Theory Teacher's Blog

English majors, careers, graduate schools… ideology?

I thought I’d do something different in this blog today, something pragmatically useful for my students. As one might imagine, students often come into my office distraught about their career prospects (especially in in today’s economic climate, the dreary winter recession of ’09), wondering what to do with a degree in English, and secretly hoping that graduate school might be a nifty way to avoid that scary, uncertain future — a future as loaded with all the hope and fear as those starry-eyed proponents of the American dream can make it. So, what I’m going to do in this blog post is give some practical advice about how to think about careers after college and even how to search for a good graduate program.

But, as this is a theory blog (and since my theory class has just begun its unit on ideology), of course I will also add a few remarks about that as well. After all, isn’t all the hope and fear about the future a product of the ideology of the American dream, an ideology that claims you can be anything you want to be? (And please notice here how — just as in the contradictory readings of Slumdog Millionaire found in the media, which I blogged on last week — ideology always produces a contradiction, as hope and fear are contradictory emotions.)

So, to be as useful as possible, I’ve divided this blog into several topics, which you can skip to as you wish: career options, why it’s surprisingly good to defer making that fateful decision, choosing a graduate school, and finally how to prepare early.

Career Options
Many students come to the English major because they love reading and/or writing. And of course, this presents a problem, since we aren’t always able to earn a living doing what we love. For instance, somebody may love sleeping, drinking beer, and having sex, but careers in such activities are highly unlikely, not to mention morally suspicious. Nevertheless, we have been taught since we were children that we should love not just our leisure but also our job (and I do love mine, so sometimes it works out.)

The real problem here, though, is not whether it’s possible to love one’s work. This is a false dilemma. Rather, the real problem is that most students don’t even know what their options are. Their imagination of what’s possible is obviously limited, but what limits it? They know what teachers are because they’ve been students, and they know what writers are because they’ve read books, and they know what lawyers and doctors are because television stations feature them on their dramas and sit-coms so often. Of course, television shows feature such careers not because they are the best careers but because they conveniently lend themselves to dramatic action — i.e., the ambiguity of crime, the risk of death, etc. In short, our knowledge of what’s possible is limited by our power to access various kinds of information, and this serves to underline how ideology works in strange and even unintended ways. Not only our idea of reality but also the form in which we learn about it (the form being the television drama or sit-com or even school) often serves to actually obscure and hide reality.

In addition to the two problems of access to knowledge and the form such knowledge is presented to us, such limitations are unfortunately perpetuated by the very people entrusted to advise students: teachers, who tend to advise students from their own experience. After all, what kinds of jobs do teachers of literature know about? You guessed it! Teaching and writing. What else is there?

Of course, despite the myth that English majors are good for nothing but teaching and serving hamburgers with-or-without fries, there are many other fulfilling careers out there for people who can communicate and think critically. Communicating and thinking seem like obvious skills, but as many employers know full well, few people on the planet actually have them. For instance, both governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need such people. Working for an NGO can be a fun and rewarding job, and one place to start looking for work is But also government jobs. For instance, the State Department needs people to work in embassies all over the globe, and the main skills one needs to work for the State Department is a criminal-free past and the ability to not be a jerk. (Again, not being a jerk would hardly seem to be a skill at all, but employers will tell you otherwise. And English majors seem to be  especially skillful here, perhaps because of the effect of literature on their subjectivity . . . . Sadly, I have to admit, literature has not endowed me with the skill of jerk-less-ness, and that is just one of the reasons why I could never work for the State Department.)

And although jobs in technology or medicine may seem more lucrative, a UNESCO study once estimated that America’s second largest export is not gadgets or pharmaceuticals, but… can you guess? The entertainment industry! (By the way, if you’re wondering what the largest export is, it’s money; yes, that’s right, we export pieces of paper with our presidents’ faces printed on them. It’s called the finance sector, and China and Saudi Arabia have quite a bit of these pieces of paper in their vaults.) The entertainment industry includes movies, television shows, video games, pornography (yes, sad to say, but that’s a big slice of America’s economy), sports, music, magazines, books, etc. And of course, English majors are perfect for all of these jobs, as writers, editors, managers, administrators, producers, etc. To give you an example, a friend of mine was a painter, and one day a random guy was looking at her paintings and offered her a very lucrative job. It turns out he designed video games, and he wanted her to design the background for a new NASCAR video game . . . . Cha ching! Money.

