Chill Out. You’ll Get a Job.

Liz Walker, graduating senior in English Literature and Professional Writing.
Liz Walker, graduating senior in English Literature & Professional Writing.

ADVICE FROM A GRADUATING SENIOR IN ENGLISH

Coming into my senior year, I was convinced I would be living in my parents’ basement after I graduated. After four years of hearing, “English majors become baristas,” and being asked why I chose my major, I had become discouraged and resented studying something “impractical.” It wasn’t until I took the course ENGL 399 with Professor Pacheco and went to the SMEF career fair in February that I realized I was employable, and that my English degree prepared me for my life after graduation more than I could have hoped for.

It is easy to get discouraged in the college of liberal arts at a big, STEM university. But fear not. I have made plenty of mistakes over my four years, but I have also had many victories. If you’re scared of the future or starting to question why you chose your major, I’m here to tell you what I wish someone would have told me sooner: chill out. Keep these three things in mind and you’ll be fine.

Know Why You’re Studying English

In almost every interview I had, I was asked, “Why English?” It wasn’t a dig at my major or a questioning of my qualifications; it was genuine curiosity. Employers don’t see many English majors. Heck, English majors don’t see many other English majors! Because of this, when a recruiter sees “BA in English Literature” on a resume, he or she definitely will want to know why. At first, I was scared to answer this question because I thought it set me too far apart. But then, I came to embrace it. It was fun recalling why I chose this major in the first place, why I still love it, and how it has prepared me for the future. Know your own personal English story and know how to tell it well. If you are passionate, recruiters can tell, and passion justifies any major.

In addition to knowing why you’re studying English, know how your studies apply to the jobs/internships you are applying for. Employers will ask you why you are qualified for the specific job, especially if the degree seems like a “stretch” for the position. English majors have many skills outside of writing—analysis, design, team-building, and persuasion are a few I can think of—and you want to figure out which ones you possess to capitalize on them at the interview.

In one interview, a recruiter asked me, “As an English major, are you intimidated that the other students you will be working with have more experience in this area than you?” I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to answer, “No. My English degree has prepared me in so many ways. Let me tell you about them.” Always be prepared. And never apologize for your major.

Explore Until You Find What You Want

One of the most liberating and the most daunting things about a degree in a liberal arts field is that it comes with no prescribed career path. After graduation, it seems that all that waits for you is a big question mark. If you don’t know what you want to do after graduation, this can be pretty scary. But this also means you have a lot of exploring to do, which can be fun.

Do not waste your time while at Purdue just because you don’t have a set career path. Let your time at college be a time of exploration of all opportunities—there are so many out there. Even if you are a senior, there is still time to explore. Interview professors and professionals, go to networking events, shadow different individuals who work around Lafayette if their careers potentially interest you. Take classes in different disciplines, just to see what you are good at and what you like. College is your one opportunity to try and to fail with little to no consequences.

I took advantage of exploration opportunities through internships, volunteering, and classes. I took an internship in market research with an organization I am involved in on campus just because they needed interns. I had no idea what market research did, but I was eager to learn. After that summer, it turned out market research was something I was good at and something I enjoyed, which opened doors to another internship in marketing and made me consider a career in it.

Similarly, I volunteered at Indiana Legal Services to see if law was a path I wanted to pursue and quickly found out that it was definitely not. This semester, I took the class “Boiler Communication” (COM 491) which acts as a student-led public relations firm. It is a class that is extremely practical and gives real-world experience. One semester of the class is the equivalent of half a year of professional experience. All of these things helped me figure out what different careers look like, and where I potentially fit into the professional world.

Explore your options until you find what you want. And once you find what you want, run with it. Get as much experience as you can. Practically, these experiences will help decide what you want to do, as well as provide you with stories to tell in interviews. Don’t let the unknown future scare you—embrace it with open arms!

Don’t Freak Out

This is the most important tip I can give you and the hardest one to put into practice. When the engineers of campus are buzzing around by the third week of school getting full-time job offers and internships while you’re just hammocking in the trees reading William Carlos Williams, it’s easy to think you’re doing something wrong or that you’re late in the game. You’re not. Breathe. Chill. That isn’t the timeline for us, so there is no reason to panic.

