Posts filed under English Major Stories

The Quest for the Holy Doctorate: One English Student’s Reality Check

It starts out as an innocent attempt at small talk. I’ll be leaning out the drive-thru window of my workplace; reading Hemingway or Chaucer for my next assignment; talking to a new friend I met at the ice cream social. Here comes the classic American icebreaker: what do you do? 

“Oh, I’m a college student,” I reply.

“That’s nice. What’s your major?” 

“English,” I quip happily, proud.

This is about the time I notice an expression of confusion mixed with pity on the other person’s face. “Oh, you poor thing” is what I imagine they’re thinking. The next question (and I think almost all English students have encountered this) never comes as a surprise, “Are you going to teach?” At first, I dreamed of becoming an English professor with high hopes of research, writing and prestige. Now if that question rears its hideous head, I emphatically answer “No.” 

As I progressed through my undergraduate career, I began to wonder why so many people asked that of me and my classmates. Were we doomed to only a life in academia? Was academia so bad of a career choice? Did our society see us as only useful for teaching? I had to know if I was making a mistake in my career path. 

I had seen other warning signs that life as a doctoral candidate was going to be more than I bargained for. I knew that earning a Ph.D. was going to be a tremendous amount of work, but I knew I was more than capable. I have always been an honor student. I love learning almost more than life itself. Books are my friends, and the written word has always been my venue for creativity. However, as time went on—and I befriended some doctoral candidates who could give me the lowdown on the process—I developed an increasing anxiety about debt, and more importantly job prospects. I decided to do some research. The results were startling, disturbing, and frankly not what I wanted to hear. 

“I decided to do some research. The results were startling, disturbing, and frankly not what I wanted to hear.”

No more than one-third of all professors in the nation have tenure or are on tenure-track ( Adjuncts—who are largely abused by the system and get few, if any, benefits—compose the remainder. Tenure does not make the professor immune to termination, but instead offers much needed and sought-after security. The requirements vary from university to university, but it often involves publishing several scholarly articles and writing at least one book. 

This process itself is fine, and those who earn tenure deserve it, but it can be difficult to complete the process if one wants to have children during this time. I understood why tenure was so difficult to obtain, but I worried if I could hold out long enough to see the end. It takes two years for a master’s, then an additional two-three years (and longer sometimes) just to pass the exams and write a dissertation. Once the dissertation was successfully defended, I would be awarded my holy grail of scholarship. Sadly, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and my husband and I had future mouths to feed. I wasn’t sure if I could be patient enough. I wasn’t sure I could afford to be patient enough. The doubt kept compounding, and I needed to make a decision: continue the road to Ph.D. or find an alternative. 

I asked for the advice of my Honors professor, Dr. J. I asked her if I was on the right career path, if becoming a professor was the right thing for me to do, and what advice could she give me if I decided to proceed with becoming a professor. Firstly, she believed that I could do it and that I could be an excellent professor. My faith was restored, but it was short-lived. Just when I thought I was right all along, Dr. J. warned me of the hierarchical snobbery involved in academia. She received her master’s and doctorate from Yale; she’s one of the leading experts on WWI literature. She worked diligently, tirelessly, to get that prestige. She then told me of a former student of hers that had begun a doctoral program at our university. That student got a job in publishing. The verdict: she dropped the program and now she makes more money than Dr. J. 

There was more. More? I thought the worst was over, and I dreaded hearing what came next. She told me that for a Ph.D. to really shine and get a great job was to attend an elite college. The old adage rang true again: it’s who you know rather than what you know, and getting into Yale or any other prestigious university was the ticket to professor stardom. Here I was a first generation college student who had to pay for college myself at a state university. Could I get into Yale? Probably. I’m graduating summa cum laude with honors in English. I’ve been an accomplished student, so I didn’t doubt my abilities. But there were plenty of other stories about Ivy League schools that wrinkled my brow, making me squirm when I thought about attending one of those schools. To further deepen the wound, she informed me that a Ph.D. from a lower-tiered school (such as the one in which we were employed) was “doomed” to teach at a community college or a lower-tiered school. It didn’t matter if I was just as well-qualified, or even more qualified, than someone from Harvard or Columbia; if I didn’t have the watermark of an Ivy League school on my doctorate, I was sunk. 

“To further deepen the wound, she informed me that a Ph.D. from a lower-tiered school (such as the one in which we were employed) was “doomed” to teach at a community college or a lower-tiered school. It didn’t matter if I was just as well-qualified, or even more qualified, than someone from Harvard or Columbia; if I didn’t have the watermark of an Ivy League school on my doctorate, I was sunk.”