And of course, any university’s career center will have dozens of other possibilities, and there is even a book called Jobs for English Majors. So, taking a gander at books such as that (though I advise always gandering with some skepticism) and taking advantage of the staff who work in career center are a must — the sooner you do so, the better — but keep in mind that the career center and myself are often behind the trend. For instance, in the mid-1990s, back when the internet was just becoming mainstream (and when I was just graduating from college with my seemingly useless English degree), probably the best thing an English major could have done was to learn HTML and start designing web pages. At that time, the web was new, and HTML was easy to learn, and who better to design a website than somebody who understands the creative process of representation? Many of my English major friends did just that, and are now millionaires, but no career service center would have thought in 1995 to suggest as much. What’s the moral of the story? It’s this: pay attention to what’s going on in the world. And how does one do that? Ummm…. newspapers and magazines, duh.

It’s Good to Defer
One of the myths that causes so much anxiety is the notion that one must decide one’s career. Some feel that choosing a career is not only about finding a way to pay rent and buy food but also an expression of their core being. This feeling is also an example of how ideology works on you (or, as Althusser and Foucault suggest, works on subjects), and seems to me to come from the Protestant work ethic that defines your relation to God in terms of your labor. But the fact is, people change careers often, and the real fact of it is, you never really know whether you are that person until you try it.

What troubles me is that many seem to believe that the best way to defer choosing a career is by going to graduate school. This is, however, probably the worst way to defer, because you never get to test out real career paths. I suspect the notion that more education will make you a better person and better job candidate is also ideological — derived from the liberal belief that everyone can, and should, go to college, because that’s how one achieves the American dream. But more school is not always the answer. So, my advice is to defer choosing not by avoiding the world of work, but to defer choosing by experimenting with real jobs. Thinking about going to law school? Instead, why not work as a legal assistant for a law firm or get a job at an NGO such as the AFL-CIO, ACLU, Human Rights Watch, or Greenpeace that engage with legal matters. There are thousands of these NGOs, of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The upshot here is this: only when you really know what you want to do should you actually start applying to graduate school.

Choosing a Graduate School
So, what if you want to go to graduate school to become… a real, bonafied author… or a professor? Although this is the path I chose, I often find myself counseling students to be cautious about choosing it for themselves. People seem to believe that getting a Ph.D. is a sure way to a successful life, but here again is a myth perpetuated by television and movies. I personally know a few Ph.D.’s in literature who barely make enough money to eat because there just weren’t any jobs for them out there. And since American ideology seems not to value educators as much as it used to, government spending for higher education continues to decline (when measured against inflation and cost), which forces universities to cut back on their hiring of professors, as Michael Bérubé has discussed in his book The Employment of English: Theory, Jobs, and the Future of Literary Studies.

In addition, many people don’t realize what the professional aspects of being a professor really are and the amount of scrutiny that both graduate students and professors are subject to, as Greg Semenza has written about in his recent book, Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities. Again, I think this is in part due to TV stereotypes, but I also think such stereotypes are in some cases politically motivated. When Fox television represents professors as silly fools or bizarre geniuses, then Fox “news” can more easily ignore or dismiss the expert opinions that professors have to give on such controversial topics as Iraqi culture, the environment, and the death penalty.

But, if a career as a writer or as a professor is what one really desires, then the question becomes which school?  There are many resources out there — whole books on the subject — and certainly magazines such as the U.S. News and World Reports is famous for ranking colleges and graduate programs. But even more useful than a ranking is information about what kind of program the school has, and the Modern Language Association (MLA) actually has a guide to doctoral programs, which explains what the program really has to offer in terms of financial assistance and courses. (The MLA is also a place one can get a job, by the way.)

