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“How Can You Find a Job with a Degree in Cultural Studies?” — A Personal Reflection on the Career Path of Grad Students in Humanities

I have been frequently in the situations that people asked me “What kind of job are you looking for after graduation?”. That question was out of enough courtesy, because more often it could be “How can you find a job with a degree in Cultural Studies?”.

Indeed, the area of my study is not like majors such as Engineering, Management or Computer Science, which literally offer the audience adequate information of what they are about and what to be expected in the workplace. Ironically, Cultural Studies can even make some laymen query it as a qualified name for a discipline/department in the university.

Culture is about everything, and everything has its culture. The difficulty in giving Cultural Studies a non-abstract description is that “culture” touches upon every aspects of the living, therefore any concrete definitions would impair its inclusive essence.

Just as hard as explaining what I am studying, I also have trouble in describing my career pathway. Worse, when these two become questions being asked one after another,  it is like holding two hot potatoes, and my mind would just go blank.

I have been trying to get a better sense of Cultural Studies and what does it mean to me since I started my M.A. at Queen’s , understanding my research in an academic context, as well as its adaptability or usefulness in the workplace. Admittedly, it was not easy at all.

Until one day in September this year, which was the day of the 7th Annual Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival. There were art performances in front of the city hall, as well as booths alongside the street from various companies and organizations. One of the booths, from Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF), attracted my attention. I directly headed to it without further thinking as if there was a calling that the KCFF booth had something particular for me.

I got an Intern job in KCFF one week later, after I sent my resume and the cover letter to the email printed on the card that I got from the staff in the booth that day. Although there haven’t many major works being done, the program is just starting, I know from the inside that I have a place here in the KCFF marketing department, so does my knowledge in Film and Media*. I studied on film publicity, and I emphasized on that in relation to my potential contribution to the propaganda of KCFF in the cover letter and the interview, which I believe was my biggest asset in this job application. So far, I’ve completed three interviews with filmmaker, programmer, and former volunteer, and a series of articles based on the interviews is on the way. I was pleasantly surprised at how I could utilize my knowledge and critical thinking in designing the interview questions and analyzing interviewee’s responses.

This experience is not about how I successfully got a job for myself which is relevant to my research area. To me, the day that I came to the booth of KCFF was no more than a wonderful accident. The point is after that, I thought a lot about my studies and its promises, and I reflect on those awkward circumstances when answering others’ questions that I hem and haw. And that experience let me see clearer about myself studying Cultural Studies, and regained confidence that I have lost for a long time.

To wrap it up, it is never a problem of holding a research degree that is “up in the air”, as long as you develop the skill of translating your “abstract” knowledge into something of practical use. You should always be proud of and confident in your professional interest, either in the case of staying in the academia or entering into the workplace after graduation. At least for me, the next time I answer questions on my major and career path, I would have more to share.






*Cultural Studies has a huge faculty from multiple disciplines, such as Philosophy, Gender Studies, Sociology, Art History, etc. My research area in Film and Media is not in the sense of film and media production, but the criticism on it.

Ma Chengcheng

Name: Ma Chengcheng Program: Cultural Studies, Year 2 About Me: I Completed my undergrads at Tsinghua University, with two bachelors in Chinese Language and Literature; Journalism and Communication. I am now in Cultural Studies at Queen's, specializing in Film and Media. My current research interest lies in contemporary cinematic culture, mainly on the visual representation of cinematic ideology. I start with "textual" analysis of film publicity, and combine it to the new mechanism of movie-goers seeing and perceiving cinematic images in the postmodern society. I am also into arts outside academia. I had three years' training in sketch, but later on I took up photography. I've been trying to infuse my sensibility to the art world into my academic research. During the past two years, I've travelled a lot to Japan, Korea, Canada, America, Germany, France, Holland, Spain, and different provinces of China, which largely enriched my experience. During these journeys, I always carried what I had learnt in class with me, and embraced new things with a critical mindset. Why I chose Queen’s: I have to say that Queen's is really good at outreaching. The funding is satisfactory. But the main reason that I chose Queen's is owing to the department setting of Cultural Studies, which is extraordinary interdisciplinary. This is awesome because I've got a platform to combine my varied academic backgrounds and interests together in a productive way. What I’m here to blog about: Grad students are really bound up in the readings, conferences, TA jobs, and even part-time jobs. We may not be so active on social media. However, our voices need to be heard, either by ourselves or by others. We need a place like Gradifying to exchange minds, share opinions, and build up networks. I always love reading and writing. And I see this an opportunity to use my skills to benefit the community of grad students.

Posted in Professional Development, Student Perspective
One comment on ““How Can You Find a Job with a Degree in Cultural Studies?” — A Personal Reflection on the Career Path of Grad Students in Humanities
  1. Colette says:

    What a great way to sum up your experiences and how to approach the inevitable question, grad students get. Thanks

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