Preparing for the Job Market III: What if I don’t get a job right away?

This is the third in an on-going series of posts about preparing for the Job Market.  In post 1, we discussed some ways to articulate your skill set. In post 2, we talked about making the most of the interview opportunities available. Today we will discuss what to do if no job is immediately forthcoming after graduation.

First, DON’T PANIC! It is quite common for Liberal Arts majors of all sorts, American Studies majors included, to struggle to land that first big job. Studies show, however, that Liberal Arts majors are quite competitive in lifetime earnings over the long haul. According to a recent story in Inside Higher Ed, “By their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money [than] those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates.” So, once Liberal Arts students secure that first job, they do succeed and advance beyond their peers. Prepare to be in it for the long haul.

Second, clarify your goals. What is your dream career? What are you good at? What are you passionate about? What are you willing to settle for until you can identify your dream or make it a reality? What are you not willing to settle for? Once you have some sense of your long term goals, take stock of your skills and weaknesses relative to those goals, and . . .

Be willing to do some re-training with those goals in mind.

  • If you’d like to get a job in marketing, for example, what are your plans for learning about the industry and how it works? Are you willing to volunteer for an internship to get that vital on-the-job experience that will put you over the top. Note, again, you can get AMST credit for such an internship if you’re still in the coursework phase; ask Dr. Takacs for details, or see this blog post)?
  • If you want to be a writer, can you also construct a web page, run a blog, insert media into blog posts, etc.? Do you know how to code in Word Press or XHTML? Knowing how to write well is only part of what you need to know these days to succeed as a writer. You also need to be able to get your work out there. So, what can you do to learn the rest of the job? And how can you showcase what you’ve learned? (Go ahead and start a blog, for instance. It’s free, easy, and Dr. Takacs can show you how to do it if you take her Intro to Digital Humanities class in Spring 2018).
  • If you want to teach, you’ll need to get some training and experience in pedagogy, and you may need some additional content courses. Where can you get those skills or that knowledge? Hint: Graduate School in Education is one possibility, but so is Alternative Teacher Certification through the Oklahoma Department of Education. Are you ready to get that process started?

Finally, Professional Certificates are increasingly available from higher education institutions, like OSU, to allow people to specialize a bit more in a particular field. For example, you can get certificates in environmental studies, sustainable business management, customer interface excellence (i.e. sales), international competency, and other fields at OSU, and more are being developed all the time. Certificates may or may not signify excellence to employers, but they DO signify desire and commitment on your part. Better yet, they cost less in time and money than a post-graduate degree and will allow you to cultivate some additional human, cultural and social capital in the process. Translation, you will learn new job skills, gain more knowledge, and make connections that can help you find that first, great job.

In sum, while the job market for Liberal Arts majors remains a bit harder to enter, the good news is that “bachelor’s degree holders [of every sort continue to] earn 60 percent to 80 percent more on average than those without a college degree.” It is worth it, so hang in there, and let your professors in American Studies know how they can help you identify your goals and make useful contacts. We’re here to help.

Preparing for the Job Market 2: Meeting with Employers

In the previous post, we discussed some ways to articulate your skill set to employers. Today, we want to focus on practical strategies for making of the most of those brief contacts at the Job Fair (March 7 at OSUT Main Hall, 3-5pm) or with prospective employers.

Rule #1 : Come prepared

  • Have your resume and make sure you’ve had it vetted by Career Services or someone you trust. Typos and sloppiness signal a lack of effort and attention to detail. Your resume will be read as a reflection on your work habits and ability to communicate effectively! Bring multiple copies for prospective employers.
  • Dress the part. Wear proper professional attire or the closest thing you have to it. Borrow a suit or business casual dress for the event. Women do not wear too much make-up or high-heels unless you know how to walk in them. Men do wear a tie and jacket, comb your hair, and put on some dress shoes. For additional tips, see the Career Center Tips page, which includes a “Dress for Success” video.
  • Know thyself. Be prepared to articulate your skills and desires. Who are you, and what are you seeking from life/a job/a career? What are your strengths, intellectually and socially, and what are your weaknesses? What is your plan for redressing weaknesses—gaps in knowledge or skill—that might impact you professionally? (workshops, internships, additional course work, other?)
  • Know the Employer. Get a list of employers who will be at the Job Fair and do some research on them. What positions are they advertising, and what skills are required for those positions? Why might your skill set be better-suited to such a position than someone whose degree is more technically oriented? Show that you understand the employers’ needs.

