January 22, 2007

The Up's and Down's of an English Major - as told by Tim Lemire

"Some undergraduate English majors I talk to refer to their future of writing plays as if there were an office building somewhere in midtown Manhattan crammed with scribbling playwrights working against deadline"
Tim Lemire (I'm an English Major - Now What?)

In the introduction and first chapter of Tim Lemire's book, I'm an English Major - Now What?, the boundaries of the English major are made perfectly - incomprehensible.

For example, Lemire tells us to understand that everywhere that "there are words . . . there is lingual communication . . . there is English, there are jobs for the English major. And there's more." A few paragraphs later, "While a major in English does not prepare you for any specific occupation, it does provide training in critical thinking. But although English majors may exhibit skills in critical thinking, they don't own the copyright."

Maybe I'm just a senior English major throwing up my hands and saying 'to heck with it!' but it seems like being an English major is supposed to prepare you for just about everything, while at the same time, just about nothing. Go figure.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at January 22, 2007 7:42 PM | TrackBack

Well, since teacher certification or Disney University or social work is tailored to produce graduates who can walk into a particular job and start working right away, Lemire is right when he says the English major isn't a funnel that points graduates towards a particular job. We will spend some more focused time on career development issues, so I hope you'll end up with some additional concrete ideas.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 22, 2007 9:35 PM

I understand that Lemire is pointing out the advantages of the English major as a foundation towards a whole array of career opportunities. What I was frustrated by is the automatic need for self-marketing skills in order to get any of those career opportunities. Because the critical thinking skills gained from an English degree aren't structured towards one goal, the choices are limitless; but when you have seemingly limitless choices, finding one in the vastness feels like finding a needle in a haystack.

Posted by: Diana Geleskie at January 23, 2007 11:40 AM

I totally agree with you Diana. It does seem impossible, with all of these options, to choose one that best suits you. Granted this is only the first chapter, but I really thought that Lemire would be offering some type of advice in finding it. He does tell us to sit down and think about our other interests and then put it together with English, but every example he gives is to put it together with writing. I don't want to be a writer. Soo, now what? If I didn't know I wanted to be a teacher, I'd be just as confused as I was before!

Posted by: Chera Pupi at January 23, 2007 5:48 PM

Diana, one reason why I assigned this book, and why I've beefed up the career development component of this course, is precisely this issue. While it is no necessary to have self-marketing skills in order to gain a full and rich liberal arts education that can be meaningful to you personally long after you are finished with your degree, if you are planning to use your English skills as part of a career, it's a simple fact of the Real World Out There (tm) that if there are 100 qualified people who are competing for the same job, the ones who can market themselves effectively have an edge over those who've never thought about self-promotion.

Of course, self-promotion can be as basic as volunteering in order to make contacts and gain experience in order to develop your resume... it doesn't have to mean commissioning someone to write your own theme song and design bumper stickers.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 23, 2007 11:02 PM

I think the hardest challenge about the English major is that there are so many options out there, it's nearly impossible to even choose a direction. The problem doesn't seem to be that we can't find jobs, it's that we can't find jobs we want.

Posted by: HallieGeary at January 25, 2007 6:54 PM

I agree that Lemire blurs the boundaries of an English major in the first chapter the book; however, I do not feel that this is necessarily a bad thing. Lemire is simply trying to open our eyes to new ideas. I can agree with you, Diana, that being an English major can definitely be frustrating, especially when it seems that we are simply being trained to be the perfect student but nothing more, but at the same time I know we won't stay students forever. I still think this book can help us out with that problem though as the later chapters will most likely be more detailed than the first introductory chapter.

Posted by: Ellen Einsporn at January 25, 2007 11:36 PM
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