Month: February 2016

I’m Tired of People Asking About My Degree

Woah, long title! It’s alright, it’s just a personal blog after all, so I can make my titles as long as I want to. This post is going to be about the many frustrations that come along with being an English major. I would like to share my personal experience with what people (including my family) have said about my degree and how you (the reader) can choose to not make those same mistakes when asking someone about their degree of choice.

I’ll just jump right in.

I am an English Literature major. That means I read classics, I write analyses, I watch movies for analysis, I do research and write research papers, I read horror, fantasy, coming of age, and every other genre of story, and I pick them apart for subliminal messages, as well as basics like plot and character types. I write probably over 10,000 words a week. That’s honestly just an estimate. It could be more like 10,000-20,000, but who’s counting right? Not me. Because that’s what I do. I write. I learn every day about grammar, punctuation, placement of parenthesis and commas, (I LOVE commas) I learn about history and geography, I learn about psychology and about film-making, and I basically learn about whatever topic is discussed in the stories, novels, poems, and other forms of literature I read and watch.

My major is all-encompassing. I am not an expert in science. I am not an expert in math. I cannot tell you the equation for finding the surface area of a sphere or a cylinder. I cannot tell you the elements on the periodic table. I can talk to you about all subjects discussed in literature, though. I can talk to you about The Martian, a book about science and man’s will to live. I can talk to you a little bit about math, my willingness to learn and understand it, as well as the many ways it is presented in literature and especially poetry. I can talk to you about how to write a story, how to research a topic, how to cite sources, I can talk to you about the intricacies of political, post-colonial, racial, sexual literature, I can talk to you about history, I can talk to you about stereotypes and their portrayal in literature. I can recommend a hundred books that will make you cry, make you feel, help you learn. I can analyse a person’s emotions and the way they are thinking by watching them, because English majors are analysts. I can read almost any handwriting and I can edit anything you hand to me. English majors read between the lines. We see hidden meanings, we see puzzles and solve them, we understand codes and we can predict plots. English majors are trained to understand each writer and their audience, and we are trained to know what they are trying to accomplish in their writing.

I can rant for hours and hours about the  merits of literature and of reading and writing, but you all would probably stop reading (we can’t all be English majors). Fortunately, I can finish my rant after my list about people misunderstanding my degree, so here goes.

One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is when people ask me:

1. Oh, you’re an English major? ARE YOU GOING TO BE A TEACHER?

To which my first response is, in my mind, “Is that the only option you see for me?” My verbal response is something like, “No, I am not going to be a teacher, but there are many other things I can use my degree for. Marketing, HR, content writing, content marketing, any kind of administrative assistant, office management, best-selling author, (dreams!) copywriter, ANYTHING to do with writing, reading, or organizing. English majors are incredibly organized. How else can you write two ten-page research papers on completely different topics as well as two ten-page literary analysis papers on completely different books, all due in the span of a week? How else can you have EIGHTEEN assigned books for the semester, totaling over 5,000 pages of reading, and still be able to keep up, understand, and then write four to five 300 word discussion posts WEEKLY for each class? So, although teaching requires intense organizational skills and reading skills, no, I am not going to be a teacher. 

2. “Your degree is useless”. Actual words from someone. IN MY FAMILY, NO OTHER.

Guess who told me this? Someone without a degree…

First of all, you’re completely and totally wrong if you think ANY degree is useless! Yes, including Communications, English, and anything else that tends to get crapped on for being “too general” or “not useful”. Do you want me to give you a comprehensive list of all the reasons my degree is useful? I can give you two columns: 1. Benefits pertaining to my degree specifically, and 2. Benefits pertaining to getting a college education in general. I’ll spare you all that though, you would be reading for days if I wrote all that, so I’ll condense it for you.