Her final words of advice were, “If you can only see yourself being a professor, then go for it. If you can see yourself doing something else, I advise you to do that instead. It’s a long, arduous road. You have to know if it’s right for you or you’re going to waste your time and money. It’s a highly rewarding career, if you’re in it for the right reasons, but you have to know if it’s for you.” 

I was in it for the right reasons, right? I wanted to help students achieve their highest potentials, but as I interviewed other professors, I found that it wasn’t the golden road that I imagined. I have a love for writing also, but getting a MFA seemed just as pointless (if not more so). I would be corralling myself into academia, unqualified for anything other than teaching, tutoring, and writing on my own time if things didn’t pan out.

I care about money more than I thought I did. I still care about helping people, but this is my chance to ascend my socioeconomic status. Law seems like a good path.  

Ever since I was a small child, I had been involved with politics. My childhood crush was Al Gore, and I wanted to be the first woman president. In high school, I was told by teachers that I would be a really good lawyer because of my argumentative nature and ability to be forceful in debates. I never thought that I would end up as a lawyer because of all the bad reps they got, but then I realized these were dishonest lawyers who betrayed their character and oath of decency. My top choice for law school is the University of Colorado-Boulder, but I won’t be too torn up if I stay at the University of Kentucky. I want to be an environmental lawyer because I can’t stand how much corporations and our species have destroyed our planet. There has to be boundaries. There has to be a push for new research and regulations. I may work for a firm, or for the EPA, or even on my own one day. I may even miss academia and decide to teach law after a long run as an attorney. 

“Being an English major does not mean a narrow path into academia. Teaching is certainly noble, and necessary, but it is not the English major’s destiny. I started out with one dream and ended with another. I must weather the winds of change, and the winds say this change is good.”

With a law degree, I can help society and still make a decent living. I will still have prestige, important connections, and the chance to publish only with a better chance of getting ahead in life. Don’t get me wrong, I fear the future; I fear the uncertainty of law school and forging a career. I fear how I will change. I fear the moral ambiguities and challenges I will face as a lawyer. I know I can do it. I know now, after much introspection, that this is the right choice. I want my children to have a better life than I did. This is my chance to do it, and I will. Being an English major does not mean a narrow path into academia. Teaching is certainly noble, and necessary, but it is not the English major’s destiny. I started out with one dream and ended with another. I must weather the winds of change, and the winds say this change is good.

About the Author

Shelby Bevins-Sullivan is a senior at the University of Kentucky, graduating in December. She loves poetry, prose, cupcakes, pretending she's a mad scientist, comic books, and collecting strange hats. She lives in Lexington with her husband, Joseph, along with her two fur babies: Amuset (kitten), and Molly (puppy).  

Posted on August 26, 2015 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, English Major Stories.

The Story of My First Job Search

Hey, it's Alyssa here (the English major behind Dear English Major)! Three years ago, I graduated from college (holy cow, those three years have flown by...), and since then, I've learned A LOT about the job-search process. With a new season of graduations in full swing, it has me reflecting quite a bit on my post-grad journey.

After starting and hearing from several of my fellow English majors, I came to realize that there was a great demand out there for some post-grad guidance. Hearing the same questions time and time again inspired me to want to share everything that I knew about the job search as an English major, and of course, that's why I wrote From Graduation to Career Ready in 21 Days: A Guide for English Majors.

Being able to commiserate with my fellow English majors and has always been a big help. "They asked you WHAT in the interview?" "Hey, can you read my cover letter? I have no idea what I'm doing." I thought it might be useful (and kinda fun) to share what finding my first full-time job was like. 

My Post-Grad Stress Fest

When I graduated from college in 2012, I had a general idea of the job search process. I knew that I needed to have a resume, and I knew that I would need to write cover letters. I knew that eventually I would need to go to interviews with people who asked daunting questions.

For those of you who are seasoned professionals or are already in the job-search routine, you know it can get A LOT more complicated than that! “Needing a resume” translates to writing multiple versions of a resume, taking the time to edit it, and giving it a visually appealing design. “Writing cover letters” translates to dozens of drafts and hours of trying to sound confident instead of cocky. And if you actually do get an interview, it can be a long process of phone interviews and in-person interviews with multiple people (sometimes all at the same time). And that’s just the tip of the exhausting iceberg. (Already panicking? This book covers everything you need to know.) 

