Date: Thu, 28 Sep 1995 14:27:59 -0400
From: Wayne Glowka wglowka[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MAIL.GAC.PEACHNET.EDU
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.
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.
Professor of English
Director of Research and Graduate Student Services
Milledgeville, GA 31061
wglowka[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]mail.gac.peachnet.edu