What To Do with an English Degree | Advice for English Graduate Students


– Hi! – Hi! I’m Catherine O’Shea. I am a graduate of UC, their
literature program, in 2012. – And hello, I am Katie Trauth Taylor, and I am a graduate of
UC’s MA program in 2010, so we just missed each other. – Yes.
– Yeah, so today, Catherine and I want to
talk about our experiences as English majors going into the business and nonprofit world. And also the public sector. I think, actually,
together and with our team at Untold Content, we’ve
worked in all sectors, public, private, and
nonprofit, and the university. – Yeah.
– So we can talk about our transitions and then also share with you what skills as
an English major we found to be incredibly important
in the world outside of academia and also what you can be doing as a young English major
or a graduate student who is seeking to consider
nonacademic opportunities. Let’s start with this
question of what skills from our degrees do you
find yourself employing in the corporate and nonprofit world? – What I realized when I
decided to shift outside of academia and get a job
in the nonprofit realm was that I needed to be
proactive in making sure that I was highlighting the
skills that I had learned through teaching, through
the graduate work, and communicate those to the people that I was in interviews
with, that I was tryin’ to network with, when I was
looking for different jobs to understand how that kind of language transferred across industries. And so one of the big skills
that I realized I was able to bring was understanding
through written communication or other forms of communication what other people wanted,
what their needs were, what their goals were. And working to bring those together. So a lot of my work has been about building partnerships
and that, to me, I feel like is one of
the most important things that I’ve brought from my graduate work is really being able to read others and what they’re tryin’ to get at, and bring those all to the table so that even though they
all might think they have different goals that
we can find the pieces that really bring that–
help them collaborate in more effective ways. So that’s one of the biggest
skills that I brought. – I love that because
that’s sort of the space where communication and English overlap but I think English majors, we should pride ourselves a little bit more on how advanced our
communication skills tend to be and how we really honed the art, whether it’s through
analyzing literary characters – Right
– Or – Engaging students in a classroom. – Yeah!
– And making them feel like they’re really understanding
the intense material more directly, yeah. – Yeah! Training people on how to collaborate. I mean, all of the things
that we’re engaging in on a human level speak to that ability to understand needs and then
try to come up with solutions that address some of those
different stakeholder needs. – Yeah.
– I think another skill is, on a literal level, your
ability to write well is incredibly valuable. I don’t think that we, as
English majors, I think we tend to be fairly humble about
that, but the ability to see how language could
be communicated more clearly or more concisely or
in a more engaging way, that is a talent and a craft that people across all sectors outside the
university are interested in. Just a couple weeks ago,
the CEO of Goldman Sachs was interviewed and he
just happened to mention in the interview that the one skill that he sees lacking the
most in the workforce is the ability to write well. It’s considered a top three
skill by most employers. A top three skill that they’re looking for when they’re deciding whether to hire you or someone else, so just the ability to write well I think
is incredibly important. – Right.
– And when I started my company and
when I started consulting, that was all I was doing was just editing, was trying to provide a
kind of sharp, editorial eye to whatever came across my desk. – Right.
– And the motto of my company when it first
started was we do writing and you don’t worry, and it
was kind of along that line. It’s not our motto anymore
because now we’re working at a more strategic
level with our clients, but at that time when it
was all about just providing that muscle behind making
sure things come across as clearly as they can,
that’s really important. I think, too, at the
graduate level in particular but even at a Bachelor’s level, being able to do database
research and understand evidence, being able to look for
multiple points of view, pull in and creatively think about how to support your arguments,
that is all insanely important, and in organizations where
that’s not important, that should be concerning
and you might not wanna work in organizations that
aren’t listening to evidence or aren’t listening to research that are ignoring certain perspectives. – Right.
– I think the nonprofit and public sector in particular
are really powerful examples of making sure intentions are right – Yup.
