English Forum

On Friday, February 27th, the English department held “Career Paths for English Majors”, the first ever SMCM English-focused jobs panel. The forum was headed by Prof. Christine Wooley, Chair of the English department, and was held in the Upper Monty Commons. Five SMCM alumni, ranging from the most recent class of graduates back to the class of ’05, were invited to speak about how their English degrees translated into the workforce post-college. That can be a big help in answering the haunting “what do you do with a B.A. in English?” question. (And as this is being written by an English major, I’d like to know myself.)

Dr. Wooley said she went out of her way to find alumni that occupied different careers from the first associations one might predict for an English student—absent from the panel were any teachers or novelists, poets or publishers. Present was a legal secretary, an RN/midwife, a technical writer from Booz-Allen, an HR and PR specialist, and an ’08 graduate who ended up in software design. The wide range of jobs represented at the panel show part of what St. Mary’s faculty are always championing—what even Dr. Wooley said in her opening remarks: a liberal arts education helps you adapt to any career.

One of the main themes that came out of the panel was the idea that your passions don’t have to be limited to what you do in your day job. Graduates who today find themselves in more technical fields say they use their communication skills on the job more than anything, and find outlets for their creativity in their personal lives—the writer for Booz-Allen said she found her job very engaging, and then in her free time wrote personally and for guest columns in her local paper. It’s not the most rose-colored view of life as an ex-English student, but it is a realistic and grounding one. Seeing a spread of viable options can be even more heartening for students who fear surviving post-graduation, since they’re constantly told that pursuing what they love and what they’re good at is a path to destruction.

Wooley and panelists also warned students about taking on extreme career paths with the thought of a big payday at the end. One panelist spoke specifically on how the law-track, which many English students turn to when faced with the prospects of job hunting post-undergrad, can be a treacherous and costly uphill challenge—she didn’t dissuade all students from considering law school, but reminded the crowd of mostly juniors and seniors that law is not right for everyone; as seen by a quip from one student during the Q&A session: “The question for St. Mary’s grads is always ‘So do I join the Peace Corps or go to law school?’”—it’s a reminder that needs to be heard.

The forum not only showed students real-life examples of English majors in the workforce, but they brought viable and direct options with them, some even bringing information about internships and applications available at their place of work.  Prof. Robin Bates later marveled at the way networking really does seem to work well for St. Mary’s students—“Everybody here has each other’s backs,” he said. “I’ve never seen another college like it.”

Overall the panel left me feeling comforted, with questions answered about the viability of an English degree post-college, and examples of people whose paths left them both secure and fulfilled to guide me.

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