Google leads search for humanities PhD graduates

Will Silicon Valley be calling in the long run? My humanities PhD is leading me in all kinds of interesting directions!

Those worried about the value of studying the arts and humanities, particularly at the postgraduate level, take heart: Google wants you.In a boldly titled talk at a conference at Stanford University last week, Damon Horowitz, director of engineering – and in-house philosopher – at Google, discussed the question of “Why you should quit your technology job and get a humanities PhD”.

Dr Horowitz was one of several Silicon Valley executives exploring the theme at the BiblioTech conference, an event that united academics with entrepreneurs and senior managers from some of the world’s leading high-tech companies.

For Marissa Mayer, who was the 20th employee taken on by Google and is now its vice-president of consumer products, the situation was clear: “We are going through a period of unbelievable growth and will be hiring about 6,000 people this year – and probably 4,000-5,000 from the humanities or liberal arts.”

Companies such as Google were looking for “people who are smart and get things done” from every possible background, she said, yet the humanities had a particular relevance.

Developing user interfaces, for example, was at least as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill, she added.

Read full story in the Times Higher… and another bit I particularly love:

Others speakers developed similar themes. For June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, anyone who had studied for a PhD, however seemingly irrelevant the topic, had “learned stamina and focus and how to listen” – and those skills would always be valuable to employers.

As long as PhDs were regarded as essentially academic qualifications, commented another speaker, many people were likely to feel like failures because there were never going to be enough academic jobs, particularly tenure-track ones at elite universities, to go around. Yet the reality was that PhDs offered transferable skills, that many people with doctorates went into business, and that universities needed to acknowledge and celebrate this.

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