Another blogger has done a very comprehensive study on MFA programs in creative writing, which I wholeheartedly recommend you check out. But like many guides to graduate school, he left out some important information. First, rankings are based largely upon reputation, and though reputation is important, it doesn’t tell you what kind of training you will receive there. Some of the highest ranked schools are ranked highly only because they have famous professors . . . . And guess what? Sometimes famous professors are way too busy being famous to actually teach or advise their graduate students. So, although rank always matters, and we can’t pretend it doesn’t, sometimes high-ranking programs are not very good at training graduate students and preparing them for the job market. 

In addition, sometimes location matters. Universities in big cities will give you the advantage of access to many cultural resources such as theaters, libraries, and other schools . . . not to mention airports so you can more easily go places (like home). But rural universities will give you the advantage of greater sense of community and access to your faculty, who have nothing better to do than spend time with you. It’s a toss up as to which is better, urban or rural, but really, you should go to a place where you feel you can flourish. Because if you don’t flourish where you are, then the whole graduate adventure will not take you where you want to go. In other words, while rankings are somewhat important, they aren’t the be-all-end-all.

For instance, rankings won’t tell you about the personality of a graduate program. Some MFA programs are theory-phobic, and others (such as St. Mary’s College of California) is more theory-friendly. (In St. Mary’s case, though, it is mainly a particular kind of theory–modernism — which it mentions on its website.) And some creative writing or Ph.D. departments in English have close relations to other disciplines such as gender studies, Latino/a studies, or world literature. These affiliated disciplines may not seem important initially, but all Ph.D. programs require that one person on your dissertation committee be from outside the English department. And in addition to all of that, it is also the case that most of the interesting work being done right now is interdisciplinary.

But all things considered, the most useful advice I can give is this: apply to programs that have faculty whom you know about. Of course, you’re probably wondering how the heck you could know them, but it’s easier than you think. All colleges and universities regularly invite professors and authors from other colleges. For instance, my school just had three poets visit and read their work last week, and all three of them teach at other colleges. So, when there are such literary and academic events on your campus, I suggest that you go to them. And if you like the people and like what they do, then find out where they teach… and maybe read some more of their work.

This same principle can also be applied in another way. Even if you’ve never seen or met an author, you will often read recently published books or articles in your classes and when you do research papers. If you read something that you really like, then find out where that author teaches. Quite possibly, it might be a good place to apply, and in your “application essay,” you will actually be able to tell of a real, personal connection between you and the graduate program to which you are applying. The upshot of all this is that choosing a graduate school is not something that you all 0f a suddent start to do. Your entire undergraduate experience and education, in essence, has prepared the way for that choice.

The problem is that (again, for ideological reasons), students fail to notice the context of that choice. As Karl Marx points out in his famous chapter on the commodity fetish, the value of a commodity is not simply natural. It is social and historical. So, when you are looking for a graduate school, don’t buy into the ideology of the marketplace and think you can choose a graduate school the same way that you might choose a pair of pants at Macy’s. Instead, prepare early.

Preparing Early
And this leads me to my final point: preparing early. As I mentioned, you never really know who you are or what you want to be until you start doing it. You may think you know what you are, but as Foucault points out, your subjectivity is socially constructed. And even if you don’t agree with Foucault and believe in a God-given soul that is wonderfully unique and unaffected by the world around you — an ideology that is very convenient for capitalist countries, since it allows them to ignore the socio-economic conditions in which people live — you might still agree that the eternal soul is not exactly the easiest thing to actually understand.