Luckily, I had some awesome mentors and friends who had experience with all of this and were willing to share tips and information with me. But even then, I had to learn some things for myself. 

Rejected From an Indie Bookstore = :'(

The summer after I graduated from college was spent at an internship, going on small vacations with my family, and babysitting while I looked for full-time employment. It was a confusing time—lots of people had all kinds of encouragement to offer (“Oh, don't worry—you’ll find something!”) but I rarely heard back from job applications that I submitted. I was pretty open, and applied for a variety of positions: library assistant, copywriter, social media strategist, blogger, etc.

“There were 50 applicants?! This was a part-time job paying minimum wage, and there was already so much competition?!”

I finally scored an interview at an indie bookstore for a part-time position. Deep down, I really wanted a full-time position, but I figured it would be great experience, especially if I wanted to go into publishing (which, maybe I wanted to do?). They said that out of 50 applicants, I was in the top six they were actually interviewing. I was excited—working in a bookstore as an English major is kind of a no-brainer—but also incredibly depressed. There were 50 applicants?! This was a part-time job paying minimum wage, and there was already so much competition?! Oh dear.

I was interviewed at a huge table by four people all at once. They asked me to tell them about myself, what my favorite books and authors were, and general customer service-type questions. At the end of the interview, I felt that things had gone fairly well.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job. In a way, I felt relieved—it freed me up to continue looking for full-time employment, instead of combining a part-time job with babysitting for who knows how long. I was ready to have a “real” full-time job already! 

My parents assured me that I didn’t get the job because the people interviewing me knew that I would take a full-time job if one was offered to me instead (since I was just out of college, after all), and probably wanted someone who was seriously only looking for a part-time job. But it was also a slight blow to my ego—I had a college degree and couldn't get a part-time job that paid minimum wage?! What did that mean for the rest of my job prospects?

OMG, I Just Found My Dream (First) Job... Now What?

Sometimes when you’re searching for a job, you’ll finding a listing that puts a fire into your job search. It sounds PERFECT; you know you’re just right for the position, and it’s almost too good to be true. This is how I felt when I came across a job position as a full-time copywriter for a new e-commerce company that sold children’s products. It sounded fun to write about toys and cute kids’ clothing, and I felt comfortable with the topic because of my babysitting experience. (It might sound funny that I felt so excited about this; during college, this was NOT what I had in mind for a career. But hey, being fresh out of school really puts things in perspective!)

“I submitted my resume and cover letter, and waited. And waited. There was no one to email or check in with once I hit the “submit” button on my resume, and that was so frustrating to me!”

I submitted my resume and cover letter, and waited. And waited. There was no one to email or check in with once I hit the “submit” button on my resume, and that was so frustrating to me! I knew I needed to follow up. So I headed to LinkedIn and found someone who was a recruiter for the company. I considered messaging him, asking if there was anything I could do to follow up on my job application… and hemmed and hawed. Should I just wait a little longer? (Wait… while MY job was given to someone else?!) Would reaching out to the recruiter show initiative, or would messaging him be totally annoying and ruin any chance I might have had?

I decided I didn’t have much to lose. It was September already and I felt that I needed to get more aggressive. I messaged the recruiter, and didn’t receive a response.

However, about a week later... I got an email response to my application! They wanted to send me a copywriting test! Basically, they sent me a brief style guide I needed to stick to, and eight different products I needed to write about within a certain time frame. I spent time exploring their website and reading the writing that was already there, trying to nail down the company’s voice. Even though I did the test in private and no one was timing me, I was still nervous while I did it. (Would my writing be good enough? Could I think and write fast enough? What if I got the job, and completely froze when I was given an assignment? Etc.)

I submitted it the test, and it was reviewed by the copy team. About a week later, the Human Resources department scheduled a phone interview with me. The awesome thing about a phone interview is that you can have any notes you want in front of you. The not-so-awesome thing is that you can’t see the facial expressions or body language of the person you’re talking to, and it can be hard to gauge how the interview is going. It was nerve-wracking to say the least, but then I also don’t care much for talking on the phone in general.

After the phone interview, I was asked to schedule an in-person interview. To prepare for the interview, I looked up “commonly asked interview questions” online and actually typed out my answers. This process ended up being SO valuable. First of all, it helped me figure out what my answers actually were, as well as articulate specific ideas. Then I practiced answering the same questions out loud—yes. I sat alone and talked to a wall, no joke. And it helped!

