Create an educational story uniquely your own by studying literature
Last week, I ran into a former student. She took a lot of courses with me – and now she is working for a local government agency, and feeling like she is making a difference in the world.
She was telling me about a meeting she had recently, with some higher-level executives, who were asking about her career path. Where had she been? What was she going to do next?
She was feeling a bit uneasy. Everyone else’s path seemed so straightforward. Hers was winding. She had worked in student government, thought about teaching, and considered journalism, before lining up a career in communications. In her current role, she is drawing on a lot of the skills she picked up while an English major. Coming to university, she couldn’t have predicted this path. She wasn’t sure where exactly she’d be in ten or twenty years. But she was happy.
I told her what I tell a lot of my students: these winding paths are more common than we think. In fact, the best research in this area says just that. In his recent book, Range, David Epstein writes about Harvard’s Dark Horse Project, which has discovered that most successful people take circuitous routes. As a culture, we tend to believe that most people follow a set path towards their goals (personal or professional). This is called “the standardization covenant”; but most people’s paths are unpredictable. Circumstances change; interests develop; goals shift.
While it is tempting to be captivated by promises of programs with more linear career paths – where the field of study correlates directly to future job titles – I encourage students to consider studying the humanities and (I have bias here) specifically literature.
There are a lot of good reasons to do so. Learning how to write well -- clearly and persuasively about complex and urgent issues – is a meaningful skill in any career, and something we focus on in English. More broadly, in the Humanities at Trent, there are hands-on career-boosting experiences as well, including the chance to contribute to faculty research, and get paid work experience through our new co-op stream (coming to our Peterborough campus in fall 2022!).
In addition to preparing you for career success in a number of diverse fields, a degree in literature can also feed your love of reading and stoke your creative fires. It can help you think about art and understand the importance of imagination; it might even help you create your own art and find your place in the world. Moreover, studying literature brings you in contact with a history of ideas that is simultaneously foundational, unsettling, and illuminating. The literature of past crises and triumphs explains today’s world. There is also a growing body of research that suggests that reading expands one’s sense of empathy; it brings you to people and places you wouldn’t otherwise have contact with.
Studying literature can change your mind in the best way possible.
So where can you head with your English degree? Along a path as unique as you are.
Studying literature equips graduates with durable and transferrable skills that are helpful not just for a single job in a rapidly-shifting employment landscape, but relevant for an entire career. When you learn how to read and write at a university level – in ways that are careful and expansive – you’ll always be ready to decode the messages in what people are saying and communicate your own thoughts in ways that are accurate and compelling.
Posted on April 4, 2022