So, in addition to getting good grades (since, these days, few graduate schools will pay much attention to your application if you have below a 3.5 GPA), you should also do extra-curricular activities such as the school newspaper or literary society or even a basketball team. All of these things not only will help you figure out what you want to do with your life but also give you something to put on your résumé — something that will demonstrate to future employers that you are a real person. Or, alternatively, you might do volunteer work such as caring for children or tutoring immigrants in English. For summers, try to find internships in various fields so you can see what they are like and gain experience. Your career center will have all sorts of information about such opportunities. Of course, the problem is that many of these internships (such as internships at publishers or magazines) are often unpaid, and some of you may need to make money by serving burgers with-or-without fries. But if that’s the case, then find an internship that’s only ten hours a week, so you can work full time as well.

In this blog post, in addition to offering some concrete information about what one could do and where one can look, I’ve also tried to give you the intellectual tools for critically thinking through the ideological baggage that might get in your way. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, and you’ll need to figure things out for yousefl.

But I suppose, all things considered, I do have a thesis, and it is this: experiment, experiment, experiment. In other words, you do not have to make one single be-all-end-all choice. You do not have to figure out who you truly are (as if this were even possible.) Rather, you learn, develop, and improve yourself through a series of experiments — trial and error. When does this experimenting start? You’re doing it already. Do it more.

Good luck!


February 8, 2009 - Posted by | teaching


  1. I think you should read a book I have called “Jerk-Less-Ness” to get rid of your jerk-less-ness. Of course I am being sarcastic, please don’t fail me.

    On to my main point…

    I think that looking into the contexts of our time is important when thinking about careers. I am an English major myself, and I often get lectures from my older relatives about becoming jobless. The problem is that even they, being older and “wiser,” have this misperception that English majors can only become writers or teachers. My parents have suggested that I continue my education after I graduate. But like you said, even with a Ph.D, I am not guaranteed a job. Though, the title of a Ph.D is quite impressive.

    It is important to understand the world’s situation right now and how someone with my skills can find a career in it. What’s in demand right now? Who will be looking for my kind of skills? I think that reading and writing skills are very important. There are people with professional careers who cannot even write a proper sentences (yeah, I am aware that I may write stupid sentences too). The point is to understand what is out there in the job market and that even with an Enlish degree, you could be doing something different.

    But to be honest, I chose an English degree because I enjoy literature, critical thinking, and writing. I haven’t really thought of a serious career yet…oops.

    Comment by Leng Moua | February 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. Well thanks for this blog! I had wanted to ask someone in the English department half of these questions this week, but I guess now I don’t have to. 🙂

    Your blog is like the 5th professor blog that I’ve read about graduate school this week too, and I can honestly say that your’s is the one that didn’t make me panic…so yay!

    I chose English for the same reasons as Leng and I assume a lot of people choose it for those reasons. I just assumed that graduate school would be my only option and I figured I wouldn’t mind it since I like school. I don’t think I would mind teaching but at the same time I get exhausted just listening to how busy professors are…

    At this point, I am not even sure yet…which according to your advice, it might be best to get out in the world and actually find what I want. I think I will take the GRE at the end of the summer and then decide, haha…that is probably not the best deciding factor either.

    Comment by Ashley Zartner | February 12, 2009 | Reply

  3. Figuring out career options can be complicated. Luckily, as a Career Counselor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB|SJU), I get paid to help students get connected the range of careers out in the real world. Here are some great resources and ideas I’ve found to be useful over the years.

    Step 1: Research possible careers (3 methods listed below)

    What career fields are the most common among English majors? Find out here:
    It won’t come as a surprise the writing and teaching are two major areas of employment. But did you know that advertising, public relations, business and law are also at the top of the list?

    Already have a career or job title in mind? Learn more about specific job from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) . Go to this website and search for Public Relations Specialist ( and you can not only learn what PR Specialists do, but also who they work for, how much they earn, and ideas for related careers.

    Interested in a specific industry like Publishing? CSB|SJU students can go to the Career Services website ( and click on the VAULT icon. VAULT is our online career library and it holds a wealth of information. Browse through the downloadable career guides for “Guide to Career in Publishing” and soon you will have over 100 pages of information on the Publishing industry at your finger tips. (Take a few minutes to browse VAULT you’ll find much more information on Publishing.)