Rule #2: Be a Savvy Interviewee

  • Focus your efforts. Given the list of employers, and jobs advertised, which employers should you target? Don’t bother with employers or jobs you are unsuited to. As an American Studies major, you will never be able to convince an airline that your degree has prepared you to fly a plane. If, however, the airline is also looking for ticket agents, customer service reps, or management trainees, your “soft skills” certainly are suited to those sorts of jobs. That’s why it is important to DO YOUR RESEARCH.
  • Prepare a mental script for how you will introduce yourself, your interests, and your skill set. Keep it brief and have an ice-breaker question about the job or employer prepared to ease the first contact: “I see you’re hiring for a sales position. Can you tell me a little about that?”
  • Be Sociable. This means making strong eye contact, shaking hands, repeating the recruiters’ name in conversation, and showing interest and enthusiasm.
  • Ask questions and listen carefully. Show that you have done your research on the job/employer, and are genuinely interested. Avoid questions about pay or benefits, and focus on those that involve the needs of the company and the duties of the position. Listen carefully and ask follow-ups as they occur to you.
  • Ask if an internship is a possibility. If the employer seems uninterested or unconvinced, ask if they have an internship program you might apply to. It shows that you are goal-directed and willing to work to redress gaps in your training. NOTE: You can get AMST credit for such an internship; ask Dr. Takacs for details, or see this blog post.

For more guidance on Job Fair preparations, see the information provided by OSU’s Career Services Office. Here are a couple of handy dandy handouts from the site: Before the Fair | During and After the Fair 

The next post in this series will discuss what to do if no job opportunity is forthcoming upon graduation. Where do you go from there?

Preparing for the Job Market 1: What is my skill set?

Liberal Arts majors of all sorts sometimes struggle to communicate the value of their training to prospective employers. American Studies majors are no exception. In part, this is the collective fault of the Liberal Arts disciplines, for professors in those disciplines do a poor job of helping you identify and articulate your skill set, and an even worse job helping you cultivate the “social capital” you need to get that first big job (we do, however, teach you what “social capital” is, where the term came from, and why it matters). The next two posts should be considered a modest attempt to rectify the failures outlined above…

What is my skill set?   

American Studies majors have been trained to think broadly and creatively. We know how to identify problems, conduct research that clarifies the history, context and parameters of the problem, and devise solutions based on best practice. More mundanely, American Studies students know how to:

  • Conduct Research
  • Analyze Information, and
  • Translate it into meaningful knowledge

Heck, we know there’s a difference between data and knowledge; your technically trained peers often do not. More specifically, we American Studies folk possess the “soft skills” employers are looking for. We are

  • Curious
  • Information Literate
  • Know how to speak clearly and write well
  • Play well with others, and
  • Respect diversity of opinion and experience

These are SKILLS! Not everyone has them. YOU DO! This is what you sell.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Forbes magazine:

The career options available to graduates of general liberal arts degrees are far more diverse and attractive than we usually assume. . . . Businesses value these graduates’ critical thinking skills, communication abilities, and creativity. The breadth of focus gives the students knowledge that can help them thrive in a wide variety of fields.

Or perhaps you’ll believe the employers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities,

93 percent of . . . [whom] said the ability for job candidates to think critically, communicate and problem-solve outweighs their undergraduate degree. Companies that traditionally have looked only for hard skills are realizing a coding guru isn’t that valuable if he or she can’t communicate effectively. (

Or maybe you’ll believe human resource directors themselves. According to US News & World Report,

survey of 400 employers conducted by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management found that applied skills such as oral communication, critical thinking, creativity and teamwork “trump basic knowledge and skills, such as reading comprehension and mathematics,” for career success.

