While this is a farm blog, I hope you will indulge me a little today. I have a lot on my mind and the greatest of it all is fear of the unknown.
I am about to finish my Masters degree in American History, which brings me a great sense of accomplishment and pride. I also remember Caddyshack teasing me, when I announced I was going to grad school for history, “Oh, you want fries with that?” What he was saying in his witty way is that a history degree will not take you far in the job market. I dismissed his comment and went forward with my plans because after working almost thirty years in business at the secretarial/clerical level, I really wanted to do a job I love–even if it was a little more difficult to find work. I want to teach college and I love historical research. In fact, I find it distressing to be in the middle of a deep concentration in a subject for the library to decide to close (after I’ve been there for hours) or for the internet to go down. And I am good at research…ask one of my professors who pumped my ego recently by telling me, “I believe you are the best graduate level researcher I have ever seen.” I really appreciated the compliment.
Then the economy crashed.
This is where the fear comes in. Although my Bachelors degree concentrated on the History of the Middle East and most of my classes were graduate level, my degree itself simply says “History.” Although my minor in International Studies also focused on the Art and Culture of the Middle East and North Africa, it is only listed as “Minor-International Studies.” I could have been a double major, but opted to drop to the minor in order to start grad school concurrent to my last semester of my senior year. Yet what do I do with these degrees? Where do I find work that pays enough for me to give Uncle Sam back the money he lent me in a sizeable chunk? How do I convey to a future employer that, in spite of an MA in American history, I see myself as a cultural historian and that I believe it is the cultural influences in our lives that affect our view of the world, our approach to politics, our economic futures, and our religious, intellectual, and social accomplishments?
I find very few jobs for historians, particularly at this time of year, fewer still that do not utilize computer applications that kick you out of the system if your resume does not include set keywords or phrases. Try as I might otherwise, I will always be an historian of American history based on those programs and I am unsure how to phrase my application to show my educational range.
Yesterday I looked over forty pages of federal jobs and twenty pages of jobs in Kentucky and found a definite trend. There are plenty of jobs in medical, social work, and IT, but few in other fields and only a tiny number of jobs for historians. Most of those seemed to require previous experience with the National Register of Historic Places or similar bureaucratic institutions and none were appropriate to my focus and discovery of a previously unheard of coal war in Western Kentucky. There were no jobs for historians, at all, in my state, in spite of its lengthy and significant participation in national events.
Even if I fanagled around the computer applications, it is rather discouraging to think I would have to move from this land and halfway across the country to pursue my career. Although I know people do that every day, for me, it would also mean changing to a long-distance relationship, putting off our wedding, or entirely breaking our engagement. I need something closer to home.
I looked at local community colleges, since the MA allows me to teach lower-level history survey courses. I checked online sites, called the schools themselves, even sent “blind” resumes, but I found that many of these schools now hire new PhDs to fill adjunct positions or provide survey classes online and therefore do not need classroom instructors. I checked into teaching high school and found that I needed to take post-bac survey-level classes, the same ones I am qualified to teach, in order to enter an alternative path to certification and those programs take a year to complete. I spoke with the local school district and was told: 1)”History majors are a dime a dozen,” and 2) “We never hire MAT (alternative route) instructors.”
I checked into technical writing. I can analyze information and put it into a coherent form usually, and even off the top of my head (like this blog) make few grammar and spelling errors that are easily corrected if I proofread (unlike this blog). The few jobs I found listed required a security clearance before hand. I don’t know how to get one without employment by those who require the clearance. Even so, that was only one job out of the entire listing for the state.
Several people recently told me I should write. I love the idea and I do have two articles to prepare for submission to the Kentucky Historical Society within the next month or so…after my MA defense is complete. Unfortunately, you cannot get nutrition from complimentary copies of their magazine. It will, however, provide the all important “published” status I need for acceptance as a writer. Unfortunately, freelance writing does not provide a reliable paycheck and Uncle Sam will want his mortgaged-sized payments on a timely basis.
So here am I at a crossroads, or rather, a roundabout in my education and work path. Do I go deeper in debt, knowing I will never pay off the student loans given my age, and plan the next five years to work for a PhD? Do I take on the debt and enter a Secondary Education program? Do I keep looking for work and expect to move out of Kentucky? Do I return to the same work I did prior to school which did not require a degree and which pays extremely little? Do I hope and pray that somehow this will all work out because someone out there somewhere has been planning my future all along and waiting for me to get to this point?
I am opting for the latter.
I have only been looking for full-time work a few days and can only imagine the difficulty those with higher degrees, of similar age, and with similar relocation concerns must feel after being out of work two years or more. All I can say to them (and myself) is: Hang in there. It will get better. Or as my retired military father used to say,
“Don’t worry, G.I. More sukoshi pay day.”