    Step 2: Talk to people who do these jobs for a living

    Do you wonder if a career as a freelance writer is for you? Track down someone who is one! Talk with your friends, relatives, co-workers, professors, et cetera to see if anyone can introduce you to a freelance writer. You can also search the CANE files, Career Services’ database of alumni. I took a 5 minute break from writing this comment and found the names and contact information of 20 CSB|SJU alumni who are freelance writers. You can do the same by walking into the Career Resource Center on either campus and ask to see the CANE files. A friendly Career Assistant will show you how it’s done.

    Once you have a list of people you’d like to talk to, how do you go about interviewing them? This link provides all the information you will need.

    Career Services also puts on many, many events throughout the year to bring alumni to you. Every other year we organize a “What can I do with an English Major?” event, which brings six alumni back to campus to talk about their careers. Be sure to keep an open mind. Two events from earlier this year were not designed specifically for English majors, but did have writers as part of the panels (“Career for Food Lovers” had a journalist and “Careers in Science” had a technical writer/editor in attendance.) When Career Services e-mails about these events, we generally include all the career fields represented. That means even if you aren’t wondering “What can I do with a Peace Studies Major”, (coming up on March 18th), double check before you assume you can’t learn from the alumni on the panel.

    Step 3: Try your hand at the job!

    You can test drive careers in so many different ways: internships, undergraduate research positions, summer jobs, on-campus jobs, volunteering, getting involved with campus clubs and organizations, or service learning. Gaining hands-on experience in a career field not only helps you figure out if this is something you would like to do, but you also gain experience, which makes you a more attractive job or grad school applicant.

    My favorite sites to search for internships, jobs, etc.
    • E-link . Every single job, internship and volunteer experience posting that Career Services receives go on this site. To learn the most effective ways to use E-link, watch this 3-minute tutorial
    • Links to Government jobs and internships If you’re thinking of working in government, this is the place to search for a job or internship!
    • Links to Communication jobs and internship
    • Minnesota Council of NonProfits job board . The vast majority of Minnesota nonprofits advertise jobs and internships on this site. ( has a similar, nation-wide posting board.)
    • Your favorite trade or professional association. Interesting in publishing? Ever visited the website of the Association of American Publishers (AAP)? It provides tons of information on the publishing industry and publishing companies post job and internship openings. Google your favorite industry (writers, library, advertising) with the word “association” or “society” to discover what other organizations may be out there.

    Before closing, I’ll offer a few quick words on graduate school. Grad school is a huge commitment of time and money. (Yes, you can get a grad degree without actually paying for school, but you usually won’t make the amount of money you would if you were in the workforce.) Know why you are pursuing a graduate degree. If you choose grad school as a default because you don’t know what you want to do for a job, consider the very strong possibility that you won’t be any closer to figuring out what job you want once you are finished with grad school. Jump into the workforce (or full-time volunteering) for a year or two to help you figure it out. Statistically, today’s college students are expected to have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 36. Changing jobs does not have the stigma that held 20 or even 10 years ago. Relax, you’re not choosing a job for the rest of your life; merely for the initial 2 to 3 years following graduation.

    Comment by Beth Notch | March 2, 2009 | Reply

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I graduated with a literature degree in 2001 and wholeheartedly agree with your stance on experimentation. I worked everywhere including an orchard, a PBS station, and the Governor’s residence. Currently, I am trying ‘librarian’ on for size.

    Eventually I will continue my education, but I want to be sure what I will focus on. Graduate school is expensive and time consuming. It should not be a decision made lightly. There are too many people that find themselves in a job they do not like, but had invested too much time and money/loans on the degree to back out of the career.

    Even though I have not reached my final career destination, I am enjoying the journey and recommend that everyone should take their time in getting to graduate school. There is a lot to explore in the world.

    Although, I have to admit, I sometimes wish I were one of those people that feels a certain calling to a specific field. Variety and infinite choice can be exhausting and paralyzing.

