What I do now: Using my English background to communicate with purpose.

By Alison Roach

February 22, 2017

When I decided to major in English and started telling people, the first reaction I usually got was some variation of, “Oh, so what are you going to do with that? Teach?”

Let’s be clear, I have nothing but love for those who take their English training into classrooms. Teaching requires an alchemical combination of charisma, intellect, and goodwill. It’s difficult, sometimes frustrating, and highly creative. No wonder teachers are some of the most kind hearted, engaging, and respected figures we know.

But still, “Teach?” The question bothered me for its blatant assumption — that teaching was the only possible thing you could do with English. That’s far from the case. I knew there must be others paths, but I was unclear on what they were. An English career after graduation was murky compared to those of disciplines like engineering or business management. Conventional wisdom said those students would go on to make big figures in high-level corporate environments. But what about me and my English degree?

Popular media and rhetoric is slowly catching up with what English departments have known for years: there’s a whole lot you can do with a liberal arts degree. In 2016, news outlets shouted headlines like “Revenge of the arts: Why a liberal arts education pays off” (Macleans) and “Good News Liberal-Arts Majors: Your Peers Probably Won’t Outearn You Forever” (The Wall Street Journal). The edge of incredulity is still frustrating, but at least the message is getting out there.

The “soft-skills” of a liberal arts degree are becoming more and more valuable in an economy increasingly dependent on office and remote environments. Across the border, The National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook for 2016 discovered that written communication skills were the third most valued capability for prospective employers, the “ability to work in a team, creativity, and verbal communication skills were not too far behind.” (Western Herald)

Guess which discipline readily develops all of those skills? Reading and writing well demands a high level of critical thought, paired with a hard-earned knack for articulation. To read and write about literature well requires both of those skills, plus imagination and expansive thinking. Any English major knows this.

During my degrees, I worked any job I could find that let me write and edit for a living. I worked my way up the ranks of SFU’s student newspaper for the majority of my undergrad, inadvertently increasing my prowess in management, overseeing finances, networking, and meeting hard deadlines. I discovered the thrill and terror of seeing something I’d written go out into the world.

In my MA, I found Devon Brooks through a very millennial employee search: a Facebook post shared by a friend. A business brain with a poetic soul, I was drawn to her brutally forthright expression and fierce feminine independence, a quality I realized I very much want to cultivate in my own professional life.

During the final stretch of my degree, I interned as Dev’s communications assistant and taught first-year English tutorials. Mid-week emotional breakdowns weren’t uncommon, but the pressure put on young professionals is another article. Most important to me was the fact that in both my jobs, I was writing and editing for a living once again. When I finished my coursework, Dev offered me a full-time position leading communications and editorial content for her latest brainchild: babe rally.

babe rally is the editorial project of my current dreams. As communications and content lead, I’m creating a digital platform that explores and exposes the cultural narrative of women and sexual trauma through digitally illustrated artworks and exploratory written pieces. As essentially the first employee of a start-up in its infancy, my position is uncertain, and exhilarating. I’m writing and editing about topics I really care about: culture and women. I’m working with passionate writers and artists who care just as much as I do.

No, my career path so far has not been clearcut. No, I don’t expect it to straighten or simplify anytime soon. I’m a product of the liberal arts, and with that comes a degree of uncertainty. But I know that my skills are valuable. Ready, passionate communicators will continue to be valuable until computer science majors figure out how to infuse motherboards with expression and soul. Engineers may build bridges, but so do I.