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Job possibilities outside of academia?


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I read an article today about the best and worst graduate degrees. In it, the author argued that it is nearly impossible to get a job outside of academe with a Master's in English (besides teaching high school).

What do you guys think? What are some other (real) potential career paths for English MAs and PhDs that fall outside of university parameters?

I'd like to compile a list and write a rebuttal.

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Who's jumping to any conclusions? I'm simply relaying facts: it is a statistical certainty that the large majority of people who post here won't get tenure track jobs as professors. I certainly have a

I seem to recall this sort of anger from last year--people get pretty heated around this time. Good luck, guys. Honestly, I do believe that we're all in this crazy Humanities boat together, however fl

My research is on the rhetoric of social movements, and while working as a professor is my ultimate goal, I constantly think about how I could explain my work to make it appealing to non-profits, prog

Er, I completely disagree unless this person also considers people with degrees in Communications, Marketing, and even Business Admin. equally unemployable. 

 

The biggest problem with an MA or PhD in English is that employers might shy away from those degrees for fear that they cannot afford the pay grade that such degrees are typically worthy of. So in that sense, I see how that would make us rather unemployable.

 

But if it's about raw skills and ability? How many careers out there require intimate knowledge of human behavior? How many careers require carefully worded and meaningful language to achieve a desired outcome? How many careers require reading and processing information? 

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Editor/publisher, anything involving writing/speaking well (I worked for a business because they needed someone who could write letters and reports), PR, business (see above), marketing, news, technical writing/user manuals, social media manager for a company, communications director for a politician or government office, writer (of course), and probably more. These are just the ones I either have experience with or know people who went into it. Basically any industry needs copywriters, so there should be plenty of openings for people with MAs and PhDs in English or the humanities.

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There's actually plenty of jobs which call for a generic master's degree, which you can get with an MA in English. There's far fewer with an explicit desire for an MA in English. Of course, it also matters what you study. If you're studying technical communication or business writing, you'll likely have a better job than if you're a Medievalist. That's not in any sense a knock on Medievalists or anyone else. Just acknowledging that you don't generally get that kind of degree for job prospects anyway.

 

incidentally, since we're talking about employment here, it's necessary that I make the essential point yet again: most of the people who post here do so out of a desire to one day get a job as a professor in English, and the vast majority never will. So consider getting out now.

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There's actually plenty of jobs which call for a generic master's degree, which you can get with an MA in English. There's far fewer with an explicit desire for an MA in English. Of course, it also matters what you study. If you're studying technical communication or business writing, you'll likely have a better job than if you're a Medievalist. That's not in any sense a knock on Medievalists or anyone else. Just acknowledging that you don't generally get that kind of degree for job prospects anyway.

 

incidentally, since we're talking about employment here, it's necessary that I make the essential point yet again: most of the people who post here do so out of a desire to one day get a job as a professor in English, and the vast majority never will. So consider getting out now.

FYI I have no intention of ever leaving academia. I wouldn't be here if I did. After my MA, over two dozen conference presentations, four scholarly publications, and four years of teaching, I have a pretty clear picture in my mind that this is where I belong.

The desire to defend the strengths of English MA and PhD programs outside of academia doesn't make you less passionate about what you do. Try to remember that next time you jump to conclusions.

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There's actually plenty of jobs which call for a generic master's degree, which you can get with an MA in English. There's far fewer with an explicit desire for an MA in English. Of course, it also matters what you study. If you're studying technical communication or business writing, you'll likely have a better job than if you're a Medievalist. That's not in any sense a knock on Medievalists or anyone else. Just acknowledging that you don't generally get that kind of degree for job prospects anyway.

 

incidentally, since we're talking about employment here, it's necessary that I make the essential point yet again: most of the people who post here do so out of a desire to one day get a job as a professor in English, and the vast majority never will. So consider getting out now.

 

Hello, I'm a Medievalist AND I "desire to one day get a job as a professor in English". Thank you for delivering to us the general theses of every Chronicle article written in the last two years. You and Rebecca Schuman should probably do lunch. 

 

...anyway...

 

If I wasn't desperately in love with Zinc's oh-so-beautifully upbeat and inspirational portrayal of the wasteland that we call academia (or if it just never comes to fruition for me, which it very well might not) I would like to be in politics--school boards, speech writing, city council--or be a mechanic. I love anything with an engine and watch a lot of F1 and just love cars in general. My fiancé claims I'm the weirdest woman he's ever met. But seriously. All it takes is looking at the new Audi/BMW series...

