Photo courtesy of Kim Vu

You never know where your English degree might take you. Sure, everyone knows that most English majors are skilled writers, but our training hones many other skills, too. The key is figuring out what you want to do, how your education and skills apply to what you want to do, and how to market those skills to reach your goals. For me, the whole figuring-out-what-you-want-to-do-with-your-degree thing has always been the toughest part, and I’m not sure I’ve mastered it yet, but my English degree has led to many adventures and remains a source of pride and value to me. Here’s the story of my non-linear path from the Ball State English Department and beyond, as well as a thing or two I’ve learned along the way.

Let me start off by telling you that my relationship with my English degrees has been, at times, a tenuous one. I have never in my life doubted my passion for writing—it’s one thing I’ve felt sure about since I was a young child. So, it seemed only natural that I should declare journalism as my major upon entering Ball State. During my freshman year, however, a handful of exceptional, dynamic humanities professors left me so inspired that I thought, for sure, I wanted to become a professor of literature. This would allow me not only to write, but to teach the great works of literature I found so stimulating. And so I declared English my major, loved every second of it, and went on to grad school at the University of Tennessee, hungry for more.

Of course, graduate school isn’t for everyone. When I arrived at Tennessee, I found the challenging classes, hours of research, and unending writing to be just as spectacularly gratifying as I had hoped. When I began teaching, however, I felt as though I were stumbling around in ill-fitting shoes. During my second year of graduate school, I found myself teaching four sections of freshman composition, and all of the grading, planning, and tutoring quickly began to encroach on my own time to perform research, write papers for class, and complete my thesis. Ultimately, I learned to successfully balance these responsibilities, but I had to confront the reality that what I loved about graduate school was the research and writing—definitely not the teaching. And I knew if I were to pursue a Ph.D. and professorship, I would be doing a great disservice to all of my future students, as well as myself. So, I decided that I would not apply to doctorate programs, finished up my Master’s, and began to think about the “real world.”

I was excited by the possibilities of a non-academic career. After all, I was an English major—I had loads of talent and training in the kinds of skills that would make me successful. The day of my graduate hooding, however, I received a harsh dose of reality.

I had been trying to contact a woman whom my technical writing professor had recommended to me as a professional connection. We’d played a bit of phone tag, and finally connected about five hours before my hooding ceremony. She inquired about my professional experience (nada, of course, aside from teaching). Where had I interned, she wanted to know. Interned? I almost laughed out loud—I wondered where on earth I would have squeezed in an internship between classes, my thesis, writing, researching, grading, course planning, etc. I explained that I had not completed any internships, because I had thought I was going to become a professor, but it didn’t pan out. Soon, she was explaining to me that I would absolutely have to complete an internship somewhere before anyone would hire me.

When I hung up the phone at the end of our conversation, I started to cry.

Want to find out how Emily moved from tears to a successful career in business and journalism? Read Part Two