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So you’ve got yourself a Humanities degree… What next?

. 9 min read . Written by Priyanka Sutaria
So you’ve got yourself a Humanities degree… What next?

"So, what is the scope after a humanities degree?

Taking a dip in the waters of a humanities degree is risky business in a country like India. Our lives are shadowed by aspirations of prosperity, and these aspirations are compounded when we choose to take up the study of a subject which doesn’t come with a pre-planned career path.

It is hard to convince that one old family friend that you know what you’re doing. It’s harder to tell them that it’s none of their business.

So let’s talk about it… what can you do if you decide to go into the humanities?

Case studies: How to turn your Humanities degree into a career

What jobs can you get after an English Literature degree?

I didn’t take up literature; literature took me up. I always knew I would be a writer, so I decided to study English Literature as my major in university. I took up Philosophy as my minor, because I had an Introduction To Philosophy class in my first year that I really enjoyed.

At the end of my course, I realised two things: I loved writing poetry and I enjoyed gender studies. Since I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to pursue in my postgraduate studies, I decided to apply for a job as a research assistant to an author who was writing a book about sexual violence in India. I also wrote poetry simultaneously, and was invited to perform my work at various events. In that year, I also learnt video scripting and production, did social media content and marketing, and picked up the ability to consume, digest, and recontextualise a large amount of information at a quick pace.

Although I loved the research process, I decided that writing was my primary calling, and applied to MA Creative Writing programs in the UK. Despite specialising in poetry writing, I learnt how to structure, plan, and edit my work in a professional manner. This gave me the space to apply to a wide range of jobs:

  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Communications
  • Content curation
  • Social media management (and more!)

I finalised on a job as a content creator where I do a little bit of every role listed above, because my skill set might be standard, but it is extremely cross-functional.

My plans for the future include getting a PhD in Creative Writing and teaching it at the university level, while publishing my poetry manuscript and writing freelance on the side.

What is the scope after doing an Economics degree?

Researcher and Community Manager at Kool Kanya, Shivani Kowadkar has always been interested in Economics as a subject, and decided to take it up as her major in her undergraduate studies in combination with Statistics and Sociology. This interesting combination was decided upon with a purpose in mind—it bridged the chasm between the mathematical nature of Economics and the the cultural context of Sociology. She opted for this subject palette with the idea that she wanted to pursue public policy. The broad surface areas and depths of the subjects would help achieve that goal in a nuanced way. In fact, she didn’t even have a specific focus point with policy yet, because she wanted to keep her options open.

After getting her BA, she saw most of her peers start working at consultancies and research organisations, followed by the typical MBA. But with policy on her mind, Shivani decided to apply to TISS (and NLSIU, although she chose the former) for an MA in Development Studies. She specifically wanted to do two more years in a humanities environment, because she realised that she needed that as the base for her career ambitions.

I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the exploratory nature of studying in a humanities context,” she says. “It also keeps my options open, because Development Studies has more scope than Public Policy as a course.”

With a similar reasoning to why she didn’t want to do an MBA, Shivani also didn’t want to take up the imminent choice of a PhD after her MA. She explains, “I don’t want to go from ‘how’ to ‘why’. Rather, I want to know what exact topic I want to research before I decide to take the PhD route.”

Towards the end of her masters, Shivani saw her peers move on to get into journalism, the UPSC, social research organisations, and other non-PhD choices. For her, this underscores the fact that within the Humanities, options never get narrower.

Instead, at every point in your studies, you have the ultimate luxury of discovering more options. To put it in perspective: after a management course, you might have no option but an MBA; after an eco-soc degree, you can do an MBA, but you can also do a lot more than that!

“Humanities opens up the world. It is not a funnel, but an ever-growing canvas,” Shivani tells me.

Currently, Shivani wants to explore the corporate sector. She is a management trainee, and she is thoroughly enjoying it, because it gives her the ability to apply all that she has studied. Recently, she has started looking into business schools, because it’s what she is interested in at the moment in terms of her career. She wants to get into management consultancy, followed by taking up a PhD in management. She concludes by saying, “As you can see, I didn’t go looking for the subject. I let it come to me. But I won’t close the door on that now. I want to let the future play out, no interference.”

What career can you pursue after a History degree?

Daksh Kohli, who is a Video Content Creator at Kool Kanya, has studied History from Delhi University. But his journey did not start with the Humanities; he found his way to it.

During junior college, Daksh opted for commerce because he was still unsure about what he wanted to do in his career. He always wanted to do something creative in the field of visuals – photography and videography – but he decided to take the ‘safe’ route of commerce, because creative fields are usually seen as unreliable in terms of financial security.

