New course helps students make educated decisions when entering workforce after graduation

Photo of a classroom from behind. The backs of students' heads are visible.

Courtesy of Gloria Ko

A new course, Careers in Humanities, will teach students valuable skills for their transitions to the workplace.

Anushka Chakrabarti | March 9, 2022

Humanities students often face structural gaps when it comes to preparing for careers after graduation.

A new class, Careers in Humanities (COMPLIT 191P/ENG M191P) aims to change that, offering students career advice; opportunities to build their personal portfolio, CV or resume; and help with general interviewing skills.

It is a collaborative effort between the Department of Comparative Literature and the UCLA Career Center, with Professor David MacFadyen teaching the course and Senior Director of Alumni Career Engagement Gloria Ko arranging alumni speakers to bolster students’ understanding of the concepts and career pathways taught.

“I just felt that there was a gap between the moment when a humanities student graduates and goes on to the workplace, so I double-checked to see if this course existed, but it didn’t,” said MacFadyen. “So that made it possible to turn the idea into an actual class.”

He added that in the current world, many students graduate with debts they are expected to pay off, and not having distinct career prospects or paths to follow can be stressful. The structure of the course plays into the concept of storytelling that students in the humanities are familiar with.

“So the main deliverable in the class is a portfolio. Students have to produce a superior cover letter and a much better CV or resume than they already have,” he said, “because both of those are stories.”

What the class does is translate those tools of persuasive rhetoric from literature into everyday ways that students can narrate their own story and then persuade an audience of their worth, MacFadyen said.

In the fall, the course followed a hybrid format which included prerecorded lectures and then a live Q&A with alumni speakers. Ko and MacFadyen work in tandem to divide the grading and get to know how best to serve the students.

“So by the time that alumni speakers come around, we have a good sense of, ‘Okay, these are some areas people are interested in,’” Ko said. “That guides who we bring in and what we do.”

She added that the alumni are eager to volunteer their time to help these students achieve their career goals.

“We had a lot of alumni interested in helping to give back to our students as well,” Ko said.

Another interesting aspect of the course is that most of the alumni that were brought in are well-established in their careers now, but graduated college into a similar depressive market as students nowadays are going into due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olivia Hughes, a former student in the class, said the course helped her narrow down her career aspirations. The weekly reflections helped her thoroughly evaluate what she wanted to be doing.

“I learned that I want to work in video game and production project coordination and project management roles. Knowing this, I applied to an internship at Activision Blizzard on the ‘Call of Duty’ titles and I landed it!” Hughes said. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten here without the help of Gloria, Barbara  (Van Nostrand), and Professor MacFadyen and their amazing advice and guidance.”

The course proved such a success that the team hopes to continue to offer it and eventually engage with students from all backgrounds, not just the humanities.

“It’s all about giving students the tools to feel confident in their choices to move forward in their careers,” Ko said.