In the same article, Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY, a New York-based advertising firm, clarified the rationale behind these survey results:

I find that liberal arts thinkers are the ones that try to problem solve and don’t just draw on experiences and skills from school . . . When interns tell me they’re majoring in marketing, I wonder if that’s the smartest thing. This industry changes so rapidly; I’m not sure what you’d learn as a marketing major would prepare you properly for what marketing will look like in the future. (Ibid)

Now this information should not be interpreted as a “golden ticket” to a job. Rather, it is designed to give you language to discuss your strengths. Tomorrow, I’ll post a follow-up discussing strategies for making the most of the contacts available at the upcoming Job Fair (OSUT: Tuesday, March 7, 3-5 pm).

Oh, and by the way, the best way to cultivate relations (social capital) that might be parlayed into a job is to do an internship!


Upcoming Events …

Upcoming events of interested to AMST students and faculty in Spring 2017:

Post for the film, The King's Speech


  • Tuesday, Jan. 17, 5:30 pm in Stout 050 (STW), the History Club will be screening the film The King’s SpeechAll are welcome and snacks are provided.



  • Friday, Feb, 3, 8 pm in the Student Union Theater, the Allied Arts Series will host Native artist Bunky Echo-Hawk for a live visual art demonstration. This event is FREE and open to the public, but seating is limited; arrive early.


  • Photo of Arigon StarrThursday, February 16, 7 pm at OSU Tulsa’s Auditorium, Kickapoomultimedia artist Arigon Starr will perform in concert.  The event is free and open to the public. For info on Starr visit her website. AMST is a co-sponsor of the event. Contact for more info.


  • Thursday, April 13 around 7 pm at the Backstage performance space (100 E 7th Ave, Stillwater, OK ), creative Writer Author Kevin Brockmeier will give a reading from his recent work. The event is sponsored by the Creative Writers Association (CWA) and cosponsored by AMST. It will be free and open to the public. Brockmeier is a writer of sophisticated genre fiction, so if your bag is horror or sci fi, you might be especially interested. More info on Brokmeier can be found at:

    Kevin Brockmeier



If you know of, or are planning, other events of interest to AMST students and faculty, please contact Dr. Takacs with the details <>

On Immigration and Nativism, some readings…

Those of you who have taken AMST 3252 Globalization and American Culture, or addressed the history of immigration to the United States probably know a little of the history behind Donald Trump’s appeal to “Make America Great” by “Build[ing] That Wall” between the US and Mexico. In case you want to do a little more reading on the issue, however, I’d recommend the following materials:

  • UVA Professor Hector Amaya’s recent post to UC Santa Barbara’s “Global-E” Blog, entitled “The Citizens Have Spoken.” He says, among other things,

The old Greek tension between racial nativism and egalitarianism is the unsolvable riddle on which we have built our political world. Trump is not an aberration. Neither is nativism. Racial nativism in the United States today is the dark side of citizenship and an expression of core-periphery relations within a state, showing how coloniality continues to shape the nation form.

  • Aviva Chomsky, Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, which examines the historical, political, legal and social discourses that have made the notion of “illegal” immigration a prominent part of the way we think immigration. As she shows, “illegality is lot more complicated” than it seems.
  • Matthew Frye Jacobson’s, highly readable Barbarian Virtues: The US confronts Foreign Peoples At Home and Abroad, 1876-1917, which addresses the intersection of US colonialism and migration patterns at the turn of the 20th century–a pivotal moment in US immigration history and a high point of Nativism in the US (until now?).
  • Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882, which traces the modern production of US national identity to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and moves forward from there…

Immigration policy in Daniels’ skilled hands shows Americans at their best and worst, from the nativist violence that forced Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 “gentlemen’s agreement” with Japan to the generous refugee policies adopted after World War Two and throughout the Cold War. And in a conclusion drawn from today’s headlines, Daniels makes clear how far ignorance, partisan politics, and unintended consequences have overtaken immigration policy during the current administration’s War on Terror

  • Ruben Martinez, Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, which follows one family’s journeys across the border…

The U.S.-Mexican border is one of the most permeable boundaries in the world, breached daily by Mexicans in search of work. Yet the migrant gambit is perilous. Thousands die crossing the line and those who reach “the other side” are branded illegals, undocumented and unprotected.

