Less conventional career paths for social science majors
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Less conventional career paths for social science majors

Less conventional career paths for social science majors

Choosing your social science major often conjures up an image of a not-too-distant future; one in which you fear becoming the philosophy graduate who flips burgers at McDonald’s after failing to land a job relevant to your degree.

While your liberal arts major may not strictly be in demand, the skills cultivated to earn it, such as writing and problem solving, undoubtedly are. Complex problem solving and critical thinking are the top two most sought-after skills by employers in preparation for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

2017 study by David J Deming, Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard, found that jobs requiring both the so-called soft skills and cognitive capabilities have seen the largest growth in employment and pay in the last three decades.

Beyond this, the myth that social science degrees limit career options to universities and research centres is also untrue. Given the wide-ranging skills they instil and their demand by employers, the potential careers that can be drawn from a social science degree span wide and get pretty unique.

Here are our five favourite unconventional careers:

1. Hunting serial killers

Psychology graduates need not confine themselves to an office-bound future. It’s entirely possible for you to listen to your clients talk from far less familiar locations; prisons, for example.

Kristen Ralph Beyer PhD went from studying psychology at graduate school to a research project for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), interviewing 150 child abductors and 150 serial murderers to gain information such as the murderer’s education, marital history, employment history and sexual deviancy.

Speaking to the American Psychological Association, Beyer said: “The goal is to be able to say, ‘Look, we’ve talked with 300 inmates and 75 percent of them experienced this,’ or maybe ‘Only 20 percent experienced this.’ And then to provide that information to law enforcement officers throughout the United States,” Beyer explains.

The research, she says, will assist in developing investigative strategies that can cut criminal careers short and ultimately save lives.

2. Hacking growth

Growth hackers are marketers with a focus on quantitative analysis. Highly in-demand by startups and tech brands, they help companies exploit changes in apps.

This may sound like a job for computer science majors, but the most famous growth hacker is Andy John, a key member of the early growth teams at Facebook, Twitter and Quora. Now, he’s the Director of Growth and Revenue at Wealthfront, the largest and fastest-growing automated investment manager. He graduated from the University of Californa, Los Angeles with a Political Science degree.


Humanities majors like Johns can thrive in these consumer tech jobs as they require a love of both research and creativity. Since it’s a new field and Harvard Business School graduates aren’t yet filling the industry needs, history majors stand as good of a chance as business graduates in landing such a job.

But remember that a job in tech is just as open to humanities graduates as STEM graduates. In 2001, Google hired more than 4,000 students with a background in the humanities or liberal arts. As stated in their own words:  “developing user interfaces, for example, was at least as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill”.

3. School shooting expert

How do you prevent another school shooting from happening?

That’s all part of Marisa Reddy’s job as the Director of Threat Assessment for Georgetown University. Reddy’s job revolves around answering questions on what happened by reviewing investigative, court, school and mental health records and talking with police, sheriffs, school officials, prosecutors and, in some cases, even the shooters themselves.

The rest of her time is spent explaining these findings to principals, teachers, mental health professionals and law enforcement officials.

She attributes her internships and education (BA in Psychology and Religion from Williams College; PhD and Master’s degree from Princeton University in Social Psychology) for providing her a solid foundation for conducting behavioural research and helping her better understand violence­ risk assessment and violent behavior.

4. Make the SAT fairer

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Kaufman studies how to remove the bias in tests like the SAT. Source: Shutterstock

Like any international student would know, how well you perform in a test like the SAT depends on a wealth of factors, some of which are beyond the control of the test-taker.

As an Associate Research Scientist for the Center for New Constructs at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest testing service, James C Kaufman research looks at how thinking styles “might mediate racial or ethnic differences on the SAT” while another explores how creativity affects scoring on writing tests, such as the GRE writing assessment.

The reason Kaufman is putting his psychology degree from Yale to use here is so he can “make an impact and help people in a practical way, while still doing research on topics I love”.

“The Center for New Constructs seemed to be a really good match with my pet interests in creativity, thinking styles and motivation,” he says.

5. Operating cameras on Mars

What did NASA see in a Cornell University Professor with a degree in English Literature? Answer: the ability to bring Mars alive.

According to HuffPost, Elaine McCarney’s employers saw in her an “interdisciplinary vision” to uniquely narrate the pictures of Mars, “a story that can easily fall short were it not for the dimension provided by the humanities — plot, characters, language, vision, beauty.”

McCartney was later hired in February 2012 as Senior Mission Specialist to operate the Mastcam cameras on the Mars Science Lab, Curiosity.

In her widely-read piece “A Trip to Mars”, she asks:

“Why then do the peer-reviewed “stories” published in journals so often fail to enchant and are read by so few? What’s missing that would make the tales of science come to life? Is the dimension provided by the humanities missing–plot, characters, language, vision, beauty?”

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