– And always keeping in mind public good as the outcome. I think that the private sector, depending on the
organization, can be doing that kind of work as well,
but there’s an opportunity, I think, for more people who
can read and analyze evidence to continue to support an
organization in seeking what is true and propagating
and communicating what is true. – Right. – Cool, okay. What skills did we not have (both laugh) after grad school that we had
to later build in our careers? – Yeah.
– Not to stress anyone out, – Yeah
– ’cause you build these skills over time, but what do we kinda, looking
back, what did we have to work hard at outside of–
– And maybe what you could pay attention to so you can learn from what we had to learn.
– Struggled with. – Yes, that we spent a
lot of time learning. (both laugh) We have all these amazing skills. I made the mistake of assuming
that everyone can make that jump with me, that even
though my practical experience had been as a graduate
student and as a teacher in academia that it made
sense that I was now applying into program management jobs. And so it was helping, I realized I had to be the person building
that bridge for them. I had to explain why those
skills that I was learning there are so relevant to what
they were looking for. So making sure that when
you’re doing that networking that you aren’t looking
for exact line-by-line, this is what I did, this is
what the job is looking for, but making sure that
you understand that jump and then explaining that to other people. I think that skill I really had to build. And being bold in that
networking so that you feel if you are interested in
corporate work or nonprofit work, that you are willing to take that step out and ask for coffee with people and kind of help build those bridges and figure out how
you’re gonna communicate. Practice communicating
what those skills are that you’re bringing to the table and how that connects in
all the different industries that you might be interested in going to. – One thing you can do in grad school, to speak to what Catherine’s saying, is at conferences, share
your elevator pitch and don’t share the same
elevator pitch with every person. – Right.
– Start by asking what that person’s interested in, what their research focuses on, what kind of classroom environment
they try to create. Start by learning about the person and then tailor your experiences to match and meet theirs where it’s at, and that doesn’t mean you
have to be inauthentic, you’d have to be authentic,
but I have one elevator pitch or description of my
background that has a lot to do with Appalachian and rural studies that I would only share
with particular audiences. I have a whole different
part of my background that would be medical
writing, and I’d speak to that or classroom and professional training, like draw on history in
the classroom for that. So I think getting used
to switching your pitch and switching how you
frame your experiences? That’s a really good exercise. – Right.
– Keep practicing that. – Yeah. What about you? What skills do you feel
like you’ve been building? – Yeah, that I didn’t have then. I think we all start this
in college and grad school, but the most immense, imagine the most challenging
project management tasks and that’s what I’m doing now. Trying to run a company is one of the biggest operational challenges. And I’m looking at budgets,
and looking at systems, and thinking about how do we
predict the amount of time that it takes to do creative work. (Catherine laughs) I
mean, that is a question! Some people could say that
I’m crazy for asking it, but I promise you, whether
you become a professor or whether you work in the
business world like I mostly do, you’re gonna be answering that question. – If you can show your manager or whoever you’re reporting
to that you can think about what your time is worth, what you’re spending your time on, making sure you’re being most effective but also not underselling yourself, that’s extremely valuable because that’s every single business
for profit and nonprofit, is constantly thinking about that is that resource management. So if you can speak to that yourself and help them think through that, they will really, really
appreciate you. (laughs) – I love that point.
– Yeah. – Okay, what practical tips
and takeaways would you give to people who are wanting
to at least understand what options exist outside academia? – Yeah. So one of the ones, I mean, we spoke about this a little bit earlier, was thinking about the
work that you’ve done and helping to share that with others. We can talk about that all day long, but it would be really helpful
if you can share examples. So not just bringing your formal thesis or your formal papers that you’ve written, but also thinking about
your process that you’ve, like all the different pieces of writing, all the different ways that
you’ve managed your work and thought through your work,
so building up that portfolio and sharing that with others
and being able to speak to that in a really detailed, intentional manner. – Yeah, like for instance, I think a really actionable
takeaway that Catherine and I were brainstorming
before we sat down to record this was instead of
submitting a writing sample of an academic paper that you wrote in grad school, don’t do that. Don’t do that for a
corporate job, oh my God! Don’t submit a literary
essay for a corporate job. – They won’t know what to do with it. – They won’t know to do! I don’t even know what to do with it. – Yeah.
