Question

In your experience, is a broad liberal arts background an asset or an albatross? (I know, I know, I’m grossly glossing over differences in markets, technologies, regional employment issues, etc.) For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that our guinea pig has a liberal arts degree from a solid institution. Is the pig gonna succeed in business?

Nick’s Reply

liberal artsAbout 3 out of 4 employers say they want job candidates with strong writing skills. Far too many people in America, especially in the worlds of business and technology, can’t write to save their lives. And that’s because they spent most of their time in school studying one subject so they could become very smart specialists. But a liberal arts education almost always teaches people how to think critically, communicate effectively and how to write well.

And guess what? There’s no such thing any more as a single career. You need to be able to grasp all sorts of knowledge and thinking styles to tackle the rapidly changing kinds of work that need to be done. That’s why the traditional job is dying. And that’s why a liberal arts degree can be a very valuable asset today.

Liberal arts and business jobs

It’s not my intent to start a “jobs war” between liberal arts folks and other professionals like scientists, engineers, lawyers or anyone else. My intent is to help people with liberal arts backgrounds see they have options.

I think liberal arts types are among the most valuable workers in business. They tend to have well-honed critical skills and a flexible perspective that can accommodate just about any business discipline. They need time to master a new domain, and that can require a serious investment! But people with technical, finance or specialist degrees face a complementary challenge if they lack the breadth of knowledge one typically acquires in the liberal arts.

Liberal arts grads often often allow their degree to turn into an albatross. If they can stop torpedoing themselves, their broad skills can make them successful almost anywhere. Lots of liberal arts-ers (L.A.’s) seem to disdain the business world. I’ve never been able to figure that out. It’s a hurdle to overcome. Everything is a business, even non-profit organizations that nuke whales, save oil and grow eco-friendly pomegranates. L.A.’s need to realize — even while they’re in college — that having a job will likely mean working in business.

The disdain often manifests itself as defensiveness. You know the attitude: “I don’t really want to be in business. It’s beneath me. Business is for making money, not for satisfying my need to do something important. I come from the ivory tower of academe. And you guys in business scare the pants off me because… how do you do all that stuff you do?”

That attitude hurts a lot of talented people who need a foot in the door.

Liberal arts: Ability to change

But if L.A.’s suffer from naïve career preconceptions, they can be great learners — heck, I’m living proof. I spent my time in college taking courses in everything from Astronomy to Comparative Literature, Biology to Creative Writing, Art History to Economics, and from Psychology to Approaches to The Renaissance (Man, that was one killer double-credit course). I’m not so smart about anything in particular, but my L.A. background has made me fearless. It’s made me a fool for learning new stuff.

I didn’t study programming or coding, but I spent a couple of years designing and writing business software. I have no project management education, but I spent another year salvaging an inventory management project that went off the rails because programmers and sales people (at a major corporation) couldn’t understand one another.

Learning quickly on the job again and again gave me the confidence to believe I can learn to do anything well, because as an L.A. type in college, I jumped from subject to subject. That became a skill in itself. And I believe that skill makes any liberal arts-er a potentially fine business person. I got religion when I realized business is just the work someone does. It’s all business.

Liberal arts can be your asset

I believe that almost any L.A.-er who’s serious about it can land a good job — or change careers — by applying the ability to write and communicate effectively. That’s the sign of a trained and disciplined mind. That’s one of the first things I look for when I evaluate a business person. Having said that, I also expect a clear demonstration that the job candidate has applied their liberal arts training to learn about my business and the job I’m trying to fill!

There are lots of specialists out there that an L.A.-er could run circles around — just because L.A.-ers can speak and write well. The challenge to the L.A.-er is to study the business you want to work in, gain enough of a grasp to hold your own, and to show how you will apply your skills to it. In some fields, of course, you may need some serious additional education to compete with the specialists, but I think you will find the skills you already possess will often make you a uniquely qualified candidate for some surprising jobs.

So yes, our guinea pig can succeed. If you have a liberal arts degree and want to work in business, technology, finance or any other field, you’ve got to do more homework. Lucky you, that’s what you’re good at. Then choose your target and go tackle the world.

Is a liberal arts education useful in your line of work? Why or why not? If you work in a specialized field, have you encountered (or hired) people with liberal arts degrees? Are liberal arts credentials an asset or an albatross?

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32 Comments
  1. Harvard College only awards liberal arts degrees.

