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Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Liberal Arts, Career Changes, and Transferable Skills

April 8, 2018

Last semester, one of my undergraduate classical studies professors asked me to speak to his current class about how my education prepared me for professional work. (To summarize: I studied classical studies, English, and anthropology. I’ve worked as a tutor, proofreader and editor, program manager in a business school, and in libraries.) Being able to articulate the skills that have leveraged me throughout my career helped my professor’s current students understand the value of their education. On a larger scale, being able to connect soft skills to practical experiences will provide anyone a leg up when making a career change, getting a new job or promotion, or otherwise bringing their unique background to the table. Below are the five skills I identified that have served me well, especially as a librarian.

Creativity
Many of my undergraduate professors encouraged creativity for their assignments. Instead of writing a standard research paper, I once presented information on life in Ptolemaic Alexandria through a fictional monologue. For my capstone project I experimented with writing a play in the style of Euripides to explore Greek drama from a writer’s perspective. As a tutor I translated the chorus of a Metallica song into Ancient Greek as an exercise for a tutee who listened to that music genre. Being creative has been instrumental when working on a limited budget to provide services to business school and library stakeholders. Innovating and producing work “out of the box” as a student turned into something I value now as a library instructor. Presenting information literacy in creative ways makes learning fun, relevant, and most importantly, memorable.

Analysis and Healthy Skepticism
Close reading of both classics and English texts in nearly every class I took built my ability to read between the lines and not take information at face value. Lateral research regarding the travel supplies and space needed for modern armies reveals that Herodotus’ numbers for the Persian army were impossibly overinflated. One English class had us analyze texts through the lenses of different literary criticisms. Evaluating information in context of the bigger picture and from different interpretations, especially now in the era of fake news, are skills I emphasize in the classroom.

Organization and Pattern Recognition
An initiative’s origins, current implementation, and future potential are all vital components of identifying impact. I followed how the changes in parts of speech over the course of a Greek play align with the play’s actions and themes. I marked Jane Eyre’s growing sense of self-worth through her increasing use of active versus passive voice. Recognizing the importance of the big picture helps me as an instructor match my lesson goals to the Framework, student learning outcomes, and students’ academic careers as a whole.

Detail Oriented
On the other side of the big picture and equally important is the ability to see and identify fine moving parts. Much of my undergraduate work involved grammatical analysis of Ancient Greek and Latin texts at the line and word level. For an anthropology project my group spent hours counting felid tooth marks on the bones of their prey. This type of focused detail work makes it more difficult for vital items to fall through any cracks. It formed the necessary foundation to successfully plan, implement, and evaluate events, lessons, and everyday work tasks from web content maintenance to email communication.

Contextualization
Behind every course of action is always the question, “So what?” What is the value of what we do, and does it justify the time and energy spent doing it?

English texts can be interpreted from a feminist, or historical, or reader-centric lens; so what? Well, understanding that people can look at the same piece of information and come to different conclusions highlights the diversity and complexity of the world. In turn, this understanding improves communication and inclusion.

Well-planned events have good food and high attendance; so what? Well, these events improve networking, relationships, good will toward the organization, and stakeholder buy-in. All of these factors play into the organization’s overall health.

This article paints a small portrait of one person’s soft skills; so what? Well, take this opportunity to identify how your academic experiences have mapped to your professional ones so that you too can best articulate what you bring to the table.

My liberal arts background provided the foundation for my career success. I look forward to seeing where my professional skill building experiences take me next.

What steps along your path led you to where you are today?

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