Funnily enough, my division officer asked me a similar question as I was preparing to leave the Navy. My answer was that I needed to pursue a graduate degree in history in order to become a more well-rounded member of the historical profession. I already had a graduate degree from the National Intelligence University, and I know of former classmates who found lucrative jobs as holders of that degree. I however did not see myself following that path.
My division officer openly voiced his opinion that dropping out of the work force and going back to school for a couple of years would be a waste of time, and from a narrow, short-term perspective, he had a point. But I wanted to enter a profession that I could still be working in as an octogenarian, and I feel that there was no substitute for completing a graduate degree in history to get me started.
Each class imparted specific knowledge and perspectives that I would otherwise have never considered or even known about had I not gone to GMU, and each has resulted in its own reward. Among these I have to say that the class I took on American behavioral history under then-Provost Peter Stearns gave me the practical approach I have carried with me into this position. His emphasis on utility in the historical profession, that we study the past in the hope of helping solve today’s problems, is a simple yet effective argument for why historians are relevant.
As the staff historian at a naval museum, I have encountered many history buffs who know the “what” as good or better than I do, yet most do not give much thought to “why.” Without considering cultural factors, much of the transformations that have happened to the American Navy over the last 240 years are difficult to comprehend. The emphasis on cultural history at GMU has prepared me to delve into subjects that the average military history buff would dare not touch.
My experience in the federal civil service has taught me:
1. Status as a veteran does not entitle you to a federal job in the field of history.
2. Lack of veterans’ status is not an insurmountable barrier to obtaining a federal job in the field of history.
Even as a veteran with two graduate degrees, to start a career in the historical profession I had to take a job four hours away from home that paid considerably less than I earned on active duty. Veteran or not, if you are not willing to work longer hours for less pay than you are used to getting, your chances of getting your foot in the door in this field are slight.
I hate getting up early in the morning (another reason the GMU graduate history program was a good fit for me).
I also hate wearing the same thing every day, getting haircuts, and being called “shipmate.”