  2. Don’t forget the “Seven Liberal Arts”.

  3. Having an education in general is an asset if you look at it the right way.

    You already described the pros of having a liberal arts education so I’ll talk a little about something related: if you meet someone with postgraduate education trying to switch fields because theirs is a dead-end financially (I have met such people), you know whatever new path they start, they’re not starting from scratch. They already wrote two thesis works and defended them—that’s a lot of research! (this varies by country, but if they have postgraduate education then almost surely they did at least one). You already know they can learn on their own, they’re independent, they can understand complex subjects; they have plenty of transferable skills. Those people are already educated. They won’t last long as “juniors” in any job, because they don’t have a “junior” mentality. They won’t sit there waiting to be babysat, and they won’t break under the pressure of having a nebulous, undefined role upon them: they’ll make sense of it, like they did with their research. No matter their former specialization or their target field, they’re not starting from scratch, at all.

    Now, all I said about postgraduates counts for graduates to a lesser extent. So, yeah, go and make use of your transferable skills! Higher education is not just about gaining a skill, but about maturing, and learning to acquire new skills.

    • @Pentalis: Yes to everything you said. I find, generally speaking, that when liberal arts majors have advanced degrees, they sometimes have a bit of disdain for non-academic/research jobs. The education system seems to breed this in some more than others. This can be difficult to overcome because a person must get past the question, “Well, how do I justify all that education now??” I find they often need help making the leap to a “regular” job.

      This is why I advocate that every school should include a small “how this maps onto a job” component in every course, even if it seems a stretch.

  4. A Liberal Arts degree has never been a problem for me. The fact I have a Master’s HAS been a problem, though, as it marks me as “overqualified”.

    The vast majority of employers only want to see a degree so they know you have the ability to tolerate and navigate all the bureaucracy required to get that degree. They don’t care in the least what your major was.

    I have never had an employer ask me to speak German, or want me to explain how “ghoti” and “pisces” and “fish” are all precisely the same word, or ask me why the informal words for “Mother” uttered by virtually every single human infant around the world nearly all consist of the consonant “m” and a vowel similar to “ah” (Japanese is an obvious exception).

    Liberal Arts degrees are supposed to teach you how to learn independently. They’re supposed to expose you to a broad range of facts and concepts to provide you a vast array of baby schemata ready to incorporate all the new things you’ll learn over your lifetime! They’re supposed to teach you how to figure out WHY and HOW things work.

    I’ve noticed that pure specialists often don’t know (or even wonder) WHY a policy or process is what it is or exactly how it works-they just apply the rules/steps on blind faith with minimal understanding. When, inevitably, something changes, they tend to become inordinately distressed, because they have to learn an entirely new set of policies and step-by-step procedures from the beginning, rather than slightly adjusting a deep knowledge of the why and how to incorporate and apply the new knowledge easily.

    With the foundation of two Liberal Arts degrees, I can learn to do anything reasonably well in short order (except kinesiology), and that’s why I’ve been successful in dozens of different industries, from physically building the “brains” of heart monitors to teaching others how to USE those heart monitors and their data on patients!

    I would encourage everyone to get a strong Liberal Arts education, formally or informally, AND specialize in a trade or profession. Liberal Arts make you a better human, while trades/professions make you a better breadwinner.

  5. A Liberal Arts degree actually saved my behind in the pandemic! My undergraduate degree was in Spanish. I’ve used my Spanish in every job I’ve ever held. I remained employed full-time through a recession because I was bilingual, and during the pandemic, when so many people I knew were out of work, I got a job over other candidates being considered because I spoke fluent Spanish.

  6. I have both liberal arts and business degrees. Liberal arts is excellent for honing communication, curiousity and critical thinking skills, all of which are extremely valuable in business. When I was in business school, the number one problem with younger students (broadly, not all), was their lack of critical thinking and ability to synthesize information. Business school gave me invaluable understanding and skills in financial, statistical and operations knowledge. As Nick said, both have value and both require learning from “the other side” to really succeed in the business world. And I also agree that HR jockeys are too focused on checking explicit boxes and rely on hiring managers to provide the nuance to recruit people with the actual skills needed.

    • @Lisa: I’m going out on a limb… In general I think it’s easier to teach a person with a well-rounded education the skills required by a job than the the other way around.

  7. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and it has served me very well as a graphic designer. I have been told repeatedly that it is more valuable that I am able to write effectively as well as design, as opposed to people with visual arts degrees who may have only had a freshman English course.

