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English Degree Survival 101


Over the last few months I've decided to dust off my PhD proposal. As I've contemplated returning to the academic world, I've reflected on the last few years of my professional career and how that experience could be translated into an academic career. Unfortunately, one thing has become glaringly clear - there is a massive disconnect between my academic life and my professional life.

While I am grateful for my education, I have to admit that getting a job post-graduation was a nightmare. From day one, my academic experience did not hold up well in the business world. When it came time for interviews and proving I had valued skills as a potential professional employee, I was left wanting.

Traditionally, aside from those who major in journalism, English programs lead to teaching. However, it's no secret that a good number of English majors want to be writers, not teachers. I'd guestimate that less than half of my classmates were actually interested in teaching. This situation was not exclusive to our department, but spread across the Humanities: History majors, philosophy majors, art majors, etc., we all had murky career prospects unless teaching was the goal. Many of us were told our degrees were worthless.

Worthless? I don't think so. The problem was (and still is) these programs lack practicality. It breaks my heart to finally admit this, but it's true. Upon graduation, most students of the Humanities can make excellent arguments about Socrates, but have no idea how to work an excel spreadsheet.

For the writers, some think they can avoid the corporate world and blog for an online magazine or self-publish a novel. I hope these people enjoy eating ramen and living in their parent's basement for the first decade of their career.

Want to be a well-paid writer in the business world or the ever-elusive publishing world? If you don't have knowledge (or are scared) of sales, marketing or technical language, you're worthless. Even a Business Writing course isn't enough. The working world is a mess of tech now. Not long ago, if you had a blog, Facebook account and Microsoft Office, you could fake it until you make it. Not anymore. You need to know how to run social media campaigns, create Google Ad words, incorporate SEO and utilize CMS and project management tools. You need at least a basic understanding of HTML. You need to know what marketing automation software is. Can you use Adobe products? Yes or no? It's not like my employer hands me a typewriter and says, "Go for it! Write me an essay on Virginia Woolf!" (Which, by the way, would be awesome.)

Writers, in particular, need to be corporate chameleons. They need to be able to work in diverse groups across organizations - from execs to techs, put proposals together, interview topic experts, create different review processes, establish style guidelines and handle critical feedback (and distinguish that from the crazy feedback). I guarantee you that very few English programs offer such teachings.

I hope that I can bring my real-world perspective into the world of academia and inspire Practical Humanities. I want my students to learn about literary criticism but also how to make money. I want my students to be able to think critically about the society in which they live, while thriving within said society - or at the very least... be able to feed themselves.

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