Preparing for a Rewarding Life after Graduation: Tips from Auburn History Major, Austin Zinkle
By Cathleen M. Giustino, Mills Carter Professor of History and World History Coordinator
Austin Zinkle marched in Auburn’s commencement last May with the wonderful feeling of knowing what he would be doing after graduation with his B.A. in History. He had been accepted, with a full tuition-waiver and a teaching assistantship, into the Ph.D. program of the University of Kentucky’s History Department, where he will pursue advanced study of the history of civil rights. He is confident his efforts can help him to pursue a variety of interesting career options, including in academia, government, community service, and cultural heritage management. How did Austin secure such a great opportunity to advance his career in a subject that he loves? Austin generously agreed to share some advice on preparing for life after graduation with a history degree.
Austin has loved history since high school and he knew then that he wanted to study history in college. Austin rejects the view that history is an impractical college major, arguing, “I knew that as a history major I would not only learn historical concepts such as facts and dates, but that I would also be able to better articulate myself in my writing and present well-developed thoughts in a more professional manner.” He adds that history majors learn information-processing and problem-solving skills that are “applicable to numerous careers.” For his Senior Thesis Austin wrote a history of youth and civil rights in Chicago during the 1950s. This capstone paper was one of a number of projects that helped Austin to advance his analytical and communication skills, which will serve him well in his future pursuits.
Austin wisely took a proactive approach to planning for life after graduation. He recommends, “Never think it is too early to start preparing for life after graduation.” One very important part of that preparation is getting to know your professors. Students need strong letters of recommendation for many opportunities after graduation, including employment and graduate school. “It is so much easier to be able to ask a professor to write a recommendation letter, if you already have a positive relationship in place,” Austin relates. Professors and many others would wholeheartedly support this excellent advice.
In addition to proactively cultivating relations with one’s professors, when planning for life after graduation, it is important “to find a topic or concentration that you are truly passionate about and to explore that topic as deeply as you can in undergraduate work.” During his time at Auburn, Austin identified and took classes that he not only found interesting, but that also advanced his goal of working in civil rights, including courses on Twentieth-Century United States, the Civil Rights Movement, Eastern European History, and Twentieth-Century Europe. His minor in Religious Studies augmented his interests and preparation for graduate school. All undergraduates should consider earning a minor, a relatively easy way to advance their expertise and career options.
Austin encourages Auburn history majors planning for the future to “never be afraid to ask for help.” He developed strong working ties with a handful of the history department’s professors, learning from these relations that, “One’s professors can be fantastic resources, as they often can articulate your strengths better than you can yourself.” He wishes time had allowed him to work with more history faculty, especially after hearing excellent papers at the World History Symposium organized last spring on the occasion of Dr. Joseph A. Kicklighter’s retirement after 40 years of outstanding teaching at Auburn.
There are variety of career options in history, including many in archives, museums, and historic preservation. In order to learn about career possibilities in these areas of public history and cultural heritage management, Austin held a summer internship at the East Tennessee Historical Society, a history museum and archive in downtown Knoxville. There he had “hands-on involvement in the field of public history, both as a researcher in an archive as well as experiencing the behind the scenes work of museum exhibits.” Internships are a great way to pursue one’s passions and prepare for life after graduation. So are the many study-abroad options available to Auburn students, including programs in London, one of which Austin participated in and greatly enjoyed.
The time just before graduation can be a time for reflection on things that one most liked about college and things one will most miss. Austin thinks he will probably most miss the people he met at Auburn, including friends, classmates, and professors. His experiences working as a Resident Assistant for Auburn students, including Auburn student-athletes, left him believing that there is truly something to “the notion of the ‘Auburn family’” and that this feeling of community is “what separates Auburn from many other universities out there.”
Members of Auburn’s History Department thank Austin for sharing his advice on preparing for a rewarding life after graduation. We all wish him great enjoyment and success in graduate school and his other future endeavors!
Last Updated: August 21, 2015