I was given a little tour of the office that day, and was interviewed by three people (not at the same time), AND took another copywriting test where I was asked to write about a product on the spot (I’m sure it wasn’t my best writing, but I completed it, and that felt like a victory at the time). I found it really easy to talk to the three people who interviewed me, and I was sure to mention how my babysitting experience gave me insight into what moms think when they’re shopping for their children.

It turns out that my interview prep was extremely useful, even though a lot of the same questions were not asked. Because I had thought through some broad questions, I was prepared with material to talk about in general.

Money Can Be Awkward, But I Asked For More Anyway

I headed home and felt like things had went well, but I had also felt like this after the interview at the bookstore—so I figured, who knew what would happen. A few days later, I got a call back… with a job offer that included a salary, 401k, health benefits and stock options. Holy cow. I wanted to say “YES” before they could change their minds. But luckily I had some awesome mentors who convinced me not to accept their first offer... so, against everything my excited-to-have-been-offered-a-job brain said, I asked for more money. Yep.

Money can be an awkward thing, and asking for more of it—for a job you’d take in a heartbeat anyway—felt so confusing and counterintuitive. But the recruiter said that the team was anxious to hire me, so he would check with them and see what he could do. He called back later and had met me in the middle.

My First Full-Time, Big-Girl Job as a Copywriter = :-]

Not only had I secured the job I really, really wanted, but I had scored more money, too. Whoohoooo! The whole process—from the date of applying to my first day on the job—took two entire months. It’s a long time and definitely an investment that might not have worked out, but of course, I felt that it was worth it once I was hired.

To this day, I still don’t know if that LinkedIn message worked or not. The recruiter never responded to it, although he did add me as a LinkedIn connection after I was hired. Maybe it caught his attention after all! I’m glad I took a chance and went out on a limb.

Lessons Learned

Through my first couple of full-time jobs, and now my full-time freelance career, I realized that I have learned A LOT about the job-search process. I also realized that English majors had TONS of questions about the whole job search in general, from “Where do I look for jobs?” to “How do writers network?” From Graduation to Career Ready in 21 Days: A Guide for English Majors answers all of those questions and more. Check out what other English majors had to say about the book on Amazon

Do YOU have a job search story you'd like to share? It can be funny, frustrating, insightful—as long as it's 200 words or less, we want it! Submit your story below for a chance to be included in an upcoming article.

Name *
Posted on June 8, 2015 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, English Major Stories.

Why One English Major Chose Nonprofits Over Amazon

Author Erik Hanberg has allowed us to re-share this excellent article he wrote that was originally featured on

I’ve recently been inspired by (I was an English major) and its words of wisdom to students who are thinking about the work world. Remembering back to my own senior year in college, it was in the late winter that I (belatedly) finally realized I needed to start thinking about a job.

I was all over the map but I ended up interviewing at two different places:  … and a small nonprofit. After two rounds of interviews with Amazon, I called up my contact and let her know that I decided it wasn’t the right fit for me.

Instead, I took the (initially) unpaid marketing job at a small nonprofit.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so certain this was a good call. I mean, couldn’t I have at least kept interviewing to see if they would have hired me?

And yet. I don’t really regret. If Amazon had decided to hire me—not a given, I will fully admit—my life would be dramatically different. Different city, different family. I wouldn’t have written the same books, I almost certainly wouldn’t be serving as an elected official on my local park board.

There have been some great things to come from that decision. So I thought I’d call out a couple things that I’ve come to appreciate about the path I chose so that young people who are in a similar place as I was can think about the decisions in front of them.

Professionally speaking, there’s a lot I’ve gained from choosing a path in nonprofits.

“But there’s a professional benefit to this as well. Within a couple of years of that first job, I had a surprisingly wide network of friends and acquaintances. This came in handy when I applied for a job (at another small nonprofit) because it turned out I already knew a couple of board members, thanks to my first job.”

Being part of a community

One of the great things about working at a small nonprofit was getting to work with people all over the community. Living and working in a community is great—I love seeing people I know whenever I’m out and about around town. I got to know people in business, the arts, government, and much more, and it a great chance to see all that my community had to offer.

But there’s a professional benefit to this as well. Within a couple of years of that first job, I had a surprisingly wide network of friends and acquaintances. This came in handy when I applied for a job (at another small nonprofit) because it turned out I already knew a couple of board members, thanks to my first job.

There’s no way I would have been hired at the age of 23 to run a nonprofit if I didn’t have that wide network in the community.