    An English professor of mine always talked about the value of an English degree to people who didn’t see its worth in the business world. His example was Johnny Carson, who was an English major, and who was the most successful late-night talk show host
    In history.

  8. I was a political science major who graduated in the mid 1970s. PSci taught me the following: how to run a campaign to elect a candidate including media (my sub was American Politics), political systems and how they influenced and regulated business (my honors thesis was on broadcasting systems in the US, UK, Canada), and Latin American politics. Our department was run by Republicans and Democrats so we had to also defend our points of view.The first came in handy when I entered advertising (from the secretarial level as that’s how you did it), understanding government regulation (I later worked in advertising for an airline then rent a car), and understanding Latin America came in very handy when I was later in international marketing. Defending a POV needs no explanation. I learned how to learn, and learned what I needed about advertising and marketing from reading, actually doing it (and courses along the way, from computing in ‘black screen’ days to healthcare marketing). Business taught me how to write differently–to persuade.

    Believe that LA is very different now–much more rote, multiple choice, and a lot of indoctrination. They know how to obey the rules, not break them. They can’t defend their POVs so it’s easier to mock and call others names. They sure don’t know how to write.

  9. You don’t see any STEM majors commenting here because they’re all too busy earning a huge salary at a great job to try to discuss why a degree in Woke Studies is useless Vs a Chemical Engineering or IT degree.

    • Absolutely! And I’d submit their student loan debts are paid off/being paid off.
      Skills sell. Paper doesn’t.

    • That attitude among STEM majors has been proven to be very shortsigted with the woke now trying to condemn hard sciences as RACIST!!!. The guys with the woke degrees make the rules.

      • @Tim Cunningham
        The hard sciences are not inherently racist, any more than any given objective fact is racist.

        However, people can and often DO apply the hard sciences in ways that ARE racist, in exactly the same way that people twist statistical analyses.

        EXAMPLE:
        Fact: “The earth is an oblate spheroid.”
        ***This does not denigrate or discriminate against spheres in any way and is completely neutral.

        Application: “Oblate spheroids are better than plain ol’ spheres because the EARTH is an oblate spheroid and not an inadequate *sphere*!”
        ***This is an unjustly discriminatory application of the neutral fact.

        Many STEM-trained/specialist people seem to think that honesty and facts must be “brutal”. LA/generalist types usually know that such brutality is neither necessary nor useful.

        • @Autistic
          Excellent observations, and strongly agreed.

          @STEMBryo
          I have a STEM background, and I still dropped by to comment. The thing is, I too had to switch fields in order to earn well, as my original major just wasn’t in demand where I live, so I still went through the typical Liberal Arts Major pains of having to switch careers, and the advice and comments we made still apply.

    • @Just another STEMBryo
      I’m in clinical healthcare IT (multiple STEM roles), and I “only” have two LA degrees.

      I didn’t learn to be “woke” at the university; that was something my parents started teaching me from day 1, because despite the venom with which you spat out the term, “Wokeness” is just another way of saying “being aware and respectful of the feelings and needs of the people around you”. And “political correctness” is more accurately described as “doing your best NOT to say hurtful and insulting things to other people”.

      What I *did* learn in my Liberal Arts studies was more about the rest of the world and its history, cultures, languages, and peoples.
      – I learned the fundamentals of architecture/design, biology, human anatomy, chemistry, physics, geology, calculus, statistics, and accounting, in addition to psychology, phonology, human cognitive development, how to use professional woodworking tools(!), how to draw naked humans, how to code proficiently in 3 computer languages and 2 human ones, etc.
      – I learned that if I worked on a given problem hard enough, I would always find a solution.
      – I learned how good it was to be adventurous and try new ideas and experiences with openness and curiosity.
      – I learned not to be afraid of people who are different from me.

      If your STEM degree failed to teach you all of that, ESPECIALLY the last item, then you should ask for a refund and seek additional education.

    • I worked for years as a Technical Writer (I majored in English and Linguistics).

      On one project for a mining company, I documented the software developed to manage drill hole data. Towards the end of the three months, the geologist I worked with complained that after 3 months I knew as much as he did.

      I have plenty of other examples – as others have said, I am curious, and I know how to learn and how to write; those skills have served me well.