Edited by ArthurianChaucerian
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FYI I have no intention of ever leaving academia. I wouldn't be here if I did. After my MA, over two dozen conference presentations, four scholarly publications, and four years of teaching, I have a pretty clear picture in my mind that this is where I belong.

The desire to defend the strengths of English MA and PhD programs outside of academia doesn't make you less passionate about what you do. Try to remember that next time you jump to conclusions.

 

Who's jumping to any conclusions? I'm simply relaying facts: it is a statistical certainty that the large majority of people who post here won't get tenure track jobs as professors. I certainly have a chance of being among them. I'm not telling anyone what to do; you're all adults who can make your own choices. But people here have to go into this process understanding that the odds are very, very long that they'll ever get a job as a professor. I'm willing for people to accuse me of being an asshole to make the truth a little more plain.

 

And Rebecca Schuman, who I have plenty of disagreements with, is just relaying a simple reality: tons and tons of people graduate from PhD programs in the humanities every year and then are devastated when they don't get a job. And a lot of them complain afterwards that they didn't really understand the market, or that no one told them, or that they didn't realize how bad it was. That's not just people at mid-tier schools but at some of the most elite programs in the world. (That's particularly true since, as bad as it was prior to 2008, it got way worse then.) All I'm trying to do is to spare people that surprise. If you still want to go, then go. I am, after all. Just please don't be the ones to say "I didn't know." Be informed. Go in with a clear picture of what's out there. And don't shoot the messenger; I didn't create these conditions. I'm just trying to be honest about them. 

Edited by ComeBackZinc
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I'm well aware of the market. Again, I think the assumption you're making is that people don't know what they are walking into. If they don't, shame on them and their advisors. I'm not sure it's the job of fellow graduate students to continually remind their peers of the situation. If you'd like to, go ahead. Maybe be more mindful of tone and disposition, but go ahead.

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I'm not interested in what you think my job is. The fact that you are well aware of the market is not an argument that everyone who is considering grad school in English is aware of the market. This is forum for people to discuss grad student admissions, and this thread concerns professional realities. And there are tons and tons of blog posts and essays out there by people who went to grad school and failed to get a job and now insist that they didn't know the state of the market. I think it's fair and appropriate for people like me to present the facts in order to save future people that pain. As far as my tone and disposition, I don't think there's anything remotely inappropriate about it; I think, instead, the reality that I'm pointing out is hurtful. Because it sucks. If it were up to me, everyone would get a job. But I'll risk temporarily and minimally annoying a couple people to potentially inform others who aren't as aware as you are.

 

Because what you'll find once you're actually inside the institution is that the reality is so bleak. I'm sorry if bringing that up is hurtful.

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I mean, I said "most of the people who post here do so out of a desire to one day get a job as a professor in English, and the vast majority never will." That's about as neutral language as I'm capable of, and it's just true. So I think the problem is not my tone but the sadness and ugliness of that fact.

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I was more referring to, "So consider getting out now."

Again, it's a moot point. And yes, it's a very sad situation, which is why I would like to refute the idea put forth that our degrees our worthless should worse come to worse.

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I don't know who put that degree forth; I know I didn't. I'm sorry if I offended you. I think everyone should consider whether this really the best options for them. I say that not out of a desire to insult, but just the opposite. Out of respect.

Edited by ComeBackZinc
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Any other fields everyone can see our degrees working in? I'm looking for concrete examples of jobs that we'd be trained for should it all hit the fan. A couple of people on this post have given great ideas; I would like to hear more. When battling the anti- academia crowd, the more specific you can be the better.

Sorry for any typos. I'm on my phone.

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I love watching everyone get all pissy as the implied rejections start filtering in.

 

One outside-of-academia job that doesn't get mentioned a lot, but that I think an advanced English degree can prepare one pretty well for, is starting a small business. Critical thinking skills are a must, as the entire job, from inception to operation, consists of continually assessing, reassessing, responding, and altering responses to complex situational networks. Strong communication skills are also a must, and the PhD lifestyle prepares one well for the sort of "work is never really done" reality of small business ownership.

 

Of course, I know a lot of English profs and grad students who are a bit too "head in the clouds" for the practical, day-to-day operation stuff (meaning no offense of course; it takes all kinds) but I think it is a career path that academics too often write off as too remote from their studies to be practical.