If your first job out of college is in the bowels of a corporation, it will often mean a much narrower circle of professional contacts (who are usually other employees, which makes it harder if you want to leave).

Wider experience

One of the challenging parts of working at a small nonprofit is the bootstrapped nature of the work. Every employee often has to do a little bit of everything. Sometimes this can be frustrating, like when you’re the only employee who knows how to change toner in the copier.

But at other times, it’s useful. Doing marketing at that first job, there was much more marketing to do than the small staff could handle. So we all did what we could. That meant I got to dabble in events and dabble in press tours and dabble in online communications. Do enough dabbling (especially early in your career) and you can figure out what parts of your job you really like or really excel at. So you can tailor your next job appropriately.

Conversely, if your first job is at a big corporation, the more narrower your focus likely is, and less you are able to dabble in different kinds of work.

More time, less stress

It’s true that nonprofits have a tendency to ask too much of their employees. But looking around me at the time, I thought it was incredibly clear that the stress and time out of my day was much less than what my friends were facing at their corporate jobs. (The converse, of course, is that I almost certainly have earned less that those who did go to work with corporations with better salaries and benefits.)

There’s No Wrong Answer

I don’t want to badmouth corporations or their employees. I am friends with several people who work at Amazon or other large companies in Seattle. Nonprofits aren’t inherently a better place to work than a big company, and the qualities I enjoy about nonprofits could probably be duplicated in a corporation if you worked hard at it.

So there isn’t a wrong answer here. But looking back over the last 12 years, I have to say, I’ve been very happy about the opportunities my nonprofit experience has opened up for me later in my professional career.

The original article can be found on

Posted on May 27, 2015 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, English Major Stories.

Why I Switched From a Computer Science Major to an English Major

Pst. Hey, you. Yeah, you—reader. I have something clichéd and important to tell you: follow your Moss Hart and Kurt Vonnegut (you see those puns there?)—make the switch to English.

The Major Less Traveled By

Everyone has dreams and aspirations of what they want to be. During my childhood years, I wanted to be a scientist, but once I hit high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. When I arrived at college, I was set on the psychology degree: I took my first psychology course the first semester of my freshman year in college, and being a psychologist immediately waned after that. After my first semester as a psychology major, I decided to switch to art and graphic design. I went through a semester with that, utterly full of contempt with my decision—art and graphic design is too niche for me, and I was not enjoying it to say the least. 

Having hit an inescapable roadblock, full of stifled self-discovery and creativity, I switched to computer science on the premise of money and job security, and did that for the two years that followed (from the beginning of my sophomore year to the end of my junior year). At the end of my junior year, though, despondency set in: I discovered that I was not going to graduate on time. My computer science advisor did an awful job at preparing me for the road to graduation—I was advising myself, really. Always having had a convivial and ardent relationship with English, I changed my major one final time to, you guessed it, English. After my experiences in college, I realized that I just wanted to walk away with a degree in something that I was passionate in—writing.

The Plight of English Majors

I am certain many of you readers are expecting some sort of heartwarming story of how a relative introduced me to works like Moby-Dick or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; however, my story is less melodramatic. Growing up, specifically in my early teen years, I read many “complicated” literary works on my own from writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, William Blake, and a few others. It was because of these writers that I started to write short stories and poetry in my early years, with the hopes of being published one day. 

Many of the works I read made me curious about an English degree, but I was always discouraged from pursuing it. Trying to figure myself out, I went on a “soul search” (if you will), aiming to accurately decipher what it is my heart and “soul” really wanted to do. Through my early schooling years, I won many awards on written proficiency, was asked to be a public spokesman for my high school, helped many students with their papers, and excelled exceptionally in all of my English classes; apparently, I was good with English. 

Since I had been writing since my early teen years, it only made sense to major in English, and to stop thinking that money was the key to happiness. Because English at my university is such a short degree, and I had taken some college courses during my high school years, I talked to the Chair of the English Department at my university and he said completing an English degree was feasible in two semesters. With that level of confidence and assurance from the Chair of the English Department, I plunged head first into the pool of words.

The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made (& Why)

In the brief time I have been an English major, I have had the time of my life. I am now at the end of my college years, and believe I made one of the greatest, yet most maudlin choices of my life: being an English major. I say “greatest" choice because it has allowed me to express myself in a way I never thought possible; it has sumptuously opened up so many doors to my mind, and introduced me to some of the greatest writers I have never known. I was always interested in English, but had never delved too deep into it. 

