to their majors in order to figure out what skills they enjoy using in the workplace.  Almost every panelist at the virtual forum (all of them CAS alums), as well as panelists who spoke at an April 12 employer panel on “Careers for Humanities Majors” organized by the BU Center for Career Development, emphasized the value and importance of pursuing internships.

Isabella Sanchez, another CAS English alum, recounted how multiple internships led her to the job she has now, as marketing and sales coordinator for Beacon Press. First, she interned at an art gallery in London while studying abroad through BU. When she was back on campus in Boston, she interned at Beacon Press. She was a week into her third internship when a job opened up for her at Beacon. “Internships are so crucial,” she told the student audience at the April event. “They help you get experience in your field and decide what interests you.”

Other panelists encouraged students to build their career network. “If I were in a student’s position and asked to network, I would probably die a little inside,” said professed introvert Amanda Teo, who serves as chief of staff to the Suffolk County district attorney. “I suggest looking at it instead as ‘How can I learn more about my field?’ People took the time to talk to me when I was networking because this [field] is what they loved.”

Penguin Random House Recruiter Stephen Garlington told the student audience that when he looks at resumes, he cares more about a person’s skill set than where they worked before or what they majored in. “Find a way to transfer your experiences into skill sets (on your resume)—what can you pull out that is of benefit to an employer?” he advised. “I think the days of ‘I’m going to major in X and just do that for my career’ are gone, except maybe in the hard sciences.”

CAS students looking for more resources or career advice can check out the Center for the Humanities website for information on their summer internships for humanities majors, workshops on applying to grad school, and HumaniTeas where they can learn about career paths in the humanities. Students can also contact the Center for Career Development, or learn more about internships both on campus and off on the CAS website. They are also encouraged to join BU Connects and post in the Arts & Sciences in Action group to learn about what opportunities graduates pursue and link up with like-minded alumni.