  10. I’m biased, being an engineer, but some of the items mentioned (critical thinking, understanding how/why a process works vs just following the steps, learning new things) are just signs of a good learner, not a specific type of degree. Good engineers, language majors, poly sci, arts, finance, etc. have the ability to learn and apply knowledge.
    What I do see, is that in this business environment, STEM is where the money is, and I would struggle supporting one of my kids getting a LA degree without a clear post grad plan (MBA, law, etc.). Even then, they’d have to show me a true lack of STEM desire/mindset. The ROI needs to be there for any college degree.
    What I have seen, and others I have asked experienced the same thing, is that when I was getting my MBA, the quantitative (STEM) students did much better than the qualitative (LA) students. This was evidenced by the proportions that made the honor society and in class/study group discussions. The MBA is a mix of STEM (accounting, finance, etc.) and qualitative (marketing, ethics, etc.) and it seemed the quantitative students could more easily ‘cover’ (maybe not excel) the qualitative classes, than the other way around.

    • @PauleyB: Thanks for the un-LA point of view and for discussing specifics. ROI is a huge issue with an LA education. There’s nothing like a customer wanting to see evidence of an outcome that includes good ROI. In this case, the customer is often a parent. Schools love to promote their PR stuff, but often fall flat on real outcomes. A good metric is to look at grads over the past 5 years — in both STEM and LA disciplines. Where are they working? How much are they earning?

      ” Good engineers, language majors, poly sci, arts, finance, etc. have the ability to learn and apply knowledge.”

      Exactly.

      Many with LA backgrounds have discussed their career success here. I doubt we’ll hear from unsuccessful ones. The question is, how did they do it? Another question is, what do they have in common with successful STEM grads? (I know more than a few STEM grads that can’t write a paragraph or explain their work to, say, a non-STEM customer. This cuts both ways.)

      I know a recent STEM grad that landed a great tech job for $150K. I also know one with a BA in French making over $250K. Both work in tech. They actually have a lot in common. Both are well educated but also street smart, assertive, love tackling the impossible and have healthy egos. Both are also very good at learning quickly on the fly — and both are socially adept.

      It wasn’t my intent to put LA up against STEM. More to nudge those (like the OP) with LA degrees to find their own way and not succumb to the conventional wisdom that LA means limited job choices.

      It is also my intent to suggest to STEM folks that everything isn’t quantitative, and that people with purely STEM educations can and should develop some skills more traditionally considered LA. As you point out, good MBA programs try to bridge quantitative and qualitative. (Not all succeed!)

      This isn’t about one being better than the other. It’s about recognizing and understanding the relative merits of each, and making sure you’ve got some of the best of both in your skill set. I think about a successful land developer who’s swimming in money — who got his masters in Creative Writing and never went to biz school. And about the EE who danced circles around her peers who were socially awkward — and started (and sold) a successful software company.

      We could be lazy and suggest that an ultimately successful person might make the “mistake” of majoring in STEM or LA…. and still wind up with skills from the best of both domains, just because that’s who they are.

      Or, we could look at what’s missing in each of these curricula and set to work improving both. Because in the end, some customer is buying education and expecting a good ROI outcome from both. Schools can’t keep selling education as “either or.”

  11. Nick you’ve captured the liberal artist very well as well as their strengths.
    And I think their college regimens by exposing them to a broad sweep of subject matter taught them to adapt, exposed them to diversity of thought, and via that route, how to learn. They became generalists.

    Over the years I don’t know how many times I’ve read that the business world values generalists e.g a general manager. Yeah…but they consistently seek our and hire specialists. Which puts a lot of truth to LA’s perceptions of their degrees hobbling them.

    But…as you noted LA’s have a strong foundation in communications…written, verbal, visual, that with some adaptation they stick their foot in the door disguised as a specialist and kick butt. e..g marketing, sales, project management.

    Savvy companies do take seriously that generalists have value and one key value is their adaptability.. And not only are you spot on that people won’t have one career in their lifetimes. So will companies have more than one core business. moving from one to the other requires adaptability and the guts to do it . Smart companies hire smart generalists and position them to do their stuff where needed. In the long run, it’s faster than beating the bushes in a never ending quest to find super specialists (who you may kick under the bus later when the company goes into other directions)

    In my (IT) life the specialists, (companies and people) self inflict wounds from their inflexibility. I’ve seen brilliant IT people (and companies) cling to a particular technology with such religious fervor, they stay with it until it’s sun sets and becomes history.

