Katherine Aoki '15
Position: Director of Operations, Tobin Project
Field: Non-profit, social science research
Thesis Title: “The Stock Boy, Salesman, and Merchant Prince: Men’s Work in U.S. Department Stores, 1890-1930”
Concentrating in History was one of the best decisions I made as an undergrad. I considered a number of concentrations, ranging from English to economics to anthropology, but was ultimately drawn to History by its rigorous methodology, flexible concentration requirements, and diverse course offerings. While my studies focused on nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. history, I also took courses on different periods in American history, as well as on British and Japanese history, and I deeply valued that the department did not require concentrators to specialize in a particular period or region. Instead, History offered the opportunity to explore any question that felt interesting and worthwhile.
While I thought that I would not write a thesis, I am so glad that I did, and it would not have been possible without support and encouragement from the department. When I arrived back on campus for my senior year, I was not planning on pursuing a thesis project. But my House’s History advisor convinced me, somewhat to my dread, that it wasn’t too late, and the next day I showed up at the first meeting of the History thesis tutorial. I was worried that I was too far behind, since most students had spent at least some of their summers conducting research for their theses, but with support from the tutorial instructors, I was able to work on a project that interested and challenged me. My thesis analyzed archival materials at HBS’s Baker Library, and I felt fortunate to be at an institution with such stellar resources. I think the project is what pushed me to grow during my fourth year of college, and I’m thankful to have been able to pursue it despite making my decision so late.
The skills I gained as a History concentrator have been extremely useful in post-college life. History taught me how to approach complex questions, identify and investigate useful evidence, and evaluate and develop nuanced arguments, equipping me with a strong analytical toolkit and enabling me to communicate effectively in a wide range of contexts. These skills have allowed me to take on a diverse portfolio of responsibilities in my current role, which has made the position interesting and rewarding. One of these responsibilities is overseeing recruitment for the organization, and the qualifications that we look for in applicants are the skills that history emphasizes, particularly the ability to conduct careful research and rigorous analysis and to write clearly. I continue to feel grateful for my experience in History, and I absolutely feel that I choose the right concentration.