Princeton University majors in Comparative Literature go on to all sorts of fascinating careers, as you can see at the LinkedIn Princeton University Comparative Literature page.
Why Are They Needed?
In November 2019, Inc magazine reported that a number of experts were predicting that getting a tech degree was not the best way to survive in the 2020s. One report showed that the skills developed in studying the liberal arts were the least likely to be automated. A massive Google study found that "tech skills mattered the least and soft skills the most." As one workplace trend forecaster, Dan Schawbel, put it: "AI will automate technical skills and drive the demand for soft skills like creativity, communication and empathy. While there's been such a focus on recruiting STEM over the past several years, those majors will continue to lose relevance, while liberal arts majors will become more valuable to companies moving forward."
The CEO of a tech company, George Arison, interviewed for the Inc story, commented that tech companies will increasingly be confronted with problems that "do not have cut and dry answers" and the best employees will be those able to make complicated value judgments. Solving fake news and racist tech cannot be solved merely technically, he said. As another CEO, Toby Russell, put it in the Inc story, "The next generation of great tech companies will need to find ways to have software interact successfully and harmoniously with real humans in the real world. In order to do that, you need soft-skilled leaders that can integrate people, process and technology -- to in essence practice technological diplomacy."
What Do They Do?
A third of Princeton's COM majors go into education, becoming professors or teachers (~32%). Among professors, they are all over the world, teaching at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Oxford, Brown, New York University, Brandeis University, the University of Michigan, the University of California San Diego, the University of Auckland, Yonsei University, America University in Cairo, and many more. Others pursue careers in university education, including working in alumni relations, being in development, running writing programs, and advising students in various capacities (some even at Princeton). Others go into educational testing and college advising.
Another third go into business (~30%), including computing, development, marketing, consulting, finance, entrepreneurship, product management, project management, human resources, and quality assurance. Among those in business, many rise to positions as partner or director, such as those at the Boston Consulting Group, Fiduciary Trust Company International, McKinsey & Company, Frontier Venture Capital, and so on. Others have such jobs as senior marketing executive at Pepsi, investment banking analyst at Credit Suisse, software engineer at Simon Data, and venture capitalist on many corporate boards.
Some work as writers or editors (~12%). To name just a few of those in editing, they include the editor of The New Yorker, an editor at large at People Magazine, editorial director at St Martin's Press, associate editor at Simon & Schuster, an assistant editor at Oxford University Press, and so on. Some work as television writers, screen writers, playwrights, novelists, and journalists.
Quite a few become lawyers (~11%), some rising to become attorneys for United States Attorney's Offices in the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of New York; others becoming general counsel or special counsel for various businesses; and others found their own law firms.
Some become doctors (~6%).
Others go into film, art or media (~4%), becoming film directors, actors, story producers, graphic designers, and curators. One is associate director of audience development at San Francisco Ballet.
So, current COM majors are pursuing a degree with a future. Many graduate programs and businesses are interested in students like COM majors who have studied interactions across linguistic and regional boundaries, in the context of the economy, political dynamics, cultural movements, historical shifts, religious differences, the urban environment, international relations, and public policy. Students learn useful research skills while reading literature in the original languages and in translation, including critical analysis, cross-cultural communication, and international understanding, which are attractive to a wide variety of employers.
A study in the 2010s of 525 Comparative Literature graduates from Princeton found that about 30 percent are in business or finance, 27 percent are professors, 12 percent are writers or editors, 11 percent are lawyers, 6 percent are doctors, 5 percent are teachers, and 4 percent are artists, poets, or actors.
What Do They Earn?
Humanities majors have better job prospects than and similar long term earnings to STEM majors. They often have to do more searching for their path at first, but they often end up in higher positions in the long run.
As The New York Times recently reported, it is a myth that "computer science and engineering majors have better employment prospects and higher earnings than their peers who choose liberal arts." In fact, the "advantage for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors fades steadily after their first jobs" in part because "skill obsolescence and increased competition from younger graduates work together to lower the earnings advantage for STEM degree-holders as they age." By contrast, a liberal arts education, which develops "soft" skills such as initiative, problem-solving, and leadership, serves students better in a constantly evolving job market. In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure (NYT Sept 20, 2019)
As the Washington Post recently reported, "Contrary to popular belief, English majors ages 25 to 29 had a lower unemployment rate in 2017 than math and computer science majors," The World’s Top Economists Just Made the Case for Why We Still Need English Majors (Washington Post October 19, 2019).