The biggest and best companies want to secure the brightest students for their engineering, science, and technology programs before any other companies can. For this reason, their job hiring process is much quicker than in the fields liberal arts majors (usually) pursue. The timeline for many job openings that fit us (project management, marketing, public relations, technical writing, etc.) is in the spring semester, as late as April. While that means your future will be uncertain for longer than other students, it does not mean you are not a qualified candidate or an undesirable potential employee. The companies usually just don’t need to hire months and months in advance—these positions are more immediate placements.

While you’re waiting for jobs to begin to open, use your time wisely. Spend your fall semester figuring out what companies you like, strengthening your LinkedIn presence, building a portfolio, and networking wisely. Don’t let our slower timeline become an excuse for you to be lazy—don’t stress, but be strategic.

At the career fair in February, I got interviews with every single company I talked to. I got invited to recruitment events by companies in the big leagues, like Sales Force and Oracle. And I ended up getting an awesome job with an awesome salary in an awesome place. All because of my major and what I was able to do with it at my time at Purdue.

Chill. You’ve got this. If I could do it, trust me, you definitely can too. I believe in you.

Tutoring in the Purdue Writing Lab: Empathy & Expertise

Interested in helping students improve their writing while simultaneously sharpening your own? Working as an undergraduate tutor in the Purdue Writing Lab might be the perfect job for you.

Portrait photograph of Harry Denny, Director of the Purdue Writing Lab.
Harry Denny, Director of the Purdue Writing Lab

Prof. Harry Denny, Director of the Writing Lab, describes it as “a space where we work with writers from across the university…on any aspect of their writing, from getting started, to revising, to editing. You name it, we do it.” Tutors work with undergraduate and graduate Purdue students from all disciplines on every form of writing. From essays and research reports to resumes and graduate school applications, no genre is off limits.

The Writing Lab offers one-on-one, in-person writing consultations or e-tutoring sessions, while its world-famous OWL provides a treasure trove of online resources. In 2017-18, the Writing Lab saw approx. 6,000 visits from Purdue students. The OWL had 515M page views from around the world.

Perks of being a tutor

All employment with the Writing Lab, whether in the form of tutoring or research, is compensated; however, according to Prof. Denny, the biggest perk is the “opportunity to work in an environment that truly values learning and collaboration.” The Writing Lab promotes an atmosphere of innovation and strongly encourages tutors to explore the impact writing has in real life settings.

Companies like employees who can write clearly, but they especially like those who can help other people to write better too. Tutoring with the Writing Lab gives you a chance to practice both. Interacting with Purdue students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds also provides experience with intercultural collaboration. In survey after survey, employers list writing and collaborating as their most desired skills, ahead of technical expertise. 

Writing Lab tutors and staff also write all of the material found on the OWL. A section of the site is even devoted specifically to research conducted by lab personnel. Undergraduate tutors are welcome to add to this growing body of writing center research.

What professional qualities does tutoring cultivate?

In-lab tutoring session.
In-lab tutoring session.

Want to become a Writing Lab tutor but afraid that your writing skills aren’t good enough? No worries. While having a grasp of basic writing techniques is essential, no one expects you to be an expert. Part of being a tutor is learning with your client. Prof. Denny says that a good tutor isn’t someone who knows everything about writing, but rather a “person who is willing to say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s figure that out together’.”

While knowledge of composition and grammar is an asset, the most important quality for a tutor is strong people skills. For this reason, the Writing Lab looks for applicants who demonstrate empathy for students from all backgrounds and writing abilities.“We can teach you how to respond to student writing, [and] we can teach you the mechanics. The hard part is meeting such a wide variety of writers, meeting them…where they are, and being respectful of them,” says Prof. Denny. “The thing that I really care about when I am looking at undergraduates, is making sure…that we work with a whole, wide range of writing.”

It can be easy to forget that sharing one’s writing is a very personal experience; when someone judges our writing, it can feel like a judgement of us. Being respectful and connecting with writers on a human level creates a safe environment where students are free to be vulnerable. Only with trust can writers learn and improve. In this way, the role of a tutor is less like an instructor and more like that of a peer counselor.

“I think alot of times students struggle with writing because they have been shut down at some point,” says Prof. Denny. “I think people [should be] allowed to have a voice, and to cultivate their voice and their prose in an environment that’s not going to make them feel bad about themselves.” To demonstrate his point, he cites Steven North, an important writing center scholar: “We are about making better writers, not necessarily better writing.” Prof. Denny echoes this sentiment in his own words, “If you make someone feel more confident as a writer, effective writing will come along.”