At that age, as it is with many students in India, he was concerned about having stability and backup.

Taking commerce meant that if I didn’t end up finding success in filmmaking, I could go on and do a B.Com and work in the corporate sector,” he says. “But it is not what I wanted out of my career.”

By the end of twelfth standard, he had come to terms with the fact that he did not enjoy numbers and accounts, and went on to choose History as his major for his BA. His interest in the social sciences led him to this decision. He considered opting for a filmmaking course, but decided against it because he figured out that he could learn that simultaneously on his own.

Daksh tells me, “History really changed the way I think, act, and create. It really altered and shaped my worldview and perspective of society at large. It truly made me look at the world with a larger frame of reference, which is so necessary when it comes to filmmaking.”

With a course which spanned the history of the world, from the inception of the universe to Indian Independence, he was able to reimagine how and why he wanted to get into filmmaking. Visualising his interest in filmmaking as a kind of storytelling, Daksh realised that his History degree helped him focus his concerns.

“I have realised that the stories, period, and individuals that I want to write about and make films about all come from my study of history,” he says.

Going ahead, Daksh wants to focus on creating stories through the visual medium. By combining all the technical aspects (which he did actually learn himself!) and learning from his Humanities degree, he hopes to be making hard-hitting documentaries in the near future.

What are the advantages of taking up an Arts degree for your career?

What we get from the arts is perspective. It is not merely a set of subjects, but a way of learning.

When done right, the humanities offer an individual a panoramic perspective of the world, which can shape the way in which each person works, lives, and consumes in this world.

Here are some of the benefits of choosing to study a humanities subject:

Interdisciplinary focus: Humanities provides a holistic study of the world. Some fields are so narrow that they resist the existence of a world defined by the study of art, history, culture, and people. The study of humanities is a great medium to infuse your career with the ‘humanness’ that is necessary to be a part of a society, and contribute to it.

Avoid forced specialisation: I had never been the sort of person to top a class, but when I took arts in 11th standard, I was finally able to study only those subjects that I wanted to. This gave me the push to work harder, and do better. In India, we enforce specialisation far too early. This pressurises children to take up the subjects their parents, or society at large, expects them to. Eventually, these children grow up to become adults who might be successful, but are also likely unhappy in their field because they did not make that choice for themselves.

Employee value: More and more, employers are looking for candidates who have been educated beyond the confines of their respective fields. This value placed on reading and writing, communication, logic and reasoning, as well as cross-functionality make humanities students more likely to do well in interviews.

Scope, scope, and more scope: I am still discovering the various routes my career could take in the future, and the reason I am able to adapt and grow into those routes is because I have also studied all the subjects which surround my chosen field. Taking up the humanities can enhance the applicability of your chosen field to a great extent. I chose English Literature as my major, but the study of history, economics, psychology, culture, and more has thoroughly shaped the way in which I approach literature, and therefore my work as a writer. The same can happen for literally any other career.

Besides, as Quora user Himanshu Shekhar lists out, there are tens of fields you could go into as a humanities student. There is nothing but scope in taking up the arts.

Here is Himanshu’s list, which is still not exhaustive despite listing more than 25 possibilities:

Archaeology, Anthropology, Civil Services, Geography and Cartography, Economics, Heritage, Management and Historian, Library Management, Political Science, Population Science, Psychology, Sociology, Social Service, Teaching, Linguistics, Mass Communication/Media, Research, Writing, Hospitality , Fine Arts and Performing Arts, Fashion and Interior Designing, Travel and Tourism, Law.

Why do we still question the arts?

It is thoroughly problematic when a choice of degree is given the third-degree just because we don’t value certain professions. Every profession is a building block for the economy of this country, as well as that of the world. A product or a service is no less ‘valuable’ because we stigmatise the likely ease with which it may or may not lead to success.

Besides which, it is also important to consider when we study to create a career, that a one-track worldview does not a successful person make.

It isn’t medicine which rakes in the money, it is the dedication to health and wellness. It is not engineering which brings stability, it is the creation of products and services which aid humans.

For me, the humanities are the most stimulating and satisfying learning experiences of my life. They have constantly offered a path outside of objectivity, which makes all my work individual and varied. It gives not only wisdom, but the tools to apply that wisdom to the contemporary. As it says in an article by India Education, the arts give you a chance to explore  “…[the] religious, political, and social questions that are at the heart of human culture and life.”

At the end of the day, I truly believe that while science may provide a solution, the method is oriented by the humanities.

To all those who still question the validity of the humanities: Boo! Do better! There is more to the world than predetermining what might lead to success.

Do you have any stories about having to justify your educational choices? Let us know!