Do you want to get a job after graduation? Then do a degree in the Humanities

“What? The Barista degree?” your parents might exclaim (thinking that they will have to subsidize you for the next decade as you bounce from one food service job to the next in a perpetual cycle of underemployment).

To which you can reply (smugly, but not too smugly that they won’t pay for your travel home at Thanksgiving), “The fastest growing sector for job growth is in law, social, community and governmental services. [1] Best people for these jobs? Humanities grads.” (Optional: drop the metaphorical mic and exit the room dramatically).

It is always incredible to me that we cling to these misconceptions about the value of the humanities despite the plethora of data [2] that proves humanities grads are not only highly employable, but they also have higher degrees of job satisfaction. While it takes Humanities grads a few years to catch up to new grads in Sciences and Social Sciences, they surpass their peers in employment rates and income in almost every field (with the exception of engineering) ten years post-graduation.

Mark Cuban, self-made billionaire, recently identified English, Philosophy, and Sociology degrees as the most robot-resistant graduates in the future [3]. Robots will be increasingly utilized for manufacturing, design, engineering, architecture, accounting, and a myriad of other professions that your parents are pressuring you to pursue. But you know what a robot can’t do? Think critically and deploy ethical and moral reasoning to creatively problem solve.

That’s where you come in, Humanities majors!

And doubling back to the barista myth, the top occupations for English-degree holders are lawyers, judges, magistrates and other judicial workers, elementary and middle school teachers and university professors. In fact, you are statistically MORE LIKELY to become a physician or an accountant than work in the food service industry [4]. If your high school math scores were anything like mine, these stats are nothing short of miraculous.

As chair of the English Department at Bishop’s University, I have the privilege of working side by side with students as collaborators. Together we plan an annual international academic conference [5], edit and publish a book of undergraduate essays every year [6], host a film festival [7], coordinate creative writing and journalism retreats, and countless other initiatives. Students get hands-on experience working together on projects to build capacities that are highly valued on the job market.

We also boast a number of experiential learning courses on topics that include academic editing and publishing, communications, event planning, and editing Canada’s longest running student-led literary journal. Students on the English Department Student Leadership Advisory Council build the guiding vision of the department and design professional communication strategies for recruitment and retention. At Bishop’s, we take a student-centred approach to success and satisfaction whereby students (under the mentorship of supportive faculty) drive programming for students.

So this marks the end of the article that you can show your parents – or your parents’ friends, or to your friends who are pursing professional degrees because they think it is the responsible thing to do – to reassure them that you will soon be out in the world as a fully functional adult.


But this next section is for you.

The real reason to do a humanities degree is not to get a job: that approach focuses on the product – the “what” – and misses the entire guiding vision – the “why” – that should be driving the conversation. The big question is: why should you do a degree in the humanities?

Because the most successful people turn what they love into what they do.
You don’t need to know what you want to do with the rest of your life; you just need to be open to the incredible possibilities and hitherto unimagined opportunities life will present to you.

Because you are not a robot.
You are a multi-dimensional, dynamic, creative problem solver.

Because the world needs people who can think critically.
You have the capacity to deploy moral and ethical reasoning to call out injustices and inequalities.

Because you get to write your own story.
Your voice is powerful. Learn how to harness that power by reading other peoples’ voices and refining your own through critical reflection, faculty support, and a myriad of opportunities to express your ideas.

Because you are our only hope.
I don’t want to put any extra pressure on you, but your generation is going to have to clean up this complicated, fraught, messy world – and you need to guide us on how to move forward. To achieve this you will need to take a holistic, interdisciplinary approach and use all the tools at your disposal – tools developed with a humanities education.

I look forward to collaborating with you, and learning from you.

Dr. Jessica Riddell
Chair, Department of English, Bishop’s University
3M National Teaching Fellow (2015)
Chair, Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC)

Photo by Junru Bian

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