Wondering where your degree in English will take you after graduation? Ask our graduates.
Wheaton students gathered at the third event in the English department’s 2015 Alumni Speakers Series: a panel of recent English graduates. Tim Lau ‘11, Catherine Penney ‘08, David Michael ‘07, and Chelsea Tatum ’13 shared about their first work experiences and fielded students’ questions about navigating the job market as English majors. The event and reception were co-sponsored by Opus, a new institute for the interdisciplinary study of faith and vocation.
After sending his resume out in all directions, Tim Lau landed a series of internships and jobs through which he built on his abilities as an English major. The digital marketing skills he learned on the job, together with his writing aptitude, now serve him well as a digital content producer for the Asia Society.
“A lot of the skills I’m using now are born out of learning how to close read literary texts, how to analyze a story or write a story,” said Lau, who promotes art, education, and cultural partnership between Asia and the United States.
After graduating in the midst of an economic recession, Catherine Penney found her first job at a startup IT consulting firm, where she began working closely with overseas tech support teams. Penney credited her cross-cultural versatility to her study of literature, particularly literature which fell outside her own realm of cultural experience. While continuing to work in IT consulting, Penney has earned her MFA from the Sewanee School of Letters, reviewed literature for Books and Culture, and finished writing a novel.
David Michael encouraged students to think unconventionally about what their first jobs might be.
“You’re being taught to read, to write, and to think really clearly, and this qualifies you at a base level for any job,” he said.
After working as a teacher, a freelance writer, and in a microbrewery in Sweden, he accepted a job as a writer and researcher for a company producing a documentary film about classical music.
“I understood how narrative functions, and that’s what clients are clamoring for in film,” explained Michael.
Now, as a producer, he conceptualizes ideas for clients and runs a film crew while writing, editing, and publishing in his free time.
Chelsea Tatum, a content developer for nonprofit company Project World Impact, uses her English skills as a grant writer and editor. Tatum explained how majoring in English gives students the “uninterrupted time to explore ideas and develop skills that can’t be learned quickly on the job.”
“You can’t teach someone in two weeks to think well, to write well, to analyze,”” said Tatum.
She reassured students that the world of nonprofits is full of opportunities for new graduates with these abilities.
“Your choices are not a PhD program or Starbucks,” she said. “There are other things in between.”
The event was concluded with questions from the audience, followed by a reception. In a final word of advice for English majors, Michael said, “Try to put yourself in community, in a job where you can grow in virtue and in love. What you do in your first job will help you in what you do for the rest of your life.”