In Crossing Over, Ruben Martinez puts a human face on the phenomenon, following the exodus of the Chávez clan, an extended Mexican family with the grim distinction of having lost three sons in a tragic border incident. He charts the migrants’ progress from their small south-Mexican town of Cherán through the harrowing underground railroad to the tomato farms of Missouri, the strawberry fields of California, and the slaughterhouses of Wisconsin. He reveals the effects of immigration on the family left behind and offers a powerful portrait of migrant culture

Undocumented [book] Barbarian Virtues [book] The Golden Door [book] Crossing Over [book]




Internship Opportunity for Spring 2017

Those of you who took Dr Gray’s Tulsa Cultures course this semester may have visited with Ren Barger at Tulsa Hub. Ren is now looking for interns to help with The Hub’s social mission to “change lives through cycling.” If you are interested in non-profit work, social justice, and community organizing, this would be an invaluable opportunity to learn how those worlds work and contribute to the growth of a Tulsa community organization.

Tulsa Hub is a 9-year-old community cycling workshop and social justice enterprise, which provides community education, mechanical training, and, most importantly, transportation options to low-income, homeless, and other disadvantaged or marginalized individuals in the Tulsa community. They are in need of several interns to conduct programming (client-facing), assist with research, planning, and evaluation of programs (non-client-facing), or perform a combination of those tasks, depending on interest and skill level. Client facing activities include: education in cycling programs for adults and youth, or communication and resource coordination between clients and various social service providers in the Tulsa area. Non-client-facing activities include: conducting research on Tulsa transportation history and infrastructure, as well as  planning, assessment, and evaluations of programs. If you have bookkeeping skills, they need those too!

Workshop hours are 8:30am-2:30pm Tuesday through Thursday and 5:30pm-9:30 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; additional times are available on Mondays, Fridays, weekends, and after public hours close. It would be great experience for anyone interested in a career in Social Enterprise, Social Work, Non-Profit Development and Management, or Social Justice.

If you think you might be interested:

  1. Read the Internship guide on the blog and check the resources on the Internship page for details about how to get course credit for your labors.
  2. Contact Ren Barger to set up a meeting to discuss opportunities and interests. Be polite and clear about why you are contacting her. If both parties agree the internship is a good fit, download and complete the Intern Agreement (in consultation with Ms. Barger) 
  3. Contact Dr. Takacs to set up a section of AMST4990 Internship in American Studies. 

More information about Tulsa Hub can be found on their website:  or see the video below


Re-take our poll…

Apologies for making you all do this again, but I just realized the software I used for the last poll did not allow you to see more than one question at a time. Thanks to all of you who responded to the initial poll, but could you please take a second and do it again. There are only 5 questions, and all are about additional scheduling options in Tulsa. If that concerns you, please participate. Here’s the new link


What’s Doing With The Faculty (1)

This is installment one in what I hope will become a series of blog posts featuring works by our faculty in American Studies. First up: Dr. Holly Karibo, History.

Dr. Karibo received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 2012 and specializes in Border Studies with a focus on the North American Borderlands. She also teaches courses in Introductory American History, The History of the Present, and History and Gender (aka AMST/HIST 4553 Gender in America). In this piece she describes her first book, Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (UNC Press, 2015).