While engineers and computer scientists are common, those workers who are adaptable and have cultural competence are rare. Employers need those who can talk to anyone anywhere, communicate difficult ideas clearly, and be at ease in multiple cultural and linguistic contexts. That's the COM major.
What Are Princeton COM Majors Doing Now?
The following is just a sample of what majors are doing in 2019.
Class of 2000
Chai Vasarhelyi '00 is a filmmaker who won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2019 and recently spoke at Princeton. She developed her senior thesis film into her first award-winning documentary.
Adair Iacono '00 is a lawyer who works as associate general counsel at the Vera Institute of Justice, which works on the injustice of U.S. mass incarceration.
Allison Derbes '00 is a radiologist.
Karen Emmerich '00 is associate professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton, her alma mater.
Ezra Fitz ’00 is a translator, recently handling all translation services for the El Chapo series on Netflix.
Aliza Fogelson ’00 was an an in-house editor at HarperCollins and Random House, and is now an independent editor of illustrated lifestyle books (cookbooks, design, etc.) and a writer with her debut novel coming out in 2020.
Class of 2019
Daphne Mandell ’19 is associate in the office of the CEO at Rent The Runway.
Michelle Yeh '19 is company dancer for Attack Theater.
Shreeya Umashankar '19 is in a master’s program in Near Eastern Studies at Harvard University.
Sandy Ra '19 is in a legal assistant program at Sullivan & Cromwell.
Classes of 2016-2018
Of the COM majors who graduated in 2016, 2017, and 2018, 48 responded to the Princeton survey about employment. Of the respondents, 50% were employed, 40% were in graduate school, and 3% were applying to graduate school. Two graduates were seeking employment.
Of the 23 respondents who were employed, 30% were in business (e.g., management consultant, software engineer); 35% were in education (e.g., program coordinator, research assistant); 22% in journalism and publishing (e.g., publicity, editor); and 9% in health fields.
Of the 19 respondents in graduate school, three were in law school, two in medicine. Four were studying at Harvard, and one each at Yale, Oxford, Stanford, and Columbia.
Spencer Shen '16 is Software Engineer at Bloomberg.
Daniel Teehan '17 is Outreach Paralegal at Southern Poverty Law Center.
Nicole Acheampong '17 is Publicity Assistant at Riverhead Books.
Lara Noorgard '17 is founder of Arte memoria magazine, with a focus on representing writing, music, and art that resists and remembers authoritarianism.
Magdalena Collum '18 is Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital.
In the Arts
David Remnick '81 is the editor of the New Yorker.
Zachary E. Woolfe ’06 is the Classical Music Critic for the New York Times.
Stacey Vanek Smith ’99 is Cohost, The Indicator, from Planet Money, NPR
Silas Reiner '06 is an award-winning dancer who collaborates with the choreographer Rashaun Mitchell on site-specific dances and immersive theatrical experiences.
Karen L. Thornber '96 is Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.
Caroline Levine '92 is David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of the Humanities at Cornell University.
Tili Boon Cuillé '93 is professor of French and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis.
Guillermo Rodriguez-Romaguera ‘99 is professor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Sara Shaw ‘10 works for various agencies on state educational policy.
Yessica Martinez ’15 is doing an MFA in creative writing at Cornell University after winning the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
In Law and Medicine
Alexandre Montagu '87 is a lawyer who founded his own law firm, MontaguLaw, and published a novel in 2019 The Riddle of the Sphinx.
In Business or Nonprofits
David Risher '87 is a former Amazon executive, and co-founder and president of Worldreader, which gives away millions of e-books to kids around the world.
Patricia Valderrama '11 works as the Schneider Sustainable Energy Fellow in the Climate & Clean Energy Programs at NRDC, a not-for-profit organization.
Zach Marr ‘09 owns a brick-and-mortar musical instrument store.
Nathalie Lagerfeld ‘09 is managing editor at a content strategy startup.
AV Ryan ' is at Tillett Lighting Design Associates, a sculptor and writer, and a consultant on the lighting of sculpture in the landscape.
Cara Sheffler '04 is a NYC Tutor of the SAT/ACT, French, History, Literature, Math.
Jocelyn Miller '08 is a writer and curator based in New York who works as part of MoMA PS1's curatorial team.