On March 10, 2021, the AU History Department hosted a virtual “Career Night” event for majors and prospective majors. More than thirty students turned out to engage a diverse panel of former AU history majors who talked about their own experiences after graduation. Panelists included those who work in the federal government, those who work as research consultants for private companies, high school teachers, graduate students, and the Smithsonian Institution, among others. Department Chair Eric Lohr opened up the session by noting that history majors cultivate tangible skills that are in perennial demand in the marketplace. Not only that, but studies have also shown that over the long term history majors end up making higher salaries than many other majors that are often viewed as more “applicable” and “relevant” after graduation, including business and economics.
As several panelists noted, the key is getting history majors to learn how to promote the skills they cultivated as an undergraduate student. Justin Broubalow, who graduated with an AU history degree in 2009, pointed out that many people have little idea what exactly historians can do other than recite the battles of the Civil War. “But history is actually a way of thinking rather than a means of compiling facts,” Broubalow observed. “We can evaluate evidence, know when to take something at face value, when to investigate further, and when to synthesize. We know how to approach and solve a problem.” Elizabeth Charles, who now works as historian for the federal government, also emphasized the organizational skills of historians. “Don’t sell yourself short,” she reminded the audience. “We have lots of marketable skills.” It is thus important for history majors to learn how to highlight these skills when applying for jobs and how to talk about them with potential employers.
Several of the panelists also encouraged history majors to be proactive in seeking out people and opportunities in the Washington, D.C. area. Reza Akbari, now a Ph.D. student in the AU History Department, provided advice on how to break into the policy and think tank world. While reaching out to accomplished professionals may seem intimidating at first, Akbari noted, most are eager to offer advice about how they got where they are today. “Anyone in D.C. has been where you are right now,” he said. “People are understanding. They remember being exactly where you are today.” Elizabeth Charles echoed that sentiment. “Talk to the people who have the jobs that you think you might want to do. Don’t be intimidated by titles and institutions. Most people will be very happy to talk about their jobs.”