    The point made about communications is really important. I was a QA guy & when you come down to root causes of issues, business or technical you’re going to find a communication flaw (miscommunication or lack of ) at the heart of it. If a company invests in a strong foundation of generalists, they’ll not only survive but flourish, if they don’t hobble them by chaining them to a specialty.

    I’ll give you an example of LAs on the move in the technical realm. I managed a team of Tech Writers for several years. They were not (degreed) engineers who decided they like to write (horrors). They were mostly LAs right out of academia, some with a side interest in computers. They came in with NO professional IT experience but who demonstrated they loved to write. If memory serves me correct, 1 guy for example offered up an advanced degree in French Renaissance Literature. Think about that.

    Writing & related research is instructive & many passed on through to engineering teams via the street cred they gained on the job. One even into the hallowed ground of hardware engineering. In that world that was practically surreal. Changing their careers into engineering wasn’t their intent on arriving. but …they adapted and followed the money. Mutually beneficial to them & the engineering team and the company

    So let’s hear it for the generalists.

    • @Don: That’s one of your very best among many good posts. Sometimes you straddle the line like you’re riding a thoroughbred. :-)

  12. I have a bachelors and masters in computer science and a couple (or more) decades of work experience building software systems. I can speak specifically to computer programming and what I see are the skills that are most valuable in what is most likely viewed as not using “liberal arts” skills. The degrees gave me some technical knowledge that applies generally, and a lot of technical tools that are no longer relevant. What helped me the most in the construction of software systems were the communication skills learned in Toastmasters and the organizational skills I learned by writing term papers in high school AP English. Knowing how to focus on an overall theme, gather a bunch of supporting material on note cards, organizing those note cards in groups of sub-topics, determining the order that the sub-topics would be presented to best support the overall thesis and finishing up with a great intro and dynamite summation. I would rather have someone on my team who wrote dozens of term papers than someone who learned specific computer program languages. I like to know that they can see the big picture and understand how lots of pieces need to flow together. I also find that musicians make great programmers for the added reason that are used to understanding how symbolic language can build a symphony.

    • @R. Tanenbaum: I was waiting for someone like you to say that. You just demonstrated one of your finest (and most important) skills. Thanks for chiming in!

    • Back in the day there was a high flying (later a no flyer) company called
      Digital Equipment Company aka DEC. They did an internal study of where their software engineers spent their work time. i.e in the development of a software deliverable, where did the time go.

      Most shocking to the programmers was that in total from beginning to end, they only spent about 20% of their time ….programming/coding. Most time was spent communicating…talking, meetings, presentation development & presenting, another chunk in writing, e.g. (if they bothered)specs, reports, coding comments.

      When they left collage they had the perception, that they, being a programmer, obviously spent their time programming, because the bulk of their focus in college learning to program, and programming.

      Unfortunately seemingly the colleges (& professors) had the same perception & didn’t provide any training in their majors, on writing, technical and/business to better equip them for their chosen professions.

      The result was legendary communication resistance in the engineering teams. Particularly in producing timely and quality specs, and including simple complementary comments with their code, so that mere mortal maintenance engineers down the line could easily provide support and enhancements.

      Some moved up to Sr Management ill equipped to communicate where it counted. Sr Managers & up were expected to, & wanted to pitch their ideas to execs to gain budget & support, and/or to support sales with customer facing contacts (visit, presentations, etc). I’ve seen really good, idea generating Directors hit a career ceiling because they couldn’t communicate, passed by peers who could.

      As you noted, others self assessed and found ways to educate, and put into practice tools of the communication trade.

      As I noted in another comment, one of my jobs was to manage a tech writing team(s). One way we made ourselves useful was to fill gaps and write the specs for the engineers where it was needed. And note the writers where LAs not STEMs. The engineers only needed to edit & signoff. It was an excellent example of LA/STEM team play. And the engineers lived happily ever after.

      • DEC had the best technical documentation I’ve ever encountered. It’s a shame that seems to have been deemed expendable; most systems and software nowadays are poorly documented… if at all.

        Where oh where did all those excellent technical writers go?

  13. My bachelor’s degree is a B.A., but my major was Math. I don’t know if a B.A. (as opposed to a B.S. degree) matters to a hiring manager.

  14. Nice summary of the advantages of a liberal arts degree, as well as some of the challenges those folks face from employers as well as themselves.