  • English degrees are useful for educating people on HISTORY- which we read in almost every single class. We learn about wars, we learn about genocide, famine, we learn about torture and hardships countries put other countries through, and then some. We learn about social, racial, class, gender issues in history and how the wars correlate. We learn about people. We learn to EMPATHIZE and sympathize. (That’s pretty valuable, guys!)
  • English degrees are useful for educating people on CULTURE- I have learned about Korean, Dine/Navajo,  American, Latin American, Moroccan, Egyptian, Japanese, Mexican, Deaf, Chinese, Congolese, German, St. Lucian, South African, and United Kingdom culture. These countries are ONLY the ones I have studied with other classmates, not ones I have learned about by being friends with people who are from other countries, like middle eastern countries, Dominican Republic, Australia, etc. Just in my major, I have not learned only arbitrary information about these countries, I have learned details about their culture and their quality of life, the things people do there, the different ecosystems of these places, the food they eat, and even more. I have learned about how to respect people’s cultures.
  • English degrees are useful for educating people with LANGUAGES- It is required to learn a second language for an English degree, so I learned American Sign Language. What I found in that language was my passion, supporting the deaf community and becoming an interpreter for the deaf one day. My degree, through a journey of 3.5 years, led me to what is and will by my lifelong passion. That’s pretty exciting and valuable, and I never would have figured it out if I had not taken 2 years of sign language. Other classmates of mine took Chinese, French, and Spanish, other very valuable languages that also gave them an inside scoop on those cultures.
  • English degrees are useful for educating people on PSYCHOLOGY and THE HUMAN MIND as well as the ANIMAL MIND. I have analyzed so many characters, learned about so many different personality types as well as personality disorders, learned about the levels of intelligence of different animals, learned about human behavior and human emotion, learned about body language and facial expressions, and so many other things pertaining to psychology, the human mind, and the animal mind.
  • English degrees are useful for the FUTURE OF LITERATURE- Who is going to write the books that teach kids their ABC’s and 123’s? Who is going to write the books that empower young adults, teaching them about life and love and passions such as art and music and other things? Who is going to write the best-selling books that turn into movies? Who is going to write screenplays for famous movies? Who is going to write comic books that turn into movies? Sure, some other professions overlap and graphic artists may also write comics, as well as Film majors writing screenplays, but who is the expert on all things writing, reading, editing, etc.? ENGLISH majors. Next time you ask an English major what they are going to do when they get their degree, remember all the entertainment around you. Movies, plays, novels, comics, children’s books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, commercials, TV shows… all of that had to be written by somebody. Those articles on Google you search for as how-to’s or recipes or answers to important questions? Many of them written by English majors or writers.

3. “You have potential for so much MORE!”

YES, thank you so much, I NEEDED your affirmation that I could have been a doctor, lawyer, person in an airplane translating Chinese for the American government (something I actually considered). I absolutely needed to hear you say that I am SO MUCH SMARTER than an English major (note extreme sarcasm). I get it, you guys. I could be creating a new medicine to fix cancer or making six figures in a law office or running for government. But guess what English is to me? It is fulfillment, it is passion, it encourages my lifelong dreams and goals. It feeds my need for fun, for knowledge, for exercising my brain. I am an English major, and if that means I am not good enough for you, so be it. I am happy, fulfilled, and excited for my FUTURE, because it is full of opportunities, joy, and contentment. Thank you for your concern, but I honestly do not think anyone should be told their choice of profession is not “good enough” for their level of intelligence. If I am gong to be writer, I will be the best writer I can be, just the same as if I were to become a doctor. My intelligence gets challenged, used, and pushed either way. Apples and oranges, you know? It’s an idiom! 😉

Literature is immensely important, you guys. How many grammatical errors do you see on Facebook every day? How many errors do you see in your business emails by professionals with degrees? I see many, and there are probably many in this blog post, and fixing those errors is important. Why, you may wonder? Because language is everything. Language is communication, language is survival. Without the ability to communicate properly everything would fall apart. As someone who is fluent in sign language I can tell you that even if we lost our ability to speak, we would still need grammar. SIGN LANGUAGE has grammar. Don’t believe me? Google it! 😉 Every language has grammar and the proper form for indicating certain meanings or words, without which people would NEVER understand one another. Let that sink in. Without a language, we would be lost. The complications of English are already enough, and with technology it is already difficult enough to communicate properly and convey feelings, and then you throw in people who are not educated and not taught basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling? Literature is so important, you guys!

Now that you’ve learned what an amazing part of society English majors are, (I’m just being dramatic) I’d like to ask you to stop asking questions that deprecate my career choice. Please, do not only assume I can be a teacher. That is not my only option. Please, do not tell my my degree is useless, because unless you have been in my shoes, you have no idea how valuable it is. And please, please do not tell me I can “do better”. You can do better by supporting me no matter what, loving what I do because love it, not because it is going to make me the most money or give me the most accolades. Thank you.

Who’s your favorite English major? I’d like to know if any of my readers (the few there are) have learned anything new and will plan on changing their questions when they meet an English major!

 

Thanks for reading! Love you all!

Elise