Another important part of becoming a tutor is understanding how to help students within the parameters of the Lab. Like most college writing centers, the Purdue Writing Lab is not an editing service. A tutor’s job isn’t to “fix” students’ papers, but rather to give them the skills to revise their own writing, and to help them apply these skills to future assignments.

Tutors also learn to balance student needs with time restrictions. “We try and respectfully negotiate with a client, ‘What is realistically possible in 25 or 50 minutes?’” says Prof. Denny.

If a writing lab client has a 50-page research paper, it will be impossible for the tutor to read and give feedback on every page. Therefore, helping the client prioritize their needs and set a goal for what can be accomplished in one session is an important skill tutors learn.

How to apply to be an undergraduate tutor?

Tutors working in the staff room of the Writing Lab.
Tutors working in the staff room of the Writing Lab.

Until this year, the application process involved submitting a writing sample, a resume, and a letter of recommendation. To make the process less daunting, the application is now simpler. Students email the writing.lab@purdue.edu with a notice of interest. From there, they meet with Prof. Denny to discuss why they want to become a tutor and the skills and experiences they feel make them a good candidate.

The last step is enrolling in ENGL 390: Tutoring Practicum, a required internship course that teaches students how to work in the Writing Lab. Students learn writing center theory and gain hands-on experience with strategies for tutoring writing. If, at the end of the class, they seem like a good fit for working at the Lab, students become paid tutors. If students turn out to not be good fits, they still get course credit.

Some final advice

Prof. Denny’s advice for tutor applicants? “Be open to working with your peers. Be open to being challenged about how you learn and how your peers learn…. [I]f you want a really exciting environment where collaboration…reflection, and pedagogical research is valued, we are a cool place.”

The bottom line? Whether you are a tutor or a client, writers of all skill levels and backgrounds are welcome at the Purdue Writing Lab. No Pulitzer required.

You can Do Anything

Studying the liberal arts in a STEM world can often prompt the same questions over and over again: What are you going to do with that degree? Do you want to teach? How are you going to make money? Is your degree practical? George Anders’ book, You Can Do Anything (2017), answers these questions. It uses empirical data and multiple interviews with successful liberal arts graduates to argue that the “job market is quietly creating thousands of openings a week for people who can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future” (4).

The audience for this book is liberal arts majors, but it also aims at their families. Parents influence their children’s decision making, and, too often, their response to wanting to pursue a liberal arts path is concern or even opposition. Parents generally want what is best for their children, but this usually comes in the form of encouraging them to seek economic stability, and to pursue practical majors deemed most likely to confer it. In the twenty-first-century economy, however, mobility may be even more important than stability. Anders uses his knowledge of job market trends to assuage readers that they have what it takes to succeed at a time when technology is taking over.

            Part one of Anders’ book focuses on the strengths liberal arts graduates bring to the job market. Common wisdom has it that liberal arts seekers are jack-of-all trades but also masters of none. Students learn a little about history, a little about science, a little about everything. As Anders tell us: “A generation ago…college officials could joke that a liberal arts education ‘trains you for nothing but prepares you for everything.’ Today, you want to be brilliantly prepared and properly trained too” (21). But, as he also shows, liberal arts students are “properly trained,” just not in the conventional ways one might expect from a linear job path. While students and their parents obsess about jobs with high-paying starting salaries and very specific vocational skill sets, liberal arts students have vast room to grow and, in time, often end up exceeding their counterparts: “Fixating on starting salaries blinds us to the value of mobility… your liberal arts degree is likely to propel you ahead of many classmates with practical majors who thought they had seized an unbeatable lead at age twenty-two” (55-56).

"While students and their parents obsess about jobs with high-paying starting salaries and very specific vocational skill sets, liberal arts students have vast room to grow and, in time, often end up exceeding their counterparts."

            It sounds chaotic; in career development, as in life, there are few direct paths from point A to point B. While it may sound daunting, this model can be an asset to companies, and to newly graduated liberal arts majors looking to get hired. Why? Because those students are adaptable. Students often change majors several times in college, and they will similarly move through several jobs in a lifetime. This ability to accept change head on and face it with calm composure is not what Anders would call a “soft skill” (although that is the term most often used). Instead, he prefers the term “power skills” (43). Other power skills include: a “willingness… to tackle uncharted areas,” “finding insights,” “choosing the right approach,” “reading the room,” and “inspiring others” (32). Those who master power skills ultimately know how people work in and out of a professional setting.

