University of Portsmouth's History Blog

A History degree can open many doors: A student interviews UoP History graduates

In this blog Amber Braddick, recent History with American Studies graduate from Portsmouth, discusses a project she undertook as part of the second year module, ‘Working with the Past’. Amber and some of her fellow students interviewed recent UoP History graduates and asked them about their careers since graduating, Amber found out that having a degree in the Arts and Humanities has been really beneficial to them, something also highlighted in recent studies by organisations such as the British Academy, which Amber also discusses here. The module ‘Working with the Past’ is coordinated by Dr Mike Esbester.

There has been a strong government emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects in recent years. What does this mean to the Arts, Humanities and Social Science (AHSS) graduates? Are they less valuable to employers in the ever-changing world of work? The short answer is no, this is definitely not the case, and there is an abundance of statistical evidence proving this. An AHSS degree equips students with many skills that have been identified by the World Economic Forum as key skills employers look for when hiring staff, for example effective communication skills, critical thinking skills and problem solving skills. As the diagram below demonstrates, all of these highly valued skills are developed in AHSS degrees, including history. Whether it is by critically analysing a source, collaborating in group projects or writing a dissertation; students gain these skills, often without even realising it, while also building up experience and confidence in them throughout their degree.

Source: Qualified for the future, The British Academy

Recently, as part of the ‘Working With the Past’ module, several history students, including myself, interviewed a small pool of graduates from University of Portsmouth (UoP).  We talked about the careers they explored after university and how they developed skills on the History degree programme that made them more employable. Chloe, currently the records manager and policy maker for the Falkland Islands government, highlighted skills in communication, time and project management as well as teamwork and confidence as attributes gained from her History degree which are essential to her current career and used daily. In the interview, Chloe said that she feels that all these skills would still be necessary even if she pursued another career not in the heritage sector, due to their versatility. Overall, the skills learnt in the History degree are fundamental in her job as well as being the foundation in which she has built upon in her Master’s course and continues to use whilst studying for a PhD. (Ed. read Chloe’s blog about her experiences here)

Another interviewee, Melissa, is undertaking the NHS Graduate Scheme and worked as the project manager for the Epsom Downs Racecourse Covid Vaccination Centre. Although this career does not specifically relate to a degree in History, Melissa explained how the research and analytical skills gained are crucial for her job.  Also whilst in university, Melissa acquired excellent communication skills and had the beneficial experience of working with a range of different people. This was extremely helpful as Melissa has to communicate with many types of people daily, even up to an executive level. Out of 1600 people who applied for the graduate scheme, only 210 were offered a place, demonstrating how vital the skills learned on an AHSS course are. It was also interesting during the interview to hear Melissa explain that she applied to university to do a sports science degree but unfortunately did not obtain the grades required and was offered a place on the History course instead. ‘This was quite a lifeline,’ she told us, as ‘history opens so many doors,’ and does not restrict you to one specific career, while also teaching you many key skills you can ‘take forward into any kind of career’.

Source: Qualified for the future, The British Academy

A second graduate whose History degree prepared her for an unrelated career was CW, the assistant to a Member of Parliament (MP). CW found that doing presentations for the degree course gave her the necessary presentational skills essential for the MP assistant role.  They also developed her confidence in talking to lots of different individuals and groups, as she meets with small businesses, charities and visits local schools to ‘bridge the gap between the MP and the constituency when he [the MP] is in Westminster’. Other key skills CW highlights are the analytical and writing skills which are a large focus of a History degree. When applying for her current job, CW was asked to submit examples of written pieces of work and she discusses how her dissertation was perfect to show that she could ‘research, analyse and write to a good standard.’

The last person we interviewed was RD, who is a curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy here in Portsmouth. Again, RD emphasizes how the research and analytical skills gained in her History degree helps daily when ‘interrogat[ing] sources’ and ‘bring[ing] together an exhibition.’

As is demonstrated in the previous few paragraphs, many key skills arose in every interview, for example writing and analytical skills and working with a variety of people. These skills also appear in the top 10 skills for 2025 list, shown below. In fact, most of the skills on the list are taught on a History degree, with the exception of ‘technology design and programming.’ Not only is History a ‘fantastic degree in its own right’ but it also teaches students the key skills needed for employability and a fruitful career. This is explored further on the UoP twitter page!

Source: The Future of Jobs Report 2020

In many newspapers and in some government policies, it is indicated that STEM subjects ‘are the only path to career success,’ however Tom Lyscom, a senior Policy Adviser at the British Academy voices once again that the skills of an AHSS degree ‘help drive economic growth and play [an] essential part of wider society.’ In the ten fastest growing sectors of the UK’s economy, eight sectors employ more graduates from AHSS subjects than any other disciplines. This demonstrates that graduates from AHSS subjects are just as vital to the economy as STEM subjects and that the skills taught are as diverse as our economy.

To conclude, the variety of skills developed on an AHSS degree are advantageous in increasing employability and most of the skills that the University of Portsmouth’s History degree course develops appear on the top 10 skills of tomorrow. These skills are not only transferable to many different career paths and incredibly beneficial on a CV but they also ‘really develops you as a whole person’ and enhance your understanding of other people’s world views. The misconception that STEM subjects are more important that AHSS subjects is not reflected in the British Academy’s ‘Qualified for the future’ report that shares statistics suggesting the gap between employability is ‘negligible’ and Manuel Souto-Otero, a professor in Social Sciences at Cardiff University reveals that degrees in AHSS subjects are still ‘really popular … actually booming’. Whether you have a clear idea of what you want to do in the future and it requires a History degree, or if you’re still trying to decide, AHSS degrees leave doors open to many different opportunities and the flexibility for career changes, as well as developing many important skills that will get you far in whatever profession you choose.



Primary Sources: 

Interview with Chloe, 17th March 2021.

Interview with RD, 18th March 2021.

Interview with CW, 16th March 2021.

Interview with Melissa, 15th March 2021.

Secondary Sources:

Lyscom, Tom. “Being objective about subjects – Showing the value of Politics and other AHSS disciplines.” Political Studies Association. Being Objective About Subjects – Showing the Value of Politics and Other AHSS Disciplines | The Political Studies Association (PSA). Last accessed 31/03/2021.

“Qualified for the future.” The British Academy. Qualified-for-the-Future-Quantifying-demand-for-arts-humanities-social-science-skills.pdf. Last accessed 31/03/2021.

Reidy, Tess. “Arts graduates are flexible’: why humanities degrees are making a comeback.” The Guardian. ‘Arts graduates are flexible’: why humanities degrees are making a comeback | Postgraduates | The Guardian. Last accessed 31/03/2021.

“Success through STEM.” The Department of Education. STEM Strategy-Success through STEM (economy-ni.gov.uk). Last accessed 31/03/2021.

“The Future of Jobs Report.” World Economic Forum. Infographics – The Future of Jobs Report 2020 | World Economic Forum (weforum.org). Last accessed 31/03/2021.

University of Portsmouth Twitter page. Univ. Ports History on Twitter: “What’s that you say? History … no use in the job market? Errmmm, well, no. 9 of the top 10 on this @wef ‘skills of tomorrow’ list are EXACTLY WHAT WE DO WITH OUR STUDENTS! History at Portsmouth: in the present, looking back, ready for the future! https://t.co/dTobbijWwJ” / Twitter. Last accessed 31/03/2021.

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