Some perspective on undergraduate majors and employment

Some perspective on undergraduate majors and employment

Here is a re-presentation of a discussion I initiated on Twitter about choosing an undergraduate major sparked by the first hour of the Diane Rehm Show today (

  1. One of the most frustrating aspects of the higher ed discussion: persistent, and false, assumption that undergrad majors are tied to jobs.
  2. Having a “marketable” major doesn’t guarantee a job in that field anymore than having an “unmarketable” major guarantees unemployment.
  3. @ShaunHuston A “marketable” major means you have to compete w/ everyone else in that market.
  4. @ShaunHuston Why not major in what make you shine differently than the others who are crowded into marketable majors. Be unique. Be you.
  5. @l1brar1an yes; and you will lose in that market to people who have more native skill and passion for the field than you do.
  6. There is no one-to-one relationship between one’s major and one’s post-graduate employment.
  7. @ShaunHuston & it ignores the “real world” our grads must navigate- choosing a career & staying in it forever w/o change is not the norm
  8. @ShaunHuston that’s pretty much limited to those who get post Bachelors degrees & is a privilege sign. But ignoring that allows us to 1/2
  9. @ShaunHuston blame students for choosing the wrong major when they don’t meet the success metrics of those who had opportunities they don’t
  10. @amlibrarian yes. Part of this discussion is about denying structural and contextual factors in (un)employment. Blame the individual.
  11. Many factors will play a role in where, and whether, you get a job after graduation. Some in your control, some not.
  12. @ShaunHuston I’ve been trying to write career advice for some young friends, and I keep stalling. It’s much harder than when I graduated.
  13. @sultryglebe i think you can honestly tell your friends that their undergraduate major most likely won’t be a barrier to finding a job.
  14. @sultryglebe getting employment and trying to work in a specific field are not the same. No, there aren’t many jobs in philosophy, but …
  15. @sultryglebe … plenty of philosophy majors have good jobs (and I’m using philosophy as one example of a major that gets derided).
  16. @sultryglebe students are still better off majoring in a field they care about, then majoring in something solely for job-reasons.
  17. @sultryglebe for most people, in most cases, the undergraduate degree is more important than the major.
  18. @ShaunHuston It’s just knowing that when I double-majored in Romance Languages and History, college cost less and job market was better.
  19. @ShaunHuston I wouldn’t change my schooling, but we need to go back to that same (or a better) level of opportunity for after.
  20. @sultryglebe yes. but those are questions about issues beyond the control of any individual.
  21. In many cases, your major will be one of the least important factors.
  22. Students: don’t major in something solely because you think it will lead to a job. That will diminish the value of your education.
  23. @ShaunHuston related maxim – Don’t feel you have to major in something just because it comes easy to you (if it doesn’t also excite you)
  24. @amlibrarian yes. choosing to challenge yourself could be another way to distinguish yourself to employers cc: @l1brar1an.
  25. @ShaunHuston @amlibrarian Or in my case choosing not to take another year in French means you graduate with w/ Sociology instead of English
  26. Major in something meaningful to you. Most people get jobs because of a wide range of qualities.
  27. What everyone pressuring you to major in something “practical” won’t tell you is that most people don’t end up working in “their field”.
  28. Major in dance. Major in lit. Major in sociology. Major in geography. Major in religion. Major in whatever moves you.
  29. Your education is more than your major. Your major is a small part of what you can offer employers. A job is only one aspect of your life.
  30. @ShaunHuston uJourney helps students choose wisely. However, there’s only 1 job for every 2 college grads, so even good majors struggle.
  31. Here’s the thing: in the U.S., the tendency is to want to make everything a matter of individual choice.
  32. Don’t have a job after college? It’s your fault for choosing an “unmarketable” major.
  33. This line of thinking masks the underlying dynamics of the economy.
  34. If we blame 20 yos majoring in theater for their own unemployment, we don’t have to confront how power is exercised in a capitalist culture.
  35. That string of tweets was sparked by the first of hour of @drshow today, particularly listening to callers, not so much Derek Bok.

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Storify in the classroom update

At the end of Winter 2011, I began experimenting with using Storify as a way to supplement class material and discussions. My thought was that, compared to use of course blogs, this would be a more efficient and visually appealing way to share content with students. My last update on this practice is from July of last year.

Here are thoughts and observations from this year.

  • The one class in which I consistently use Storify is GEOG 107, which is introductory cultural geography. I “reset” the timeline each term, meaning I strip the content out and rebuild it each quarter depending on what class discussion is like. I’ve noticed that with some sections I end up with a lengthy timeline and for others I only make a few additions. What’s interesting is that this does not seem to correlate with how often students seem to reference or read the narrative, or even, to how active and engaged a class is otherwise. For example, my current group of students includes a number of individuals who went to Storify from the class blog to read the faculty page for our textbook author, but, despite that early interest, I haven’t added anything new, and class discussions are, lively and interesting.
  • I suspect that my choice to use the service here is more dependent on what students are interested in than if they are. Some topics lend themselves better to further exploration and discussion online than others. I’ve noticed, for example, that I am most likely to use Storify in my intro course for follow-up to discussions about youth culture and the body, both of which are visually-oriented, at least in the way I teach them in this course. With other topics, whether I add material to Storify or not seems more dependent on what kinds of questions students ask or where I end up with loose ends than it does on the topic itself or levels of student engagement.
  • In Fall I taught a course on using digital video in the social sciences and made extensive use of Storify to share resources on filmmaking, but, based on class questions and use of the course blog, I’m not sure that very many students made use of that timeline, despite needing the help. I do see that I have 68 views of that page, which suggests that it got some use, but maybe not of the right kind. It did not seem as if students got into the habit of using that page as a reference for problem solving. It could be that the “timeline” format is not conducive to providing a ready reference for guidance, even though it does allow me to be responsive to questions as they arise in class. Or maybe students just preferred to be told what to do as opposed to working through problems themselves. I’m sure that someone in the class must have found those resources useful and I don’t know about it because they were successful on their own. In the future, I should think about asking students directly about their use of the site.
  • This term I am looking for supplemental material on a regular basis for my upper-division course in political geography, but I am relying on Pinterest (I even started two new boards to support the class, Geography graphics & Geopolitics) rather than Storify. This is something I noticed the other day, and have only begun to think about. I think one reason for this habit might be that I do not have a primary text assigned and, therefore, a less obvious “narrative spine” for the class on which to build a Storify page. It may also be that, for whatever reason, the convenience of “pinning” has made more sense for me when I have begun to look for material for this class than has working from my page on Storify.

