This might sound trite, but I honestly think that one of the biggest impacts being an English major has had on me is teach me to write (a fierce editing habit is implied).
In our digital age, the written word is often the first medium in which people have a chance to make a good impression. Whether it’s building a website, sending an email, putting together a resume and cover letter, or reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, writing is imperative. There is also something to be said for developing your own voice. The way you express your thoughts “on paper” gives people a sense of who you are. Also, let’s not forget that more and more employers are also checking out applicants on text-heavy social media.
Granted, having memorized William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say” is probably not going to make a huge difference in your day to day life (unless, of course, you derived some sort of special meaning from Williams’ poem that brings you joy). The same goes for understanding Mikhail Bakhtin’s thoughts on what makes good literature (although, I should note that name-dropping Bakhtin can be a hit at cocktail parties), but being able to wrestle the point out of complex and sometimes contrary texts is valuable.
Those are two pragmatic skills that are applicable to jobs across many industries.
I’ve been working for CBS Radio News since 2012. From an entry-level position I worked my way up to staff writer and now assignment editor. My B.A. from Queens College was not enough on its own, but my experience at QC was instrumental nonetheless.
First of all, I joined the student run radio station (yes, there is one) and fell in love with the medium. I also took media studies classes on radio and audio production. Professor Tougaw himself deserves a fair amount of credit (whether I’ve actually said this to him yet or not I can’t recall). During his senior seminar he encouraged us to submit our theses in new media formats. Since he had introduced us to Radiolab (a radio show / podcast produced by the NYC based NPR station WNYC) and I was already interested in the field, I decided to produce mine in a radio format. Despite the production classes I’d taken, this was my first experience creating a complex narrative using audio. I stumbled my way through it and I had a great time doing it. It was one more factor that made me determined to get a job in radio.
I graduated from QC in 2009. Worked a menial job for a year while unsuccessfully applying to any radio job I came across. Finally, I decided that the experience and degree I had would not be sufficient to get me my dream job, so I applied to grad school. Some of the applications – including the one for Boston University (from which I hold my M.S.) – required samples of my work. This is where we circle back to the audio format senior thesis I submitted to Prof. Tougaw. I attached it to my application and was accepted. I was able to thrive at BU because of the production / editing skills I learned as an undergrad.
Since I work in news, there are a lot of skills I learned as an English major that I use constantly. Identifying the most important factors of a story is its own form of close reading. As a staff writer I would have to explain stories in just a few lines of text to be read on the air by anchors who may not be familiar with the story.
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