    Comment by Leslie Stillings | September 4, 2009 | Reply

  5. First of all I would like to say thank you for writing this blog. Secondly, I’m in search of some advice. When I was in undergraduate school I majored in History and Spanish and I wanted to be a lawyer. I now work as a paralegal and through this experience have realized I don’t really want to be a lawyer. Its been over three years since I graduated from undergrad and while I have gained a lot of valuable experience, I want to go back to school and obtain my Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing. My question is: How do I go back? Like I said, I didn’t major in English. Is this going to be a problem when I apply to school? Any advice or suggestions would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

    Comment by Andrea | November 17, 2009 | Reply

  6. I want to thank Beth Notch for all her wonderful suggestions, and also Leng, Ashley, and Leslie for their comments.

    When I saw Andrea’s question, my initial gut-reaction was “yes, not having a degree in English will be a factor when you apply, but it shouldn’t stop you from applying. You would need to address that in your personal statement and demonstrate that you are prepared (see what I wrote above in the blog about how to do that well by showing that you know what the faculty at the school actually do), and then have a good writing sample of course.”

    So, that was my gut reaction, but I wanted to be sure of my answer, so I consulted with a friend of mine whose job it is to look at grad. school applications and advise English majors at a big public university. She basically agreed with me, but added that it would help if you had at least a couple English classes under your belt. If you took one or two when you were an undergraduate, then that’s enough, and you can mention those in the personal statement. If you never took any, then you might want to find a way to take some now. And if you took a class where you read Spanish or Latin American literature in Spanish, then that’s great. My advice would be to use your Spanish. There is a lot of really hip, cutting-edge work being done right now on Latino studies inside English departments.

    She also stressed that the really important thing is to have a good writing sample. For the M.A. and Ph.D. programs, this means demonstrating that you can do a research paper that recognizes an on-going debate about a work of literature and/or cultural issue and advances a clear thesis. For M.F.A.’s, it means showing that you know how to write good stuff that isn’t self-indulgent or amateurish. My advice is that you definitely have a lot of friends and — if you can — former teachers read drafts of your personal statement and your writing sample.

    Comment by steventhomas | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  7. Thanks for this post, it was really helpful 🙂

    Comment by deticxe | May 26, 2010 | Reply

  8. This is especially useful as we get ready to meet our new English majors and to face the annoying and inevitable question from parents, “What is she going to do with that?” I have amassed long lists of famous English majors, successful people from our own program in a range of careers, and alumni stories, and this is a great addition to my efforts. Thank you. RW

    Comment by Ralph | August 2, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks Ralph, that’s exactly what I want to hear!!! And you and I think alike, because I’ve also started amassing a list of alumni to put on my department’s website. (It sure is a lot of work putting together that list. I hope your colleagues, administrators, and students appreciate what you’re doing.)

      Comment by steventhomas | August 2, 2010 | Reply

  9. I’m a high school student, still freaking out about finding the right college/university, and I have to say that this blog set my mind at ease at least a little. Thank you very much and have a wonderful year!

    Comment by Kayla Hugg | December 26, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks Kayla! And good luck.

      Comment by steventhomas | December 26, 2010 | Reply

  10. I am a junior English major who has absolutely no idea what I am going to do with myself after I graduate. Originally, I was an English education major and wanted to teach high school, but I soon realized that if I do ever teach, it will have to be at the collegiate level.

    What I would love to do is attend graduate school overseas–New Zealand, the Nordic Countries, England etc. I have also been extremely interested in working in the film industry as of late. Would it be too difficult for an English major to get an MFA in film studies? I feel like I’m simply fumbling around in a dark cave just biding my time until I slam into a stone wall.

    I’m also on a scholarship at my university for the women’s basketball team, so I haven’t had many opportunities to obtain internships or work on our school newspaper. Not very helpful when I’m trying to create a sound resume, but it’s paying the bills so I can’t very well quit.

