Date: Thu, 28 Sep 1995 14:27:59 -0400


Subject: What Can You Do with a Degree in X

The discussion about what you can do with a degree in linguistics is too

close to the question about what you can do with a degree in English for me

to pass up the opportunity (to share with those interested in reading a

long post) an article I wrote for the local paper last year after someone

in the business school popped off a "humorous" question about what someone

with a degree in English and religion could do for a living. (NOTE:

Knight-Ridder owns the copyright on this piece, so make fair use. I may be

wrong about Jim Morrison's undergraduate education. Our present chancellor

and last chancellor have been English majors.)

By the way, one of my ex-debaters majored in political science but took the

history of the English language from me. She ended up in the linguistics

graduate program at UGA-Athens. She now works as a technical writer for

the state in an environmental office.

Please trash this if you are not interested.

Wayne Glowka

An English major could become your boss

By Wayne Glowka

When I was in the fifth grade, my parents provided me with a

dissection kit and a book on the colostomy procedure, hoping that I would

become a surgeon and help them with their outrageous medical bills.

But my interest in medical science soon wandered to paleontology

and then to electronic engineering, interests that later disappeared in the

hormonal chaos of high school.

When I got to college, I made a decision to major in philosophy, a

decision that left my parents telling people that I was majoring in

psychology--hoping, I guess, that I would get a cushy job prescribing

expensive psychotic drugs.

When I dropped philosophy and took up English, I became an enigma

to almost everyone I met, especially since I had no plans to be a high

school English teacher.

When asked about my plans for the future, I would answer that I was

going to become a professor, an answer that left everyone wondering why I

would choose a profession that required years and years of preparation, all

for a job that would pay less than plumbing.

All of these questions and worries, however, seemed irrelevant to

someone with a passion to read and to write books--whether money was

involved or not.

And now I teach students with a major in English, a major that is

less than appealing to most other students, especially students who want

specific jobs at the end of four or more years of specific study.

Now, some of my students, of course, are being trained to be

secondary English teachers, but many of my students--like me in my student

days--have very open-ended senses of their futures and do not necessarily

have specific jobs in mind for the future.

I am sure, however, that they are constantly questioned about what

they intend to do with themselves when they graduate. Indeed, I am

constantly questioned about what they will do.

Last night, for example, somebody flippantly asked me what someone

with a double major in religion and English could do for a living.

At the time, I laughed along with the joke, but after some thought,

I came up with an answer: any job that required a sensitive, ethical

response to the complexities in human intellectual and emotional


This person could apply information from a variety of serious

academic areas to specific problems and then communicate his or her

conclusions in clear, concise writing.

I should have given this short answer: "Well, this person could

become your boss."

People wonder about what we do in the English department beside

correct one another's grammar and "analyze poetry." In short, our job is

to train students how to apply what they know of the arts, philosophy,

social and political history, the physical and social sciences, and common

sense to the problems of real life as presented in the works of the finest

minds to use our language.

Such training makes these students valuable in a variety of

careers, and in the last few days, I have come up with a list of jobs that

I know that English majors have succeeded in getting.

First, many English majors end up teaching in all kinds of academic


Some English majors end up writing for a living, doing either

imaginative or technical writing.

But English majors are often hidden in other professions. Some,

like John Wayne and Burt Reynolds, become famous actors who--despite the

stereotype of the sissy male English major--have come to symbolize

twentieth-century American notions of manhood.

One English major I know has become a law enforcement administrator

and a city councilman.

Other English majors I know have become educational administrators.

I have personally known a curriculum director, a dean, an associate

provost, and a vice president with English degrees. I also understand that

English majors do well as chancellors of state university systems.

Indeed, I am not sure that I even have room enough here to list all

of the jobs that I remember English majors getting. But here is a sample:

personal banker, editor, lead singer in the Doors, pharmaceutical

salesperson, lawyer, librarian, Peace Corps basketball coach, chef,

computer center administrator, insurance worker, theatre director, and

television news anchor/reporter.

Obviously, a degree in English--or any other liberal art--is worth


Indeed, if a student really had a burning desire to become the

governor of a southeastern state, a secretary of state who negotiated the

end of a war in southeast Asia, or a president who started something like

the League of Nations, I would send that student down the hall to the

history department, where statesmanship seems to be strength of that


But down here in the English department, we have our own strengths.

Wayne Glowka

Professor of English

Director of Research and Graduate Student Services

Georgia College

Milledgeville, GA 31061