Whether Storify or Pinterest, these resources have been valuable ways for me to share, especially, images, graphics, and videos with students, and are far preferable, and less time-consuming, than building Power Point slides or constantly embedding content on a blog.

More on Storify in the classroom

At the end of Winter term I started to use Storify in my classes. That term, I put out a short narrative about Marjane Satrapi for my Introductory Cultural Geography students, who had read Persepolis. In Spring, I made use of Storify for all of my courses.

For me, the most interesting application was in my Spring section of the Intro course. There I built a timeline around topics of interest where there was limited classroom time or where I thought there would be value in letting students explore on their own time, especially through multiple media.

I intended for this to be a supplement, and generally did not refer to the page during class discussions, although on a couple of occasions I added items to the story that had first been discussed in class. I particularly liked having a rich way to show students what I did while away at the Association of American Geographers meetings, and for which I canceled class.

I did announce updates via the class blog and there is some discussion of the timeline on that site. According to Storify’s stats, there have been seventy-six views of that page, but I don’t really know how many of those are from students in the class.

I am going to repeat this exercise next Fall, and maybe I will make more use of the narrative in class, or give students an opportunity to suggest additions. It occurred to me later that asking about use of the story would have been a good evaluation question at the end of the term.

In History and Philosophy of Geography, a small seminar course for majors and minors, I built a quick story outlining my path to becoming a geographer, and for Geography & Film I collected a set of infographics as an aid to discussing Inception. In both of these cases, I used Storify more as a presentation tool than as a way to build an independent resource. However, the web-based interface and integrated search function made Storify a better choice for making these presentations than a program like PowerPoint would have been. In the case of the Inception graphics, especially, I appreciated having that easily available to my students for preview and later reference.

Experimenting with Storify in the classroom

After learning about Storify from Ryan Cordell on ProfHacker, I went to the site and requested an invitation to the private Beta-test. This past Tuesday evening I got my invite and went to work on this piece for use in my introductory cultural geography class. The next day was the last day of class and we were finishing up Marjane Satrapi’s Complete Persepolis and I wanted to show my students what kind of cultural and political figure Satrapi has become since the success of her books and film adaptation. I also thought that this was a good moment to elaborate on the kind of textual analysis we had been doing with the book as they prepared to write their final papers.

In showing the service to a colleague, I was asked how Storify was different from a blog, and that’s a fair question. Most of what you can do with Storify you can also do with a blogging service. However, I also see some important differences that make the newer platform useful for specific purposes in a way that a blog might not be.

For starters, the timelines or stories that you build with Storify are cataloged and presented as standalone works, making the service useful in situations where what you want to do is share something in particular with students outside the context of a wider web of content, as would be the case on a blog. Yes, students can navigate back to your homepage on Storify, but whereas that kind of movement is promoted in most blogs, it is not the focus of Storify; the individual pieces are.

The user interface is also different. You have two columns. On the left is where you search for content within a variety of services, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google. There is also a url importer for pulling in specific images, pages, etc. On the right is your timeline. You drag and drop content from the search column into that column. Once you have done that you can reorder items in the timeline, or delete them. You can also add text above or below each item in the story.

The integration of web search into the interface for composing is one advantage I see for Storify over most blogging services. The drag and drop function, as opposed to going through a series of downloads and uploads, copying and pasting of content, is another.

I also think that it is worth noting that Storify is mainly about pulling in and organizing content from elsewhere, whereas blogs are primarily used and intended for original writing. Again, people do use blogs to aggregate content, and someone certainly could use Storify primarily for their own writing, but, comparatively at least, I don’t think those choices take best of advantage of the respective platforms. As Cordell notes in his ProfHacker piece, when you have a presentation in mind that would benefit from incorporating a variety of online media, Storify looks like an excellent choice for composing that work.

The service is still under development, obviously, and I have encountered a few flaws or bugs. After saving my Satrapi story on a couple of occassions, for example, I found some of the items placed in a different order than where I left them. There were also a few times where I had trouble getting a drop to take in the timeline. I’ve noticed that if you drag something from the search column and add it to the timeline and then remove it from the timeline, it does not reappear on the search side unless you redo the search. So, still working through out some rough edges to be sure, but if this seems interesting to you, well worth requesting an invitation.

I have already begun building a piece for use in my geography and film class (the screen grab is of that work) next term, and am thinking of using Storify to create a supplemental “narrative” for some of my classes where I can pick up on points of interest that would otherwise go without much elaboration due to constraints of time or outlets for presentation and discussion, or to provide ready reference resources to students.

Update: I have a few more stories for use in my classes going at Storify. My homepage is here.