I say "most maudlin" choice because it was difficult switching from computer science, a profession that has (almost) guaranteed eminence, to English, an unpromising exertion. With the inherent creative nature of English though, I never felt incredulous or nervous to open my mouth and offer an opinion or interpretation in class discussions—English, in my opinion, never has a “right” or “wrong” answer, and that contemplation is compelling. 

For example: in a Survey of American Literature course I took, the ability to propose a differing opinion from the professor when it came to interpreting works was always available. In that class, we analyzed works by Allen Ginsberg, William Dean Howells, Langston Hughes, Kate Chopin, Robert Frost, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ralph Ellison, Henry James and many, many others (I could go on for days). Because English is an interpretive medium, the professor (and students) willingly disagreed with each other without tantalizing or irascibly mocking each other. For this reason, I took fervent interest in the engaging discourse of English—I liked talking about things interpretively, and being able to have intelligible conversations in a logical way about things that might be illogical. Being interested in all things English (from the writing to the language to the words [etymology] to the literature), I found insouciant reprieve in its open-endedness. 

Sometimes “The Best Decision” is the Hardest

But, as I mentioned before, a somber tone incessantly followed me after I changed my major. 

Had I stuck with the computer science degree, I could have had a plethora of careers lined up for me with little to no effort: front-end or back-end development, systems analytics, software engineering, database management—the list could, quite literally, be endless. Nevertheless, I changed my major because I figured I would be unhappy with many of those job titles, and it would have taken me far too long to get into the field. Unfortunately, the many computer science professors I had did an awful job at teaching, and an innumerable amount of the concepts I learned were not sticking with me due to the way I was being taught. 

“Since I changed my major, I have gotten the perpetual countless stream of questions: “What are you going to do with that degree?” “Do you know that that degree is useless in the coming economy?” “Are you going to teach?” “So, you’re going back to school for another degree, right?” And so on.”

Since I changed my major, I have gotten the perpetual countless stream of questions: “What are you going to do with that degree?” “Do you know that that degree is useless in the coming economy?” “Are you going to teach?” “So, you’re going back to school for another degree, right?” And so on. Discouragement filled my mind to the brim, overflowing, like a darkness surrounding the forest—I could not escape my own thoughts of feeling like a completely and totally paltry man with a degree that might be barren. Despite looking far and wide, I have found many options for my English degree, but none quite quenched my insatiable thirst to feel invigorated. So I began writing for a video game blog and quickly discovered that that is what I want to do—interpret and review entertainment (video games, films, tv, music, etc.).

Albeit melancholia has followed me after I made the choice, I am glad that I made the choice. It is arduous to say that with conviction sometimes—I get trapped in my mind, in the ongoing onslaught of advertisements for degrees that are seen as “worthwhile” and wonder, “Why did I change my major? What did I do? Will I amount to anything? Am I actually going to ‘make it’?” This has prompted a brooding cloud to accompany me, reminding me in persistence that I may have made the wrong choice. Though I think these thoughts, I quickly recollect myself and proudly say, “I am overjoyed with being an English major because I am, in all honestly and actuality, happy with what I am doing and what I’ll be able to do—even though I am not certain I will immediately be able to get into the field I want.” Melancholia has followed me since I made the choice, but true and honest happiness trails closely behind.

To Follow One’s Passion is Self-Liberating

Changing my major on several different occasions had me feeling depressed, but when I finally landed on English, I was able to discover more about myself. In that self-discovery, I have learned to be pleased with my choice of English as a major, and be proud of it and everything I have done thus far. There are many reasons why I am glad to be an English major. 

Here are a few of my personal reasons why:

