HST major

One of our junior (now senior) History majors, Madina Bizhanova, has interviewed History faculty members and summarised her reflections on career perspectives after graduation in the following post, which we publish for all those who are thinking about majoring in History.

Every time I tell someone that I am majoring in History, the usual follow-up question is where I am going to work with such a degree. Not long ago I did not know the answer myself. Most of this summer I spent exploring what kind of job opportunities there are for History majors and what kind of graduate programs would best provide the most necessary skills. Finding the answer was not as easy as my formulation of the question might imply. The best answer is, of course, ‘it depends’ – largely on your own interests and personal circumstances. Therefore, let me first outline general points to consider for any History majors and then provide my own choice as one of the possible options.
First of all, the major advantage of students with History degree is their analytical and writing skills. Therefore, History majors should be able to work in any place, where these skills are valued: research, editing, journalism, politics, consulting, and at least in the West, banking and accounting. Indeed, in Western countries, History is ‘the most employable degree’. For example, according to Forbes estimates in 2014, the news analyst earns the highest salary in the US, $84,710 on average. Another group of possible work places are museums, usually as curators, libraries, and archivists. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of museum workers, curators, and archivists was $44,410 in 2012. History majors can also pursue academic career as educators at colleges, universities, or secondary schools. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median annual salary of postsecondary teachers was $68,970 in 2012 and those of high school teachers was $55,050. Educational degree requirement as well as additional professional qualities would depend on the job specifics.
These are the kind of job opportunities available for History majors in the West. Those who would like to work in Kazakhstan need to consider the distinct features of Kazakh labor market. In terms of research skills application, Kazakh government contains a number of ‘adviser bodies’, whose importance is increasingly recognized: “…formulating effective and evidence-based public policy requires strong strategic insight, research capacity and the ability to identify policy options, including international good practices in policy, regulation and service delivery,” reports the OECD reviewer of Kazakh central administration [1]. These bodies include the Academy of Public Administration and the Centre for Strategic Analysis in the Presidency, which closely cooperates with the Centre for Assessment of Effectiveness in the Institute for Economic Research. Furthermore, the Chancellery, offices of deputy prime ministers and each central agency undertake strategic research in their own area. These agencies are supported by think tanks, whose analytical and consultative services extend to wide range of areas. One prominent example is the National Analytical Centre, affiliated with Nazarbayev University, “to provide analytical, research and advisory support to the government to support policy making in the areas of public administration, strategic and economic development.” [2]
In terms of museums, the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Astana that has opened very recently, in 2014, has a department of scientific research, where one will be involved in research-related activities only. The department is still small and is looking for appropriate experts in the fields of history, anthropology, ethnography, etc. The only drawback is quite a small salary (average salary is 70,000 tenge) and a long promotion ladder, though both museums and libraries are more proliferate in Almaty than in Astana and I have not explored the situation in Almaty. In terms of academic career, the most desirable workplaces seem to be Nazarbayev University or Nazarbayev Intellectual School, assuming that you know English and have completed appropriate educational degree and training in teaching.
Critical reader would have noted the imbalance in my attention to job opportunities in Kazakhstan. The reason is simply my preference for research institutions over museums, libraries and universities, although I do not exclude the possibility of working at or with these institutions at some point in the future. My personal desire for now is to apply the skills and knowledge acquired at the undergraduate program to real-life problems. The best option seems to be the National Analytical Centre: perhaps because it is affiliated with NU, it seems to hold the same principles of objectivity, avoidance of plagiarism and appropriate referencing as does NU. Furthermore, since this is a Joint Stock Company, not directly government agency, it has the potential to provide higher salary, while its cooperation with numerous prime international agencies promises more prospective promotion ladder.
Since I am not yet pursuing academic career, I decided to earn my MA degree first. I would like it to be either interdisciplinary or double-degree: one in Central Asian history under the Soviet Union, and another in Educational Policy. Thus, in order to choose the most suitable graduate program for yourself, it is important to identify your fields of interest as specifically as possible. In my case, my choice of Central Asian history led me to consider the following four universities with the strongest departments in the region of my interest: Indiana Bloomington, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Toronto. This is another crucial point to take into account in your choice of universities – you should look not at the university ranking in general, but the ranking of the department that interests you. The best way to find out which university has the strongest department of your interest is to ask your professors. Furthermore, it is advisable to investigate the faculty of the chosen departments, since a respondent adviser would much facilitate your work on graduate dissertation.
Funding is another very important issue to take into account. The most secure option is to gain a grant from your own government’s funding program – Bolashak. It is possible but difficult to win a full international scholarship, let alone for MA program. Still, if you cannot or do not want to comply with Bolashak’s requirements such as depositing your house or coming back to work for five years in Kazakhstan, there are less perfect but still workable options of competing for packages of scholarship each year, working as a TA, gaining external funding from private organizations, etc. Again, I have not explored these options well, since the chance of obtaining an international grant for MA degrees is quite small.
This is neither extensive nor exhaustive review of job options and graduate studies for History majors, yet it is hopefully illustrative of the way a History student needs to identify: first, the kind of job that would best meet his or her interest, personal desires and circumstances; second, the kind of program that would best meet his or her short-term and long-term career requirements. If you have not yet defined these two, you still have time to talk to your parents, friends and advisers – major issue is to start as soon as possible so that to prepare for the appropriate tests and meet the application deadlines. Good luck, History majors 🙂


[1] OECD, OECD Public Governance Reviews. Kazakhstan: Review of the Central Administration. OECD Publishing. 2014, p. 168.

[2] Ibidem, p. 169.