“What can you do with an English major?” my answer is always the same:
“Anything and everything!” – Alicia Lee ’12
While the study of great literature is rewarding for its own sake, and while English concentrators have no need to justify their course of study by appeal to the job market, our graduates have an impressive track record in finding satisfying jobs. They have moved into rewarding careers in law, advertising, marketing, consulting, finance, real estate, journalism, and many others. The record is impressive.
You can also read how the treasurer of Harvard University attributes much of his success in business to the skills he learned as an English concentrator. He points out that English prepares students for any field that values careful reading, precise thinking, and the ability to write clear, persuasive prose.
Need help convincing your parents? Read our Letter to Parents.
Below are testimonials from former students regarding how an English concentration helped them to achieve their career goals.Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations
Joe Gfaller, 2001
Upon graduating, I received a Briggs Literary Fellowship and a Hoopes Prize, which allowed me to spend three months doing literary study and travel in Great Britain. Upon returning to the US, I took a job in marketing at a mid-sized theatre in Atlanta in marketing and public relations. The job grew to include event planning, fundraising, web development, and board development, and after 6 years with that theatre I moved to my current position at the Alliance Theatre, recipient of the 2007 Regional Theatre Tony Award. Here I manage marketing budgeting, planning, copywriting, art direction, and community relationships. From these two jobs I have also been able to develop freelance clients for copy writing and public relations support, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and a boutique real estate investment firm. In addition to this work, I’ve been working successfully as a freelance stage director, directing three stage productions each year as part of the Atlanta theatre community, including regional premieres by Caryl Churchill, David Mamet, Michael Frayn, Christopher Durang, and Richard Greenberg, among others and several classics, including some Chekhov and Shakespeare. For my directing work, I was named “Best New Director in Atlanta” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2005. I was also named one of the twenty “future leaders of Atlanta” by Southern Voice Newspaper. I have served on the board of directors for a local business association, co-chaired a leadership development program for young professionals, worked on a campaign in my district for the Georgia State Assembly, and volunteered with several non-profits.
My English degree has been a valuable asset in being able to communicate clearly and insightfully about literary material from both a business/marketing point of view and from a creative/artistic point of view, making it possible for me to navigate those two arenas with more dexterity than a pure theatre degree may have allowed.
Maja Clark, 2000
I have held several different jobs since graduating from Harvard in 2000, and the broadness of my English degree puts each career move in context. Simply put, a degree in English means one can read, analyze and write effectively. If one can synthesize available information and communicate it well, and to the right audience, then that person has a professional leg up over their peers.
Right after college I went to work for a Time Warner company in New York City selling advertising space in magazines. As I moved up in the company, I held positions in marketing, research and sales. I felt I had an advantage in this field because so much of what I was doing was based on effective communication, skills I had honed during my four years in college. From Time Warner I went to work as a producer for CNBC. My role there was essentially to digest the news of the day and translate that into story lines. How perfect!
When my husband was transferred to Phoenix, AZ and I had to leave NY — the epi center of non-movie media — I knew I had to put my experience into something new. I now work in marketing for a real estate brokerage firm. My current job is a perfect synthesis of my career to this point. I analyze what we have to sell and figure out effective ways to communicate our offerings to the market. Between our advertising campaigns, marketing materials and industry groups, I do a lot of reading, writing, analysis, and ultimately, communication!
While being an English major at Harvard does not specifically set you up vocationally, it does teach you the life skills needed to succeed in the professional world. That being said, it is important to enhance your education with appropriate jobs so that you are prepared for full time work. On-the-job experience before leaving college is crucial.
I loved my years studying English. It is a wonderful department and I got a lot out of it personally and professionally. It is a great platform to launch a career in media, marketing and even real estate!
After graduation, I began working as the marketing director for a small educational firm in New Hampshire. I kept busy writing text for the website and brochures, creating PowerPoint presentations for investors, and writing workbooks and text for videos. After about a year, I realized that I wanted to work with people rather than just ideas, and started working as a personal trainer on the weekends at the Malkin Athletic Center. When a full time management job at the MAC opened up, I applied for it, and took a substantial pay cut to move back to Boston and Harvard.
I worked at the MAC and Hemenway for the next five years, and after several promotions ended up as the Senior Operations Manager. I oversaw both facilities and about 75 staff members, as well as creating programs and overseeing most of the communication for both sites. I put my degree to use writing descriptions of our facilities and programs for the website, sending out announcement emails, wording official policies and procedures for our staff, writing proposals for higher level administrators, handling sensitive issues with diplomatic letters, and, of course, making sure our signs used good grammar and had no spelling errors. When my husband started his PhD we moved to Michigan, and I found a job at the East Lansing Public Library. I am working in operations and marketing, and am designing brochures and postcards for the library. I am also part of the One Book, One Community selection process in East Lansing, and in this position read many of the books considered for the program.
