Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

What do Social Science students do after they graduate?

Some academic degree programs are directed towards a particular employment goal – Accountancy graduates become accountants, Travel and Hospitality Industry graduates work in the travel and hospitality industries, and so on. Quite clearly, this is not the case with Social Science graduates – relatively few of whom go on to become Historians, Political Scientists, Sociologists, Southeast Asian Studies experts, or whatever other subject area in the Social Sciences has caught their eye.

Yet, in employment terms, a Social Science degree should be a very good preparation for a large number of jobs. Important though the actual content of the courses a Social Science student has studied may be, what is even more important are the mental habits and study skills that the student has acquired during his or her program of study. At the most basic, a Social Science student should learn how to think and critically consider the ideas, documents and information that they encounter in their lives. The Social Sciences are diverse – Anthropology, Psychology, Economics and the rest are all different perspectives on the human world, and none of them are a single, unified body of knowledge. Controversy and complexity abound. That can be very intimidating for some – perhaps particularly for those brave (or foolhardy? 🙂 ) souls who go on to do PhDs, but most Social Students seem to learn how to cope with this diversity of ideas – working out their own philosophies of the social world, and in the process learning to critically consider alternative perspectives. As I have argued elsewhere, human beings naturally develop their own philosophies of life, but generally these are implicit and not reflected on, whereas a good Social Science program asks students to think and consider their own answers to important questions (See ‘Philosophy in Everyday Life’, November 2013).

When they graduate, therefore, Social Science students should have the ability to engage in any area of work that requires them to think and assess information. They should also have acquired the ability to read, summarize and digest a large amount of written material, and be able to present their own judgments in a thoughtful way. In the case of my own students – for the most part Thais living in a Thai world, and often with quite limited English-language abilities when they first start their studies – they should also have mastered the ability to understand complex English and present their own ideas clearly in English – very important job skills in an increasingly globalized world.

We have never had the time or resources to make a comprehensive survey of our graduates’ post-college careers. Using Facebook groups, the faculty have remained in contact with many, and for those there is a great diversity of outcomes. At a recent Social Science dinner, attended by a number of our alumni, I did a quick survey, and found that my dining companions included several individuals who worked in broadcasting, a couple of journalists, a trainee at one of the embassies, a junior manager at a hotel, a visa coordinator, a lawyer, a part-time disk jockey, several people who worked as assistant managers and coordinators in companies and a translator/interpreter. Over the years, we have also had a number of graduates who worked for non-governmental organizations (particularly with refugee agencies), the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the airline industry (both as pilots and cabin crew). We also have several who became school teachers and academics. Again, many of our most academic graduates have gone on to do Masters’ degrees and Doctorates, including at some very prestigious universities (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, SOAS, Science Po, Geneva, Manchester, Harvard, etc.).

I also note that our graduates are very diverse bunch – as they were when they were our students. Some are very academic, others not. Some found it easy to breeze through their studies with a steady raft of A grades, whilst others had to painfully struggle to pass and retake courses when they failed. Some of our graduates who have most impressed me are those who found their studies difficult but eventually prevailed and went on to be very successful in their careers – often in fields with a strong element of social idealism and service.

There is no one path in life which Social Science graduates should take. Each should find his or her own way, following what I hope are their own ideals and interests to find careers that are satisfying, enjoyable and fulfilling.

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This entry was posted on July 26, 2014 by in Education and tagged , , .
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