    I don’t know if those with LA degrees look down on business or other fields so much as perhaps these were never presented to them as options for employment. I know I didn’t get that memo, and had to find my own way. Nor do employers, especially those who rely upon HR to do their hiring, always reach out to LA folks. They say they want them, value their written, research, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but too many rely upon very specific degrees that don’t focus on the aforementioned skills.
    So the real question is how to best educate LA majors about potential jobs, careers, and employers (so they’re not aware of how their skills can be used in business, finance, STEM, etc.) AND how to best educate employers about what hiring a LA major can do for them.

    By the way, I have a liberal arts degree, as do all of my fellow alumnae, and our majors ranged from Biology, Microbiology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics to German, French, Anthropology, History, Comparative Literature, English, Government, Art History, Theatre, Art, and more. At my alma mater, a Biology major was (and is today) a liberal arts degree as well as STEM.

    I’m old enough to remember the saying “this reads like stereo instructions” meaning that it was difficult to understand and follow directions (for assembling and hooking up a stereo). Companies that designed and made them relied upon the designers to write the manuals, but eventually learned that they needed to hire English majors (liberal arts) so the manuals could be understood by non-engineers. Today, there’s no written instructions for items that require assembly, but there are drawings illustrating how to do it (and thus jobs for graphic artists instead of English majors).

    At a job I had three jobs ago, an English professor told me that millions of dollars are wasted due to poorly written manuals, policies, etc., and that he always told his students that no matter what major they chose, no matter what profession or job they do in the future, being able to write well is important.

    At that job, I also remember one of my students asking me to let him know if my university offered any online writing courses. He was in the US Public Health Service, and one of the officers under his command struggled with writing. It was so bad that my student had to re-write his junior officer’s instructions, which turned into a huge time sink for him. I remember my student telling me “you can have all the public health knowledge in the world, and it won’t do any good if you can’t communicate what you know to your superiors, your underlings, your peers, and the community you are serving”. I think that is true in any field, not just public health. Incidently, the junior officer who couldn’t write was given an ultimatum–improve your writing skills or you won’t be considered for other jobs and for promotions. He didn’t, and his career stalled.

    • @Marybeth: “Nor do employers, especially those who rely upon HR to do their hiring, always reach out to LA folks. They say they want them, value their written, research, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but too many rely upon very specific degrees that don’t focus on the aforementioned skills.”

      Maybe those managers just don’t have the necessary LA skills that are important in recruiting and hiring… ;-)

  15. AMEN BROTHER NICK! I have a B.A. in sociology from UCLA and while my studies and emphasis (race, ethnicity & social stratification) were invaluable for my first careers in social work and DEI/interculturalism, you raise critical points about the thinking and communication skills I gained that I’ve leveraged as an internal leader in healthcare, a business developer for tech in Mexico, an entrepreneur, and a corporate consultant. I would add however, that I think this is more true for us Gen Xers than Millennials and Gen Z’s. A university education is far less liberal arts and critical thinking now, and so much more consumer and profit-driven. I fear this is a permanent cultural shift that’s already hurting us, but younger folks have it worse than we did in that respect.

  16. Back during my undergraduate days, the College of Engineering required some traditional liberal arts classes in addition to the core liberal arts classes that all majors were required to take. Most of those had a fairly heavy writing requirement. The worst thing about those classes was that the rigid block scheduling needed to squeeze in all the engineering courses meant that the liberal arts classes one had access to were filled with other engineers.

    After graduation and moving on to graduate school, I landed a campus job with an engineering center associated with the E.E. department. The assistant director of the center (who I worked with along with a faculty member) was someone who demanded that the team members write. Everyone got involved in writing and reviewing a *lot* of technical reports, technical memoranda, conference/symposium papers, and promotional materials involving the work we were doing. While we received a few grants here and there, the vast majority of our work involved contracts so beating the bushes for funding was something that most of us had to do. Clear writing–and presentation–skills were important.

    I’ve noticed, in the years since I graduated and moved to business environments, that the quality of writing is typically horrid. I suspect that comes from people having attended institutions (or boot camps) where writing was never required or emphasized. And it’s a pity and, IMHO, probably why so many projects are a mess.

  17. My liberal arts degree has served me well. I’m in my second career as a technical writer for a SaaS firm. I attended a Jesuit university, the curriculum is extensive in learning a myriad of subjects. It stressed writing and researching. The main thing I took from my education is the need for flexibility, and a willingness to learn new subjects.

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