Below is a blog post submitted by David J. Smith, who decided to answer a question he frequently gets, “How do I explain what peace studies is about?” Hopefully this post will help you answer that question!

“Get a Job” is the reframe from 1957 Silhouettes’ song of the same name.[1] Now I suppose many of you reading this blog are much too young to know the song, but it’s message resonates today.   The need to find work, a career, a gig – whatever you might call it –  is more important than ever before.  Undergraduate education (particularly liberal arts based), where once focusing on careers was not important (we focused on “enlightenment”) has changed.  Today, college students know from the first day of college that studying in an area that will lead to a meaningful (and well-paying) career is essential.  Often a large student debt ($37,172 is the national average) can be an uncomfortable reminder of this.  At breaks from school, parents might not so much ask about what you have learned about Plato or Newton or Impressionism than about the internship or student teaching (my daughter is an education major) that needs to be done before graduation.  Aligning learning with career opportunities is an essential objective of college faculty and advisors.  This then presents a central question for the student studying peace:  Does a peace related degree or field of study provide a gateway to employment?  Will it help me “get a job”?

As a career coach, I am asked this question frequently.  And my answer is unequivocally yes… but.   As the world is changing and the problems and challenges we face become more complex, having aptitudes and awareness that are acquired through peace and conflict resolution related studies have applications to a range of fields and areas.  But many can’t see that.  And that is the problem for the recent graduate.  He or she needs to be prepared to make the case for the relevancy of their study to prospective employers (as well as their parents!)  They have to be prepared to “teach” about the field in some cases.

Reductionism is often derided because it oversimplifies complexity where complexity is important to understanding.  But breaking down an abstract and imprecise concept like peace can be helpful in getting others to understand what peace means in a practical way.   The manifestation of peace in outcomes such as social improvement (like the reduction of violence) is an important way to get others to understand “how” peace works. Developing the language of “application” to serious social community and global challenges like global warming, extremism, community violence, economic inequity, or xenophobia is the key.  Learn to explain to someone what peace does and how it works. Rather than saying “peace approaches bring about improved relations” discuss a specific project or initiative where that actually took place and describe the specific strategies that were used like community dialogue or using local assets and strengths, and what role you can play in that.   What are your specific skills?  Answer, not “I can help bring people together” rather “I know how to apply for grants and find resources can be used to improve community life and here is how I would go about doing it.”

In a recent edition of The Peace Chronicle (Spring/Fall 2017), I addressed the issue of how to explain what a peace studies major is studying on a resume or job application.  My response: describe your studies in a project based way.  Describe a specific paper/activity/project you were involved in.   Rather than defining peace studies, illustrate what the specific contributions of your experience might be.

Granted, this is not so easy.   And it assumes that you have the opportunity as a student to engage in the application of your learning.   If you are in a program of study now, make sure to seek out applications of your learning.   Consider every project or paper you work on as something that might provide insight to an employer as to what you can do.  Talk to your instructors about taking papers that are more theoretical and making them more applied.  Think about how these applications relate to solving important issues of change.  That is the key to making your case and getting a job.

David J. Smith is the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016).  He can be reached at  More about his work can be found at

[1]  The first verse of the song is:

Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
Mum mum mum mum mum mum
Get a job, sha na na na, sha na na na na

“Get a Job,” Robinson Recording, written by Beal, Edwards, Lewin & Horton (1957)


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