Interdisciplinary Studies and You: An Alternative Graduate Option for English Majors

Katherine Williamsby Katherine Williams
Student Advisor, 2013-2015
Arkansas Tech University, Russellville, AR

As a graduate with a bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing and a minor in Film Studies, I have been asked by many relatives, friends, and nosy strangers what I am going to do for a living. Most of the time, the only thing they can come up with is teaching, but with a family of teachers that profession is the least appealing to me. Many Sigma Tau Delta students may be in the same situation, and if they are considering graduate school, their only feasible option may also appear to be teaching. A graduate degree in the liberal arts, however, is another option for students in the humanities.

A significant number of recent articles have discussed the relevance and necessity of hiring employees with a background in the humanities. Several articles posted on the official Sigma Tau Delta Facebook page indicate how frequently the topic appears in popular culture. In fact, many news publications such as The New York Times and Atlantic Monthly report that backgrounds in the humanities are not only important, but in demand in the working world.

A Master of Liberal Arts (MLA), also known as Master of Interdisciplinary Studies or Master of Liberal Studies, encompasses all the skills humanities students learned during their first four years: critical thinking, articulate written and oral communication skills, in-depth research, and the ability to examine their own as well as others’ ideas. This graduate program often involves the study of multiple fields, depending on the student’s interests. For example, an MLA student can study history and theater, fine arts and journalism, anthropology and English, and much more. Overall, the program benefits students who wish to continue their academic journey but do not want to be limited to a single discipline. It also encourages a well-rounded collection of knowledge of the past and present.

opportunityAs for employment, MLA students need not worry that all their hard work will land them as fry cooks at their local fast food joints; the exhilarating (and also intimidating) benefit of a liberal arts degree is that graduates can be competent in almost any career. Arkansas Tech MLA graduate Wyatt Tise explains that this program is “an inter-disciplinary field which allows for the study of multiple subjects to further the understanding of how these subjects relate, such as Economics to Fine Arts. Large companies employ MLA students in positions that need to have the ability to communicate between departments, such as Graphic Arts, Accounting, and Marketing and Sales. Personally-owned businesses and larger companies benefit from the understanding of how social waves affect sales of products.” Other lucrative careers for MLA graduates can include counseling, museum curating, and, with further education, careers in law.

Friends and loved ones asking, “What are you going to do after college?” mean well when they ask this, but is it necessarily a helpful question to ask? Are we looking at knowledge as a means to an end, rather than as an opportunity to explore other important questions like, “Who am I?” or, “How will the decisions we make now affect the world in the future?” Going to college for a specific job may not be the most practical idea if the job we’ve trained for may no longer be there by the time we graduate. The skills English students already learn by reading advanced literature, writing thought-provoking research, and discussing ideas with one another, demonstrate abilities that cannot be displayed in a checkbook but by continual practice of seeking knowledge. Graduate-level academics in the Liberal Arts and pursuing, e.g. an MLA degree, can further nurture these skills, and may lead to a successful and rewarding career for students.

The links below include several of the news articles featured on the official Sigma Tau Delta Facebook page, as well the MLA site from my current university and the homepage for the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs.

Arkansas Tech University – Masters in Liberal Arts

Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs

“Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires”

“The Humanities in Crisis? Not at Most Schools”

“Oh, the humanities!”

“Why the Humanities Still Matter”

“Actually, the Humanities Aren’t in Crisis”

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