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The value of a degree in humanities – For Alumni, By Alumni

20 October 2021

Tim Edwards (BA 2005, MA 2007) is currently the Chief Marketing Officer at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, but his career path was far from pre-determined and he had no idea what he wanted to do when he first stepped onto campus as a religion and theology student. He explains how studying a humanities degree opened him up to a wealth of new experiences, a successful career, and life-long confidence in the skills he learned at Cardiff University.

The first time I was asked about my career aspirations was in October 2002. I remember it vividly, at a student welcome event in the Humanities Building off Colum Drive.

“There’s no set career path” I said confidently, surrounded by trainee vicars.

It was never on my mind, nor my vocation for countless reasons, to enter the priesthood.

Similarly, I had no desire to teach religious education.

“So, just what is your plan?” – my then girlfriend, and now wife of fourteen years – asked me.

“Heaven knows,” I responded.  

When I chose to study the humanities, and in particular history and religion, I chose it precisely because I did not know what I wanted from my career. I didn’t want to learn the more obvious commercially-applicable skills, but I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in academia, and start thinking about some of life’s bigger questions, while hoping that what I learnt would someday afford me gainful employment.

What would I do for a living? I had no idea. But those questions could wait – I was equipping myself and tooling up for my future. I just didn’t know how I was going to use what I was learning, or rather – how I was learning. Once my basic subsistence needs had been satisfied, the arts and humanities encompassed all those things that, to me, made life worth living.

I carry with me the things that I learned from my studies at Cardiff and use them every day. On the surface and quite by thoughtful design, I was taught how to think critically, in an academic environment that was both rigorous and defining. But what it actually taught me was how to ask the right questions, how to make informed decisions, how to connect and see things in ways others cannot, and how to challenge assumptions.

Thinking critically, listening carefully, speaking clearly and writing cogently; all essential skills in the board room. In addition, creative thinking and design thought, as well as a multidisciplinary synthesis that’s sensitive to human needs and potential, are not to be underestimated.

In any sector or role that is human-centred, the ability to communicate effectively, with well-placed confidence and clarity of thought, is a highly valued skill-set – just look at Silicon Valley.

While it is true the humanities can prepare you with transferable skills, I think of myself less as a journeyman transferring my skills here and there (which can be the unintended message of the transferability of skills), and more as a well-grounded business professional who can bring together and synthesise the views of collaborators with very defined expertise and work with them to deliver a solution.

This ability to act as both a facilitator and a leader, for me, demonstrates the true value of a humanities degree and why the best organisations are those that realise a modern workplace needs the skills of humanities graduates to complement the work of those with vocational or specialised degrees. In my role as Chief Marketing Officer, on a daily basis I need to synthesise the deep expertise of those who are paid marketing experts, front-end developers, graphic designers, and PR professionals to name but a few.

Thankfully, while I was busy learning one of several ancient languages at Cardiff, I found time to do some part-time work in the University’s International Office. Little did I know that packing prospectuses into boxes for overseas exhibitions to attract international students would change my life forever, and provide me with a wealth of opportunities to travel the world (86 countries and counting). It would be slightly disingenuous to suggest I quickly went from packing boxes to packing my suitcase, but while this experience opened doors and introduced me to a sector I found I was deeply passionate about – international higher education – it was my undergraduate and graduate studies in the humanities that equipped me to be successful.

So, while I am yet to use my ancient Greek, Latin, or Hebrew in any of my executive leadership meetings – I use what I actually learnt while studying at Cardiff every single day of my professional life.  

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