  • I feel like I have found my true self (or, as true to myself as possible, as I'm still young). What I mean is, in my heart, I should have (perhaps) always been an English major. When I was younger, reading Poe and Shakespeare, I said to myself that I wanted to get into English, and try to publish one day. Even when I was a computer science major, I decided that I wanted to go back to school for an English degree—English has always been inherent for me, and I am no longer lying to myself, picking a degree that I believe will garner me the most income, but bring about the greatest amount of personal sadness.
  • If I never made the choice to be an English major, I would have never read (and enjoyed) some of the classics such as The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, Sula, 1984, Death of a Salesman, Howl, The Awakening—and so on. Though I did not discover my favorite works of literature this way (Edgar Allan Poe still stands as my favorite poet), I have learned to appreciate different writing styles, which has helped me further develop my own writing voice. Needless to say being an English major has prompted me to read more rigorously and closely in the one semester than I have in my entire life thus far, and I am thoroughly enjoying that. None of the works I have read changed my life per se, but they have given me new perspective on things, and assisted in my understanding of the world around me in times when I was not born (especially The Great Gatsby—man, what a novel).
  • Because of English, I have been able to have comprehensible and coherently unbiased conversations about things in such an intellectual way. This is all thanks to English: the concepts I have studied and learned, the many papers I have written, and the exegesis and colloquial conversations I have had in class. In studying English, I have learned how to more effectively communicate: perhaps the greatest skill I can apply in the “real world.” Through everything I have studied, many concepts have stuck in my mind, and I can quickly call upon them like the force: able to choke, push, or shock any person in a conversation to make my point more valid (...none of that literally, of course). Knowing how to communicate in a way that is transparent and unambiguous is the most important lesson that English ends up teaching, and, because of this fact, I have become a better speaker.

Because of all this, I intend to continue my English education, and go to graduate school (at some point) for a MFA in Creative Writing (or something English related). Even now, I frequently study the craft of writing from furthering my understanding of grammar and syntax to trying to pick up a hobby in literary criticism and theory. Being an English major is more of a positive than a negative: my vernacular changed; grammar more verbose (which could be a bad thing [laughs]); writing more prolific; logic more cohesive—everything about my speech has become more grandiose than it already was, and that is a very invigorating thing. 

Studying the craft of writing is a very enriching: as with any hobby or passion, it opens the mind and frees the soul (just another cliché thing that may, in fact, be true). I love understanding the way punctuation is supposed to work because it helps my communication, a skill that all businesses and companies look for. Because of this, I believe that English is a very employable degree—even if you, or your family and friends, don’t believe so. 

After Graduation

In reality, the next steps for me is to continue writing. At this current moment, I have two personal blogs, and I am an editor of two other blogs (8BitChimp and TheMashUp). Because of my knowledge with blogging and understanding of that atmosphere, I intend to continue that profession—admittedly, I don’t get paid right now, as I am still a full-time student. To be more concrete with my future goals, I want to write for an entertainment website/company known as IGN (formerly Imagine Gaming Network), and work on getting something published. 

Do It!

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” -Maya Angelou

I understand many people's apprehension of becoming an English major, but I want say that the English degree has a lot to offer. Moral of the story: Do not be afraid to follow your heart and become an English major—it can teach you a lot of things, especially how to effectively and understandably communicate. To all aspiring English majors, those who are curious about English or contemplating about making the switch to English, my advise to you is simple: Do it! Make the switch—it is extremely rewarding. As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

About the Author

Jeremy Winslow is a full-time student in the final semester of his senior year at Notre Dame de Namur University (majoring in English and minoring in Computer Science and Business), and an editor of a few blogs including 8BitChimp and TheMashUp; he is based in the Bay Area, but from Sacramento, CA. Though being a student takes most of his time, he does his best to manage his time with the myriad of potential projects he has going on. Apart from being a fervent wordsmith and pensive writer, he is also an emphatic tech nut—he enjoys technology, and keeps up with the latest trends in the tech world. When he is not studying or slaving over some obnoxiously massive paper, he is usually writing some sort of non-fiction (poetry or prose), biking, playing guitar or video games, reading anything and everything, programming/coding, or watching a film (yes, film—not movie). Aside from 8BitChimp and TheMashUp, you can keep up with Jeremy on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted on January 27, 2015 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, English Major Stories.

How Working in the Service Industry Has Made Me a Better Writer

As a beer brewer, published writer and adjunct professor, Sam Slaughter knows a little something about working in the service industry along with practicing your craft. If you're spending your days pouring pints of beer behind the bar when you'd rather be writing, not to worry—all is not lost. In fact, you might be better off than you can imagine, and Sam Slaughter is here to tell you why. 

I’ve been writing on and off for around fifteen years and I have been serving, waiting tables, bartending or doing something related for around a decade. In the time that those two have overlapped, I’ve learned that, at least for me, having a job that has nothing to do with writing has helped me tremendously when I do finally sit down to write.

I realize that for most of y’all that will be reading this, writing full-time is the end-goal. We want to be able to get up every morning and get to it, typing furiously to produce the next great [insert type of writing here]. In this day and age, though, while it is possible (and there are plenty of examples of it elsewhere on Dear English Major), there’s probably going to be some period of time where you’ll need to write and have some sort of other job to pay those pesky things called bills. If that is the case, my suggestion is to find a job in the service industry—waiting, serving, hosting, bartending, whatever—because those types of jobs can teach you valuable skills that are transferrable to your writing craft.