 

I worked construction for a guy one summer during college--he had no college degree, but was extremely well read and a true intellectual... the first thing he said to me referenced Walden. Anyway, I talked to him a few times about applying to graduate school and he said that "young people nowadays" are more interested in diagnosing problems than actually fixing them. He encouraged me, instead of studying environmental issues in literature, to build an environmental construction business.

 

As I implied before, I realize that it takes people of both stripes to enact change, but I do think that the general liberal tendency to shy away from the business world leaves it for the taking of people more interested in making money for themselves than making things better for others.

 

/2cents

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On the topic of most of us wanting to be professors, but not many of us getting the chance, I do want to add that a similar thing can be said about getting into graduate school.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people apply every year, and hundreds don't get in on the first or even second round. (I am so not trying to be a buzz-kill during decisions season, just being *very* general).

 

But, with persistence, it happens for many of us.  So we can be as gloomy about the job market as we want, but the fact still stands that if you're willing to work, to wait, to move wherever for a while, whether that while be short or long, then I'd like to put forward the idea that the job market isn't quite as hopeless as we are led to believe.

 

I'm not naive, and *so so* not looking to get into a fight with anyone.  I just wanted to throw out the idea that, with a great lump of patience, it's not the black hole we might think.  Now, granted, the more particular you are about where you want to work, the harder it gets.  But if you don't mind teaching at middle-of-nowhere university for a while, or adjuncting for a while, etc, it's still good and possible you will find a job.  It may not be Harvard or Yale, and it may not be in the city of your dreams, but a job is not an impossibility.

 

Again, just my own thoughts.

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As I implied before, I realize that it takes people of both stripes to enact change, but I do think that the general liberal tendency to shy away from the business world leaves it for the taking of people more interested in making money for themselves than making things better for others.

 

Overall, I agree with you, but I think the implied dichotomy in your last sentence is problematic.  Are liberals the only ones more interested in making things better for others than in getting rich?  Is the reverse true of conservatives?  Or is that not what you meant?

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My research is on the rhetoric of social movements, and while working as a professor is my ultimate goal, I constantly think about how I could explain my work to make it appealing to non-profits, progressive think-tanks, and political organizations. I also have this fantasy of teaming up with my partner, a software engineer, to design literacy software for adults. 

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I can only imagine that this will be met negatively by the clientele of the board, but working in academic administration might be something that could appeal to you. You work on a college campus. You certainly use deep critical thinking skills. You get to flex your research chops as you work to constantly build the tenuous bridge between the faculty and staff of a college.

 

It's not too far-fetched to imagine that several people have gotten MA's or even Ph.D.'s and gone on to work in undergraduate or graduate admissions, student development, financial aid, or academic advising. You provide an opportunity for campus communities as a whole to maintain continuity among different offices. 

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"The fact that you are well aware of the market is not an argument that everyone who is considering grad school in English is aware of the market. This is forum for people to discuss grad student admissions, and this thread concerns professional realities. And there are tons and tons of blog posts and essays out there by people who went to grad school and failed to get a job and now insist that they didn't know the state of the market. I think it's fair and appropriate for people like me to present the facts in order to save future people that pain. As far as my tone and disposition, I don't think there's anything remotely inappropriate about it; I think, instead, the reality that I'm pointing out is hurtful. Because it sucks. If it were up to me, everyone would get a job. But I'll risk temporarily and minimally annoying a couple people to potentially inform others who aren't as aware as you are."

I just want to back up ComeBackZinc here. I am currently watching my colleagues (from a top ten literature program) do interview after interview for naught. The Duke postdoctoral fellowship received over 500 applicants this year. And that's not even a job! My friends are falling apart. And it's making me seriously think about what I'm doing. Just because you feel like you don't belong anywhere else doesn't mean you should do this. Yes, the work is great and life-changing and wonderful, blah blah blah. But there's a whole lot of pain waiting for me at the end of this. If you already know this, great, but if not, you should.

The upside is, those of you who don't get accepted this year might receive a blessing in disguise.

Edited by smellybug
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My current program has an 80% full time placement rate, 60% tenure track. National is 25% full-time. The job market is bad, yes, but part of the problem is also people getting bad advice. Part of why we have a high placement rate is because we have a great professional development office and an intensive pedagogical practicuum.

The job market is bad, but look at the placement numbers of places you get accepted to. I also think that people tend to dismiss working at a community college when it is actually either a successful career path in itself or provides good experience on your resume.

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