How Do I Apply My English Literature Degree?
By Ron Marken
A familiar joke characterizes my job as promoting “McDegrees” – useless majors in English Literature who drive taxis to and from the airport. If some folks regard as trivial the extraordinary achievement of mastering critical writing and the giants of our written language – arguably the English-speaking world’s most priceless and enduring achievement – I’m afraid there’s little I can do to change their minds. On the other hand, a friend who teaches at the University of Edinburgh once told me he chose Anthropology because English was too difficult. He is a world authority on endangered tribes of the Amazonian rain forest.
What can you do with a degree in Chaucer, T. S. Eliot, or essays on the cultural effects of 18th-century poetry? Allow me to answer that question four ways.
First, you can teach. My father insisted farming and teaching are the most important vocations of any in the world. “One feeds the body and the other feeds the mind. What else is there?”
Secondly, you can work in any profession demanding clear and creative communication, critical thinking, and an open mind. Former students of mine – in the hundreds – can be found in the following:
- journalism (as writers and reporters)
- theatre (as directors, actors, and playwrights)
- business (as professional developers, advertising executives, human resources directors, CEOs, and venture capitalists)
- law (because the law demands people who can think and write critically and clearly)
- politics (where, again, the powers of persuasion using language are paramount)
- academia (as professors and administrators)
- publishing (as novelists, playwrights, poets, essayists, editors, and managers)
- arts (where dancers, song-writers, painters, architects understand and appreciate the importance of creativity in their lives and lives of a nation)
- parents who read to their children and discuss the movies, television, books, and video games they consume.
A Royal Bank Vice-President I know hires only English majors for his middle managers. “I can teach anyone the mysteries of banking, but I want people I can trust to say what they mean in ways others can understand.”
Third, you can pursue post-graduate studies to deepen and broaden your understanding and appreciation of your discipline. Master's and Doctoral degrees require great sacrifices, and only some of the time do they result in jobs like professorships. On the other hand, there are thousands of people who, if they had the time and opportunity, would chase down an M.A. and a Ph.D. just for the sheer joy of the achievement. Some climb mountains. Some golf. Some learn ballet. Some go to graduate school. Why? Why not?
Finally, whatever your chosen profession, you will not be pursuing it 24 hours a day. Often, you will go to the movies, read books, listen to music, recommend novels, write memoirs, vote, court the man or woman of your dreams. How much more satisfaction will these efforts award you if you know what you’re looking for, looking at, and sharing with? You could even enjoy knowing that ending sentences with prepositions like “for,” “at,” and “with” is frowned upon, and that you have been a quiet rebel by using them!
Think about this statement. It governs much of my life: “All the most valuable things are useless” (William Butler Yeats).
Ron Marken, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of Saskatchewan, and 3M National Teaching Fellow.
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English BA Degree=no career, English BA + Masters degree= career/job (high qualifications)|
Posted on May 22, 2012 at 10:31
Of course, as an English professor, you wrote this quite beautifully. Thanks for the tips! |
Posted on Jun 16, 2011 at 12:36
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