William & Mary

Minor options for English majors

Like many of my fellow seniors (and even some eager beaver juniors), I attended the Career Fair last week. Dressed up in my best “business casual” — because I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard — I wandered through the University Center meeting rooms. All around me, self-motivated, dynamic business-types were handing out pamphlets, shaking hands and hanging impressive tri-colored banners. Some of them even had snacks.

Oh yes, the Career Fair is a very seductive little operation. For the hour or so that I was there, I actually thought that I wanted a career. It was like Disneyworld, only for people that like Excel. Everyone seemed to love their jobs so much, and they were just so darn overjoyed to tell the students. For that small stretch of time, all my dreams of being a professional pirate-ninja-rapper flew out the window, replaced by the exciting options of the “real world.” I could be a market analyst, or an insurance agent or even — golden hope of hopes — an investment banker!

Of course, these are only options if you are majoring in a subject structured around the working world. Business majors tend to do very well with this. They know about things like “budgets” and “conference calls” and “wearing ties.” English-sociology double majors with a strong interest in writing do not do so well.

In fact, a slightly antagonistic dichotomy thrives between the business kids and the English kids — probably because business people are jealous they don’t get to use the phrase “antagonistic dichotomy.” If I were to try to sneak into the very imposing Tyler Hall (again, dressed in my finest business casual), the business majors would beat me to death with those adorable poster-board presentations they’re always carrying around. They can sense an English major from a distance of nine board rooms; I think it’s that wonderful Tucker smell.

On the flip side, if a business major were to stumble into an English class, the English majors would out-pretentious her until she cried. It’s not that we think business majors are inherently bad people, it’s just that we’re threatened by them. We know that even though English majors are the greatest students in the world, we will probably not make as much money as the business majors. And secretly, this bothers us.

Why can’t one make a career out of reading and being snarky? Certainly there are books that need to be read — Oprah cannot support the book industry alone. And certainly there is snark that needs to be … snarked. But the Career Fair simply did not see the demand for these skills.

Oh sure, they had a few choices for non-business types. The Peace Corps recruited heavily. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t really like that one of the few options for my major, as someone who doesn’t know about accounting, was to be shipped off to a third world country. I’m sure it’s a wonderful experience for many people: my friend Bonnie would love to join the Peace Corps. Bonnie is also a linguistics major.

So what are the options? There’s always optimism, but English majors aren’t really big fans of that. I could sell out to the man, if the man would have me. It would mean resigning myself to a life of spreadsheets and watercooler talk, but I do enjoy having a community coffee maker.

And I could always secretly nurture a sense of superiority over my co-workers. When “Paradise Lost” comes up during a weekly meeting, I will smugly remind my co-workers that it was Milton, not Morton, who wrote it. If, for some reason, great literature does not crop up in conversation, I will make it crop up. “Oh, the Excel template? I thought you said ‘The Tempest.’ Silly me. Since we’re talking about it anyway, did you want me to recite Caliban’s speech for you?” I can spend a whole meeting trying to draw parallels between The Dawson Report and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” I’ll be the kid putting commas in all the inter-office memos. I’ll make a career out of being the office’s personal English nerd, and the business world won’t know what hit it.

Lauren Bell is the Confusion Corner columnist for The Flat Hat. She’ll out-pretentious you any day of the week.

Source:  Lauren Bell, The Flat Hat, September 29, 2006.