Yesterday I blogged a bit on the value of my communication degree. Today I’m diving into the value of a philosophy degree.
Philosophy was actually the first discipline I declared in college. Then, due to recommendations and even more due to my own worry I changed majors to something more “employable.” I switched majors five times trying to find the right fit. It was only as I was finishing up my other degree, in my fourth year of college, that I realized I would always regret not studying philosophy, so I stayed on for two more glorious semesters of nearly all philosophy courses, hitting up as diverse topics as time travel, what the source of identity is, and ancient philosophy, all in one day.
There are a number of reasons that I value my philosophy degree, and here are a few:
- It was fun.
- It was training in how to hold several variables in your mind at once, and think through the possible outcomes as variables are modified. Essentially, it cemented my thinking to be a systems approach.
- It requires practitioners to learn how to talk about complex ideas in a concise and easy to follow way
As an aside, I even got to use my philosophy degree in a literal way in my first librarian position: I collected for the philosophy department. Philosophy is a practical field in that you learn good strategies of mind for any job. It’s a rare graduate who is able to use the knowledge learned in this process as part of their day job. So that was a treat of an assignment to have.
The training in how to think and explain concept topics is even more useful though, and will be useful for the rest of my life. Any organization (or in our case, field) going through change will call on that ability. We have a lot to think about: our history, the field’s values, the changing information environment, user expectations, cultural shifts, etc. And we have to keep all that in mind as we make day-to-day decisions about our work.
I was also surprised to find the discipline to be extremely useful as a teacher, too. In teaching you have to hold in your mind what you’re teaching at the moment, where you’re taking your students by the end of the course, the personalities in the room, what you know about their motivations to be there, learning theory, pedagogical strategies, etc, in order to most effectively teach. That’s a lot of variables. Then, you’re taking a topic that (though it may be simple to you) is new and complex to the learner and having to explain it in a clear way. It was no surprise to me that the first time I was critiqued on my teaching in library school, the librarian said my approach was so logical the students couldn’t help but follow it. (Don’t worry: she followed with a recommendation that I try to be more personable and fun, which of course is something I worked on developing a lot once I really was a teacher.)
I picked up my Women’s and Gender Studies minor during that fifth year as well. I could go on and on about how useful that is as a woman worker, as a wife and mom, as someone in a feminized field, as an employee, coworker, and supervisor, as someone who talks publicly about her work, as a mentor, as a mentee, and on and on, but instead I’ll say that the minor gave me an area to focus on in the field. My first committee appointment was the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship and the first group I reached out to was the (then) Women’s Studies Section of ACRL. In both cases I didn’t feel I had the field experience to contribute, but I did have the subject expertise, and it gave me a type of permission to speak up. And that was the slippery slope that got me as involved in ALA as I am at the moment. But in all seriousness, that minor also gave me life skills and strategies to use in approaching life, which is a pretty useful thing as well.