For as long as I have been studying at university, I have been hearing the theory that obtaining a History degree can prove to be the key to success for a career in fields as diverse as law, journalism, public relations and even finance to name but a few. While I had often seen charts and graphs and booklets which indicate that UCL History graduates end up pursuing a variety of careers, for me it was still something difficult to grasp. What is it that makes a History degree so appealing to employers? How can I be suitable for a career in law without having even studied law? Can I be sure that I am pursuing the ‘right career’ for me? What if I do not have any idea what I want to do after I finish my studies?
Then on the 19th of January, the History Department, the History Society and UCL Careers organised a panel event featuring recent UCL History alumni. The simple fact that the room was full of fellow classmates from all years of study was proof that I am not the only one to be puzzled by the above questions. From the very beginning even the brief description of the speakers’ careers started to answer whether a History degree can indeed open the door to different types of career paths; Charlotte Johnsen ’04 is a Managing Associate at Linklaters, a multinational law firm, Peter Cruickshank ’11 is currently working at the United Nations Environment Programme, Amardip Panesar ’11 is an International Commercial Card Sales Associate at JP Morgan and Ashley Cowburn ’13 is already a reporter for the Observer/Guardian.
Two words can perfectly summarise my conclusions from the discussions with the panellists: ‘relief’ and ‘determination’. I use the former to describe my feelings when I realised that there is no single, perfectly sign-posted and illuminated road to success. What all the alumni shared in common was the fact that prior to the end of their studies none of them knew exactly what career they wanted to pursue. It was certainly not an easy task and some of them faced a number of rejections from potential employers or ended up changing their area of focus altogether. I specifically remember Peter who ‘experimented’ with the banking sector before finally realising that what he really wanted to do was to work towards the protection of the environment through an NGO. The discussion clearly proved that those who are determined to reach their goal will eventually be rewarded for their efforts and as they say ‘there is no such thing as failure, only delayed success.’ After all, the theory that a History degree is a an arrow in one’s quiver is apparently true; our panellists’ experience tells them that such a qualification indicates that the candidate is a critical thinker able to undertake both independent and group research while also being an open-minded thinker and communicator, qualities necessary for almost all careers. Finally, our panellists agreed that while internships and placements in your area of interest certainly strengthen your curriculum vitae, at the bottom line every kind of experience is useful even if it seems unrelated to your aspired career. The quality of experiences that one gains coupled with an analytical presentation of their significance, can definitely take you a long way.
Discussing with some friends after the end of the event, we were again puzzled. This time however, there was a fundamental difference; rather than being afraid of the future and only seeing dead-ends, the event had infused us with anticipation for the open-ended future with its vast array of possibilities lying before us.
Nikolaos Souslous is a second year student studying BA History at UCL.