What can’t you do with an English Major?

New Course Helps Students Explore Careers


This spring, undergraduates had the opportunity to take ENL 149, "Career-Planning and English," a class designed around the question that has haunted English majors as long as there has been small talk: "What can you do with an English major?" This course, team-taught by our own Professor Desirée Martín alongside Janice Morand, Associate Director of the UC Davis Internship and Career Center, and Christina Cadang, Career Advisor, aims to help majors by foregrounding career exploration and decision-making as part of their undergraduate coursework.


“The idea for the course came out of conversations with Lynda Jones, one of our phenomenal Undergraduate Counselors in the department, and Marcie Kirk Holland, Director of the Internship and Career Center (ICC),” said John Marx who helped design and teach the first generation of the class during the 2017-2018 school year. “[Jones] and I had been talking about how and whether the English Department could do more to help our undergraduates launch their careers. We all know that English majors graduate with the skills to succeed in a variety of careers. What we wanted to do is to help them start down a career path of interest with the confidence to succeed.” Martín shared Marx and Jones’ goals for career development when she took over the course this year. She said she closely followed the model Marx and Morand pioneered the year before, but made her own impression by adding more fiction and memoir pieces to the syllabus to help students see close reading as a skill that would help them present themselves to a variety of audiences: “I wanted students to learn to tell stories about who they are and how their past and current studies, work/volunteer and personal experiences can translate into future work, social, and personal goals.”


New Course Helps Students Explore Careers


Additionally, she collaborated extensively with her co-teachers so that the course components would be well integrated. “A typical day would include my lecturing and leading discussion on a text such as ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover or ‘The Poet X’ by Elizabeth Acevedo, and some discussion of career planning resources along with group activities and exercises that the ICC instructors would generally lead. For example, we asked the students to use the CA Career Zone website to identify careers of interest and to write about them. We also conducted a Resume workshop and Informational Interview practice, among many other activities. Our activities always varied to keep students on their toes.”


The quarter culminated in an activity called "Pitching to the Pros," where students had the opportunity to conduct informational interviews with professionals in various fields--including recent English PhD Samantha Snively, who accepted a position as Proposal Writer in the UCD Development office this spring. Snively recalled, “The students and I talked about the incredibly transferable skills of adapting your message to your audience and being able to find and organize information.”  Snively and Martín both described the class in these terms: as a valuable act of adaptation, translation, or code switching. Martín put this in terms of audience: “Students need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate who they are, what they have done, and where they are going in an ever-changing political, economic, and social context to diverse audiences, whether they are engaging with family, friends, instructors, co-workers, or current/potential employers.”


Students Discussing Careers


Martín connected this set of goals with her own work in critical race studies, seeing this course as an opportunity to help mentor potentially underserved communities within the university. “Many of our majors are first generation, transfer students, and/or students of color who do not necessarily have easy access to assistance or role models to help them identify, prepare for, and secure employment that they feel speaks to their training and their sense of themselves as English majors. As a scholar of critical race studies and as someone who is deeply invested in mentoring our diverse population of students, I believe that providing students with the tools that they need to succeed in career and life planning is a gesture towards social justice, however small.”