Notes From The Workfront: FSU History Alumnus Shane Hockin (PhD 2014)
When I was 18 years old, I knew I wanted to be a history professor. History was my favorite topic in high school, thanks to some enthusiastic and creative teachers. So I went to Central Michigan University and double-majored in English and History for my bachelors, studied British History at Strathclyde in Scotland for my Masters, then took a break. College in the 1990s was such a "sink or swim" place to be, and although I was one of the students who successfully swam, I was a little burned out. So I came to Tallahassee to get married, then worked for the State of Florida for six years before going back to pursue my dream. I received my doctorate degree at Florida State University in 2014, having studied under the esteemed Dr. Darrin McMahon (now at Dartmouth) and majored in 18th-Century Intellectual History, with minors in Modern Britain, Colonial/Revolutionary America, and Early-Modern Europe. I had a fellowship for most of graduate school, was virtually a straight-A student, and passed my comps and dissertation with distinction. It sounds so prestigious when I put it like that, but it was an awful lot of hard, grinding work and 60-hour weeks. It ultimately took me twenty years from when I started college. Nonetheless, I did it and was all set to become a history professor, just like I had intended for my entire adult life.
I didn't become a history professor.
I worked hard and was more than ready to seize my long-time goal, teaching and researching history at a major university, and I just decided not to do it. I simply did not want it anymore. I had no idea why. Unlike some people, I even enjoyed graduate school, so why stop? Maybe more importantly--what next? I had worked as a humanities tutor for the FSU Department of Athletics while finishing graduate school and found that I really had a knack for working one-on-one with struggling students. I also learned about the multitude of services that Florida State University offers for helping its undergraduate students succeed. These types of programs were difficult to find when I was an undergrad in the "sink or swim" 1990s, and I loved the idea of helping students be successful. I decided to take on the position of Program Coordinator, and later Instructional Specialist, at FSU's Academic Center for Excellence, a college student support organization under the umbrella of Undergraduate Studies. It was a hard sell trying to convince them that I really did want this job, but I attained the position by highlighting the expertise I developed throughout my academic career. I now supervise a tutoring program, teach college life courses, give personal consultations to struggling students, and research improvements for our organization. I help people who need support in a very direct way and really enjoy what I do. I even still review history books and teach a little history on the side, "just for fun."
At a glance, I might not appear qualified for my current position. I do not have a degree in education. I do not have a background in counseling. I do not have experience as an accountant, computer consultant, psychologist, statistician, or any of the other careers that seem to lead people to become college administrators. Yet I have a real aptitude for my job, and I credit my degrees in History for the ease with which I transitioned into this new career. History gave me so many essential skills that I never thought about when I started--the ability to research with accuracy and confidence, the ability to quickly sort through and prioritize lots of information, the ability to write clear and concise arguments, the ability to communicate complex concepts in a way that people can understand, the ability to comprehend and predict human behavior, and the ability to empathize with people from a multitude of cultures and situations. These are not talents everyone on the market has; not even close. I remember Dr. McMahon teaching us how to "graduate" read--quickly digging into a text, discarding the information that you do not need, and finding the all-important thesis or ideas that matter. He used this awful analogy of filleting a fish, but it really stuck with me. "You have to get that knife in there deep, peel away the scales, and get to the meat of what you need," he said. That ability to read information, then quickly and accurately get the meat out of it, is such a versatile skill to possess. So much of the work world is like that--a nasty fish market that you have to dig into to get what you want and need. Trained historians often thrive in this world, so long as they comprehend the skills they have acquired and really lean in to sell those skills.
My advice to all students in humanities, and especially history--whether or not you finish the terminal degree, you are developing some great skills. Identify them, be creative in using them, develop your sales pitch for them, and there is little you cannot do.