First and foremost, I think, working in the service industry teaches you to listen.

I don’t mean listen as in taking an order (important, but not really to writing). If you’re a bartender, you’re going to hear stories. When I can, I talk to the patrons. Most of the time it is about beer, but usually after a few, the conversation wanders. They tell me about their days, their families, their jobs, the screwed up things that have happened in the world. As a bartender you are the ultimate confessor. You don’t have the ability to absolve one’s sins (excluding the ability to help them forget for a little while), but you are the one a person can come to to get something off his or her chest. It can get annoying, sure, but it can also provide an enormous amount of insight into a different world.

People want to talk about themselves and talk about what they know (even if they don’t actually know about it) and as a bartender, you are the receptacle of that knowledge. As a creative writer, this is a boon. The stories I’ve heard from patrons over the years have made their way into my stories in little ways. A detail here, a detail there—the pieces that hit home do so because they are steeped in reality. As a journalist or marketer, you conduct anthropology as a server. You learn about people, their wants and wishes, their likes and dislikes. As a writer, you can parlay that information into article pitches, advertisements, you name it.

Photo by  Justin Carmody

Complementing the ability to listen is the ability to observe.

The benefits of doing so are many of the same as listening. On a practical level, you need to observe so you don’t spill red sauce on a white-dressed woman or don’t clothesline an errant child or something else that will negatively impact your tip. On a writing level, observation is key. There are many writers that advocate for being a watcher. Among them, David Foster Wallace said a good writer is, by necessity, a lurker, staring at any and everything.

As a server of any sort, not only will you listen to people’s stories, but you will see them played out. For the creative writer, you will see how a family interacts—are the kids hooked to their iPads, is an elderly man holding an elderly woman’s hand?

All of these things are writing gold.

From one little detail like that, an entire story can arise. For non-creative writers, observation can lead to inspiration for pitches. Do you notice a consistent crowd of doctors at this one bar? Are all the kids now playing with X instead of Y? There are ideas in every seat, at every four and two-top, you just need to look at them.

Third, the service industry forces you to use all the muscles you don’t typically use when you write.

Some may write standing up, or for some writing may be a full-body activity (how, I don’t know, but I don’t want to discount it). For most of us, though, we’re slumped (okay, I’m slumped, I have terrible posture) over a keyboard in an only-somewhat comfortable chair for hours staring at an artificially bright screen. Being a server, you’re moving. You’re exercising (if you want more on the benefits of exercising for writing, read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) and allowing the rest of your body to work as hard as your mind usually does.

During that period of exertion, too, it allows your mind to run free a bit. I work in a brewery and spend hours lifting fifty-pound bags of grain in a mill and later scooping those same grains out of the mash tun. The motions are the same—lift, drop, lift, drop, scoop, pull, scoop, pull—and during them I can reflect on what I’m writing. I have a chance to write without writing. What will come next? How can I rewrite that scene? It all can happen during the exercise brought on by the service industry.

Finally—and this one is less about writing and more about general humanity—being in the industry teaches you to be a real, kind human being to others.

Ask any waiter and you’ll surely hear anywhere from five to five thousand horror stories about terrible customers. Working as a hookah lounge one summer, I was repeatedly referred to as “Boy” when a table of twenty-somethings deemed me necessary to their plans. Boy. I’ve been harassed by drunks more times than I can count (and, speaking as a white middle class male, I get off lucky. I know I am not harassed anywhere close to as much as, really, anyone who does not resemble the reigning hegemonic forces since forever).

I realize this may not work for some. The sheer fact that the service industry in most cases forces you to be social may not be one’s cup of tea. For me, spending hours with only my mind, I need that kind of interaction. I need strangers to confess to me. I need to haul grain bags and feel the strain in my muscle fibers. I need all that to write better.

About the Author

Sam Slaughter is a writer, beer brewer, and adjunct professor based in DeLand, Florida. He received his BA from Elon University and his MA-English from Stetson University. He has had fiction, book reviews, and nonfiction published in The Atticus Review, Heavy Feather Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Drafthorse, The Southern Literary Review and elsewhere. He can be found behind the bar at Persimmon Hollow Brewing Company, on Twitter @slaughterwrites, or on his website


Posted on October 13, 2014 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, English Major Stories.