    Your blog was extremely enlightening, and now I’m not sure if I should plan on attending graduate school immediately after college or do some of the experimenting you suggested. If I do choose to wait, I still don’t know what I will do with myself following graduation.

    Here are some of my talents:
    outlandish imagination
    leadership skills
    post moves and touch around the basketball goal (my dad taught me everything i know)
    people skills (i’m a pastor’s kid; i can talk for hours to a home schooled 15-year-old, a 67-year-old Vietnam vet, or a 39-year-old ex-convict)

    So, what do I do with my life?

    Comment by Andrey | January 20, 2011 | Reply

    • Andrey,
      Sounds like you have a lot of useful skills, and don’t sell your basketball experience short. Employers will appreciate that you have ambition, competitiveness, and teamwork skills, so being on a sports team is valuable in the same way as being a member of a club or doing an internship.

      Beyond that, I have no answers to any of your questions, only conceptual tools for you to think of your own answers. But one point is that you don’t have to decide what to do with your life, just experiment and try things out. You have fifty or sixty more years of life ahead of you, so there’s no hurry to figure it all out now.

      As for film school, yes, you can. But if you have no experience, you might try to get a media-related job first and take some night classes so that you can develop a portfolio of your own work. Another idea is that NGOs that do humanitarian and leadership work also sometimes make films. Something you can do before applying to film school.

      As for going to grad school in New Zealand, sounds fun. Beyond fun, I don’t know anything about applying to grad schools abroad or whether it’s useful in the long run. You’ll have to find out and tell me!!!

      Good luck!

      Comment by steventhomas | January 21, 2011 | Reply

  11. Let’s face it, it’s tough out there. There aren’t a lot of English faculty positions, and they tend to be specialized. That said, if you love what you’re doing, go for it. The market will shift in the next few years – it always does. Also, you’re a really interesting individual, and that goes a long way to making people want to be around you. When I was applying for jobs, interviewers were almost as interested in my time working in China and France, my love for the banjo, guitar, mandolin, uke, etc., and my interest in running and cycling as they were in my credentials (almost). We want to hire interesting, exciting people, and you seem to be interesting. Also, time abroad is rarely time wasted.

    Comment by ralph | January 21, 2011 | Reply

  12. Thanks Steve. It’s nice to have your fears laid out, rationalized, and then put at ease (a bit). My question: I am currently teaching 8th grade English. If I apply to grad school after only teaching for a year or if I wish to look elsewhere for a job that’s a better fit, will this look bad on my resume? My hope is to become a prof (shows what a good role model you are), but there are so many “ifs” involved in landing a position…I’m just not sure how likely it is I’ll be able to find a job in MN…
    I guess I had the same fears about teaching here, yet I had two job offers, so maybe I just need to hike up my pants and get on with stretching for my goal. Hey, if you can do it 🙂 Thanks for the info and the advice. Happy New Year!

    Comment by Jackie | December 29, 2011 | Reply

    • Jackie, it sounds like you are doing really well. My question is simple, what’s your hurry? You’ve only just started your first real job after college. Take it easy and focus on what you’re doing for a bit so that you get really good at it. Meanwhile, each month put a few bucks in a savings account. If you are thinking about graduate school, then spend your summer doing research on your own. Meanwhile, I don’t want to discourage you, but the job market for professors right now is much, much worse than the job market for secondary education. There are simply very few jobs for anyone with a Ph.D. in English, and because of the economy, universities and colleges are cutting back and finding ways to save money.

      Comment by steventhomas | December 30, 2011 | Reply

      • Ugh. Alright, thanks for the bluntness. My problem is that I don’t enjoy teaching 8th graders–I would love to teach at the high school level. Grammar bores me senseless, but that is what I need to teach. Although I want to teach at a higher level, I’m scared of starting over–it’s tough. I also constantly question my ability to teach well–how can I know if I’m making a difference? Any other job openings you know of? 🙂 Ah well, maybe my outlook will change by the end of the year. Thank you!

        Comment by Jackie | January 3, 2012

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