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Outside-the-box thinking: Arts can lead you anywhere

Arts programmes often come in for a bit of ribbing as there is no particular career path out of them. But apart from the joy of pursuing a passion, which is what higher education should be about, the beauty of Arts is that it opens up students' minds and encourages them to think critically about the world. In doing so, it sets them up for a myriad of opportunities. Marie O'Donoghue explains how her degree in English from Maynooth University has influenced a career in change management at one of the world's leading consultancy firms.


Marie O’Donoghue: ‘The ability to think critically is essential in today’s modern society’

Marie O’Donoghue: ‘The ability to think critically is essential in today’s modern society’

Marie O’Donoghue: ‘The ability to think critically is essential in today’s modern society’

It is important to be curious about the world, about your surroundings and about the reasons behind actions. I pursued English Literature after my Leaving Certificate because I wanted to dig deeper into a subject I was passionate about. It opened my eyes to the whole spectrum of critical thinking, reasoned arguments and behavioural analysis.

I was a curious child, and that trait developed as I grew older. As a university student, my innate curiosity paved the way to developing a sharp mind, analysing the essence behind the prose I was reading, and contemplating the cultural context and external compulsions behind the author's choices.

There is an assumption that undertaking studies in English, or any of the humanities, can be limiting in terms of career choice. This is simply not the case. The variety of ideas I was exposed to as a BA student of English and Geography at Maynooth University, and the range and breadth of the information I encountered, helped cement the skill set that leads me to excel as an Advisory Consultant at PwC today.

My job in change management advisory consulting is about supporting organisations and their people through change and transformation. My starting point is always to ask, "Why?" Unless it is possible to articulate the rationale for the change simply and concisely, then it is difficult for people to support it. Yes, there are likely to be problems to be resolved along the way but it is easier to do this when people have clarity about the vision and end state.

A problem should not be dealt with in isolation, considering only the indisputable factors and ramifications. Good change management and problem-solving mean thinking outside the box, requiring the ability to draw on multiple information sources and consider things like the political, societal and economic environment surrounding the issue. These are all skills I learned from my English studies.

My interest in change management began with the way my studies required me to consider the motivations behind characters' actions in novels and plays, as well as thinking about what drove the author to write them. This cultivated in me a way of thinking that explores the motivations behind the behaviours of others.

My education in English Literature has given me the confidence to trust my curiosity, and it has served me well throughout my career. It has enabled me to hone and transfer my abilities of critical thinking and reasoned argument into several aspects of my life, not just my career.

The ability to think critically is essential in today's modern society. Looking at our position in terms of our current economic, societal and political standpoint, we can measure what seems like an ungraspable shift in behaviour and perception through a careful analysis of external contributing factors.

Studying English shows you how environmental factors have always been one of the stronger indicators of change, with history providing the context that led to the change.

Marie O'Donoghue graduated with a BA in English in 1998 and is Senior Manager Advisory, Change Management Lead at PwC

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