Leah Harman ’20

Alumni
History
Spanish Studies
2020

The liberal arts helped Leah discover an unexpected passion, inspiring her to pursue a career in academia. Her first job out of college offers her the perfect introduction to that world.

Employer: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Job Title: History Department Administration Associate

In what ways did a liberal arts education help shape your career aspirations? 

My liberal arts education shaped my career aspirations in EVERY way. I began my Oxy education looking to do marine biology research. It wasn’t until I took my “History of Medicine” class that I realized my draw toward biology was rooted in the history of the science, not the science itself. I never would have come to that realization if it wasn’t for the interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts degree. I was able to take that history class while also taking STEM classes and it completely changed my career path.

What inspired you to pursue a job in your current industry or field? 

My major in history definitely drew me toward my current position. As I want to eventually earn my Ph.D. in the History of Science and Medicine, working in a top-ten history department seemed like a fantastic way to see for myself what a career in academia looks like. I wanted to secure a position—post-undergrad and pre-grad school—that would give me knowledge of the field and show me the skills required to thrive in a high-functioning, highly prestigious history program. I also find it extremely rewarding to be contributing toward this program because it ultimately furthers the knowledge I am passionate about.

I never would have come to that realization if it wasn’t for the interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts degree.

Describe the process you went through to land your first job. 

I began looking for a job as a senior at Oxy, after hearing the dreaded "and what are you doing after you graduate?" question one too many times. I met with both Cherena [Walker] and Jamila [Chambers] to break down some of the logistical parameters I needed to set before seriously looking for job postings. I narrowed down my desired locations and the kind of work I wanted to do based on my interests and qualifications. Because I knew I eventually wanted to pursue academia in graduate school, I thought it would be ideal to try and look for a job at a college or university. This helped narrow my prospects immensely. I did not close myself off to positions not in an academic institution, but it fixed my priority on a specific kind of job environment. 

From there, I began looking for job openings at colleges and universities in my desired locations; most large academic institutions have an ongoing job board where open positions are posted and received through an application portal. I found this position through UWjobs and was so excited because it was in a history department. I submitted my application materials via the portal, including my resume, cover letter and letters of recommendation—all of which I learned how to write and coordinate through the Career Center at Oxy. After submitting my materials, I was then contacted for a virtual interview in March 2020. As a break from packing up my dorm room, I completed the interview and waited to hear back. I got an informal offer at the end of March and a formal offer in the beginning of August. The rest is history! 

Did you utilize services and support provided by the Hameetman Career Center? 

Absolutely. I worked in the career center all four years I attended Oxy. Being there three times a week, nine months out of the year, I learned so much about career development and resources because I was surrounded by it all the time. I utilized many of the workshops, panels and talks—often because I was a part of organizing it! I attended resume writing, interview and networking workshops. I met with our Career Advisors to discuss goals and plans of action. I believe my relationship to the career center was fundamental to landing the position I have now.

Do you have any advice for current students, especially as it pertains to job search, working remotely and networking?

Create a strong network and utilize it to the best of your ability. I truly believe a large part of why I got the position I am in now was due to my references. Friends, family, professors, classmates, former employers, colleagues; use these people as a tool and so many opportunities can be created from your network. 

I have been working about 30% in my office with one other coworker and 70% from home; I completely understand how hard it is. I began this position in August, in the middle of the pandemic, knowing I would be working from home the majority of the time. I still have not met many of my colleagues in person. It is HARD, but know that it is hard for everyone and work with your colleagues to establish an environment of understanding and support. 

Job searching is one of those things that can feel like pulling teeth, but it is ultimately so rewarding. Once you have a professional foundation with your master resume and knowing how to write cover letters, apply to as many jobs as you can and want. You never know what an opportunity will yield!