By Jenna Wenkoff
While studying philosophy, a friend of mine (let’s call him Brandon, an engineering student), always said: “When we graduate I’m going to be an engineer, and you’re going to be a…philosopher.”
Then he would laugh at the absurdity of ‘being a philosopher’. Well, Brandon, I will have you know that philosophers actually do pretty well financially.
In fact, a related article from UNC found that philosophy majors’ average mid-career salary is $75,600, which is the second-highest out of the humanities. Somewhat surprisingly, this is even higher than a business major’s salary. Brandon isn’t alone in thinking that philosophers are unemployable. However, not only are they employable, but they have many of the specific skills to excel at communications.
Top Three Philosophy Skills That Apply to Communications
1. Overall Communication Skills
Philosophy involves simplifying complex ideas like metaphysics through papers and presentations. This has helped me with medical writing, where I make complex conditions
digestible to the general public. It also hones one’s clarity in both writing and speaking. Because it relies on logical writing where miscommunication can ruin your argument, you quickly learn to avoid ambiguity. James Madison University’s Why Study Philosophy page explains this well:
“It provides some of the basic tools of self-expression – for instance, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments – that other fields either do not use or use less extensively. Philosophy helps us express what is distinctive in our views, it enhances our ability to explain difficult material, and it helps us to eliminate ambiguities and vagueness from our writing and speech.”
Simply stated, if you can make topics like moral responsibility’s compatibility with determinism clear, you can write about almost anything.
Whether it’s talking to locals, running focus groups, researching a client, industry or the public, research is a huge part of communications. Philosophy teaches us how to collect large quantities of information and apply it to any given topic. Another article from the University of Nebraska Omaha lists research and investigation as one of the skills you can expect to learn from a philosophy degree, which they describe as “The ability to seek out information; to identify problems and needs; to systematically define a problem; to formulate questions relevant to clarifying a particular problem, topic, or issue.”
3. Facilitating Discussions and Asking Questions
This debate has also been a cornerstone of philosophy since the ancient Greeks. Participating in multiple debates as an undergrad—often on controversial topics—trained me in facilitating knowledge exchanges and asking the right questions. Both of these are crucial in communications.
PRBoutiques.com provides some examples of the types of questions you might ask clients, for example, “What are your goals for PR?” or “What do you picture as an ideal outcome of the work we’ll do?”
Simplify Then Clarify
Public relations makes it onto almost every career in the philosophy list. The Faculty of Arts page from Brandon University states that “Philosophical training will enable you to convey complex ideas to target audiences, and to handle questions well.”
From my experience, these universities are correct. My degree has given me the ability to understand and communicate complex ideas. For a communicator, this is invaluable.
Have I been overcompensating in this article because philosophers get a bad rap?
Maybe a little.
Still, it doesn’t change the fact that a philosophy degree gives you the necessary skills to excel in the field of communications.