– I have incredibly talented PhD level writers
interested in consulting as part of Untold, and I know the value of a literary essay and I believe in it, but if somebody brings
that even to me at Untold and says here’s my writing sample, I don’t know what to do with that. – Yeah. – Instead of doing that, it would be more effective most likely, in most cases that I can
see, to write a case study. Instead of submitting this full draft that nobody’s gonna read or
have time to read or navigate, write a one-page case
study where you say here was the problem, here was
the research question, here’s how I approached
it, here was the solution. – Right. – Bring us along in your way of thinking about how to conduct that kind of research and that kind of writing assignment. – Right. – And just how you think, you know? What research question led you
to another research question and then another one and
how did you answer them along the way and who did you consult and how did you pull in resources. So that is the metacommentary,
that zoomed-out view of how you think and write
that people want to see and once they see it, they’ll
know, oh I can translate that into this particular need that
I have in my business unit or in my nonprofit.
– Right. Yeah, and in doing that, hopefully it will help
you think through where are your strengths in that
process, where are areas that you can really build
up and pay attention to because that’s something that, again, going back to the question
of what I wish I’d learned, I wish I’d paid attention
to a little bit more of that so I could’ve spoken to
that earlier in my career. – Yeah.
– Yeah. – Another practical tip
was universities don’t own your content, you own your content, and not to be too brutal and
marketing-y in this video, but if you are creating
videos for your students, if you are writing really
interesting articles about a theory that
you have just uncovered in a graduate course, if you
are writing LinkedIn articles or just designing course
experiences for people, that is all highly valued,
it is your property. Maybe I’m gonna step on
some toes by saying this, but that’s yours and you
should be doing that work in graduate school, and
I wish more than anything that in grad school I
had created that content, especially my teaching content, in a way that I could’ve
then taken it to a company and said here’s a training that
I have on business writing. I want you to pay me for doing it and providing it to your employees ’cause we’re recreating all
that stuff now at Untold and if I had committed
to viewing the content that I was designing as
my own and organizing it and keeping it really
packet, thinking about how to package it for an audience
outside of the classroom at the university that
was paying us peanuts to do it as grad students, I could’ve made a good
living on that alone. – Yeah.
– So. – It’d be a great thing
to start with, too. – Yeah!
– Yeah. – Corporate training, that’s
a great place to start. It’s very similar to what
you’re doing in academia, too. – Yeah. – What else? I mean, I think in that way too, committing to your own thought leadership, whatever that looks like,
whether it’s thought leadership or you wanna call it
public intellectualism, if you have insights to
share, share them regularly and consistently on a
platform that you feel like you could grow an audience, and that will help create
opportunities for you, whether that means
employment opportunities or client opportunities or
speaking engagements, so. I would continue to put your thoughts and your insights out there and continue to represent our field well in that way so that more people understand the value that we hold as English majors. – Right. – Thanks for listening to us! And if you liked this
video, give it a thumbs up and subscribe to our channel. (both laugh) – We’ll be the new YouTube scene. – No seriously though,
I would like to know if graduate students, if
you found this useful. You can send us an email
or comment on the video because if this is something
that’s useful to people, we would like to continue
making more videos that dive into these topics
in a little more detail. – Yeah.
– Or more actionably, too. – Yeah. And that’s a tip too,
keeping connection with those that you know have been in the field and have tried different things. – Yes!
– Because that’s a way to really build on your network and then see what other people are doing and the challenges they’ve run into and you can learn from them. So make sure you’re
keeping those connections. – Yes.
– Alright! – Great, thank you!
– Bye!

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