This section of the book is all about embracing an explorer’s mindset. Anders tells the reader, “If your interviewer has even the haziest familiarity with the movie 300, you’re ready to talk about what it’s like to stand at a narrow pass, imagining that it’s 480 B.C., the enemy is massing—and you’ve got an ax” (33). He means that liberal arts students are used to not having the upper hand, but they are used to bravely fighting hardship and making-do with the tools at hand in any given situation.

            Parts two and three of the book address the realities of getting a degree in liberal arts. This section is great for students questioning their chances of upward mobility by pursuing a non-STEM field. On page 153, there are three charts that display typical starting salaries, midcareer salaries, and lifetime salaries in various fields. From this data, we see that liberal arts majors can make upwards of 3 to 5 million dollars in a lifetime, close to and in some instances exceeding the averages of other, more vocational or technology-based careers. Money tends to affect people’s decision making when it comes to college degrees, but starting salaries don’t determine the success of liberal arts majors. When practical majors and careers top out, liberal arts degree holders can soar. They may not make the same starting salary as engineers or doctors, but this doesn’t mean that these majors aren’t worth it or aren’t important. In a culture of instant gratification, patience is key.

"Liberal arts majors can make upwards of 3 to 5 million dollars in a lifetime, close to and in some instances exceeding the averages of other, more vocational or technology-based careers."

            One anecdote that illustrates this imperative is the story of Kaori Freda, a recent Reed College graduate. Her parents, like many adults, were skeptical about what she was going to do after college. It didn’t help when she moved to Japan and then to a remote island in the Pacific to learn more about herself, her heritage, and her potential. Yet, it was because of, and not despite, this detour that she ended up landing a “great job” with Nike. Thanks to her “overseas search for personal meaning” (204), Kaori was able to figure out what she wanted to do and relate her experiences to potential employers in a way that advocated for the skills they conferred. In other words, Kaori took a risk and she thrived.

Nowadays, students are so often told that the point of college is finding a high paying job right after graduation that they tend to forget that it is okay to explore. “There’s a bit of Kaori Freda in all of us,” Anders writes, “When you collect your diploma, you don’t yet know what kind of jobs you do best, what type of work satisfies you the most, or where the best opportunities reside. You need to experiment…No matter what your parents tell you, the great advantage of a college education isn’t long-term stability; it’s flexibility” (207). The explorer’s spirit can help us achieve success; we just have to be willing to gain a new perspective, to find adventure in everything from everyday activities to life changing experiences.

"...liberal arts majors aren’t what modern culture makes them out to be. They are highly skilled, show potential for great leadership, and are equipped to withstand the innovations of automation."

Ultimately, what readers should take away from this book is that liberal arts majors aren’t what modern culture makes them out to be. They are highly skilled, show potential for great leadership, and are equipped to withstand the innovations of automation. Whatever their choice of major, liberal arts students can hold their own amongst accountants and engineers; they will show the working world what they are made of. Just remember: “Rapid, disruptive change doesn’t ruin your prospects: it can actually play to your advantage” (9).

Georgia’s “Snacks for the Road” (Memorable Quotes):

  •  “In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists” (cited on pg. 16).
  • “Hundreds of psychological studies have found that people with a high level of what’s called ‘openness to new experiences’ fare somewhat better in school and, by extension, later life than those who have lower levels of it. Our world needs people who color outside the lines” (21).
  • “Pearlstein asked how many of his twenty-four students had chosen to major in a field such as history, English, or philosophy. The answer: only one. The explanation from half a dozen others: ‘My parents wouldn’t let me’” (28).
  • “Success isn’t a straight line…you will need to keep improvising your future” (54).
  • “It’s time to help meandering regain its good name” (56).
  • “42 percent of all hires happen without any trace of a formal job posting in the previous month” (82).
  • “We’d much rather hire a passionate candidate with potential than an uninspired candidate with a sparkling resume” (cited on pg. 111).
  • “It is impossible to automate the highly nuanced feat of changing people’s minds” (134).
  • “You can teach people to code, but you can’t teach people to learn” (cited on pg. 199).
  • “Every leadership question is really about communications. And every communications question is actually a leadership question in disguise” (276).

Georgia Green is a major in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing.