Date: Thu, 28 Sep 1995 14:27:59 -0400 From: Wayne Glowka 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 experience. 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 institutions. 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 something. 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 discipline. 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 912-453-4222 wglowka[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]