Holly Karibo, Sin City North [cover]

One of the prominent themes of the 2016 election has been the extent to which many Americans still hold deep-seated anxieties about their nation’s borders. These concerns are not new. Fears of ‘infiltration’ from the outside played a prominent role in American politics throughout the twentieth century. National boundaries, though, are not just sites that invoke heated political debates. To the people who live, work, and cross through border regions on a regular basis, they are also close-knit communities and sites of intercultural exchange. My book, Sin City North, explores these seemingly differing impulses: the desire to build economic and social bridges with our closest neighbors and the drive to build walls that further the divide between us.

Though ‘the border’ is often used as shorthand to describe the region that connects the US and Mexico, Sin City North highlights the history of the two northern bordertowns: Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. As a Michigan native who grew up in close proximity to the Canadian border, I became fascinated by the long and rich history that united these two cities. In particular, I was interested in tracing the rise of underground economies that flourished in the border cities. Between the Prohibition era of the 1920s and the tourism boom of the 1950s, economies based on sex, booze, drugs, and gambling developed on each side of the national line. The very brazenness of these illicit economies prompted moral reformers and politicians to try to eliminate them from the border cities. The book traces the battles over the place of illicit industries in the social and cultural life of these northern bordertowns. The book makes clear that debates about bordertowns—and the goings on therein—are always political. They are at their heart about who does or does not belong in the nation—who does or doesn’t count as a productive and full citizen.

Enrollment for Spring 2017

American Studies students in Tulsa and Stillwater have a variety of course options available for Spring. You can download a complete list of all courses–with dates, times and instructors–here for TULSA and here for STILLWATER. Flyers for select courses are available in the carousel. I’m including a couple of English courses that may be of particular interest to Stillwater students, as they deal with issues of race in American culture. Happy hunting!

AMST3950-ENGL4450 The South in Film and TV
AMST3550-ENGL3813 Native Arts ad Cultures
AMST3743-ENGL3813 Harlem Renaissance
AMST3950-SOC4950 Death Penalty in America
AMST2103 Intro to American Studies
AMST4910 The 1960s!
ENGL3663 African American Performance
AMST3333 Crime, Law and Am Culture
AMST3823 US as Business Culture
AMST4973 Senior Seminar in AMST


Advice on Applying to Graduate Schools

Professors are often asked for advice about whether, where, and how to attend graduate school. Such advice is tricky to give in these times, as many of the graduate degrees most highly sought after by American Studies students are in fields with shrinking academic job markets. The high cost of graduate school and likelihood of success are factors that all students should consider before jumping into graduate study.

Resources: Thomas H. Benton (aka William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College) has famously–and repeatedly–advised graduates in the Humanities to “Just Don’t Go” while others, like Karen Kelsky of “The Professor Is In” fame, advise doing your homework and going in “With your Eyes Wide Open” (see also The American Historical Association’s position paper on the topic). Some may find Lingua Franca’s Real Guide to Graduate School a helpful source of advice on a variety of matters from early in the process to the point of acceptance.

I’d say, if you have both the passion and the aptitude, you can find a fulfilling career as a graduate of a Masters or PhD program in the Liberal Arts and Sciences; it just may not be the career you had in mind when you started. You may end up teaching in a University, but you may also find yourself bringing your knowledge and passion to the people in other ways (see Slate’s recent story on “Alt-Ac Careers and those who love them“). Today’s “information economy” needs people with the skills to translate mere information into meaningful knowledge and practical action. If you don’t know it yet, that’s YOU, humanities and social science geeks! If you want to go to grad school, then, I say (with begrudging credit to Nike) JUST DO IT!

Toward that end, we in American Studies have put together a handy reference page for those thinking of applying to graduate school. You can find it under the “Resources” tab of the AMST website (or click here). It includes advice on how to identify and evaluate your future school, how to prepare your application materials, and how to solicit letters of recommendation. You will find a list of graduate schools in American Studies, American History, Public History, and Gender and Women’s Studies, among others, plus a list of graduate degrees available at OSU and OU. If you have additional suggestions, please put them in the comments, and I’ll consider adding them to the list. Cheers and good luck to all of our future knowledge warriors. Go forth and conquer!