Everywhere I’ve been employed I’ve found that the writing skills honed by my degree are in high demand, and that the clear thinking and quick comprehension developed at Harvard serve me well. My friends and co-workers ask me to edit almost everything either important or sensitive that they have to write, from application essays to complaint letters to more personal correspondence, and call this process “Jana-cizing.” Being able to read and comprehend quickly has been a great asset in every position, as I can usually inform myself about any topic given a couple of hours and access to the internet and a library. Finally, I credit my degree with the ability to appreciate most jokes and allusions in speeches and essays that refer to classic literature. Hey, my roommate graduated from Harvard speaking fluent Chinese, but I got all the jokes the speakers made at graduation.
Lisa Ackerman, 2011
I graduated from Harvard in 2011, and I just finished up a one year masters program in business management at Durham University in England. While there, I interviewed for several different jobs for graduates and accepted a position as a Corporate Tax Associate at Deloitte in Edinburgh. This may not sound like a typical English major profession, but my degree was actually mentioned as a major asset in the interview process for Deloitte and a couple other businesses. I was told that a lot of applicants have degrees in business or finance but don’t always have the writing skills the business world is looking for, and my English degree gave me that background.
I gained even more academically from concentrating in English. Having the opportunity to read some of the greatest texts in the English language, while being guided by professors who can help you get the most of what you read, is absolutely incredible. The critical thinking and writing skills I gained have also been invaluable as a graduate student. Even though I came in to a business degree with no business background, I still felt I was at an advantage because I knew how to advance an argument and respond to counterpoints effectively. Don’t let anyone tell you English is an impractical concentration choice! I am just at the beginning of post-Harvard life, but concentrating in English has already helped me in my career and at grad school, as well as giving me an enriching experience while I was at Harvard—what more can you ask of a department?
Jess Ludwig, 1999
I’m currently a freelance Web producer and writer living in Virginia. After graduation, I interned at The Boston Review in the evenings while working full-time as an events organizer at Radcliffe’s Alumnae Association. I learned basic html at the Review and helped maintain the publication’s Web site, which I liked. I knew I also wanted to write and took the opportunity to work at The Chronicle of Higher Education as an editorial assistant reviewing publications related to academia and information technology. I returned to graduate school with the goal of becoming an English professor, but I was too much of a generalist for a PhD so left with a Master’s. I’d continued to dabble in the online arena, digitizing texts and learning XML, as a research assistant, so an editorial job at PBS Interactive appealed to me. Working at PBS was a fantastic experience for the opportunity to work with brilliant television and Web producers and support high-quality, diverse programming. As I gained more managerial experience, I missed being involved in developing projects; after almost four years, I left PBS to do freelance production work.
Harvard’s English program developed my analytical and communication skills by exposing me to some of the most challenging poetry and prose writers in the world. Taking a poetry seminar with Helen Vendler was one of the best experiences of my undergraduate career, and I would encourage concentrators to be adventurous and take courses outside of their specialty or comfort zone. The abilities to analyze information–a text, video, proposal, etc.—and to advance an argument are invaluable skills that have helped me in my career.
Although I chose to concentrate in English as an undergraduate, I was intent on a career in medicine — but took an orthogonal path into business when I decided not to apply to med school. After graduating in 2000, I started work in business strategy
consulting with Monitor Group here in Cambridge, MA, and worked at Monitor in a variety of consulting roles for about six years, consulting to large firms in a half-dozen industries (from chemicals to pharmaceuticals to energy) and across a wide variety of functions (from marketing to operations to HR).
I am currently on leave from my firm to attend business school, and will finish my MBA at Harvard in spring (2008). I plan to return to Monitor for a few years before deciding whether consulting is a longer-term career choice for me, or a stepping stone on the way to a more entrepreneurial.
I’ve found that, while I’ve not had to rely much on the literary knowledge of the English concentrator curriculum, I’ve used and continued to hone my writing skills and story-telling abilities. More unexpectedly, I’ve found that literary analysis skills transfer quite nicely to structured problem solving in a business context, whether it’s trying to understand the hidden motives or intent in a client’s email or defining a structured way to tackle a particular business problem. Being able to articulately frame and address a problem has proved useful in the more academic setting of the business school and in the real-life context of a corporate boardroom.
It’s probably not necessary given the recruiting push that happens on campus each fall, but I would encourage English concentrators with an interest in a career in business to consider consulting as a means of testing the waters. Many consulting firms offer
summer internships or two-year associate programs, and are always looking for bright and talented individuals. Obviously, some technical knowledge beyond what’s required by the English department is helpful (e.g., ability to do basic arithmetic, comfort in learning about and discussing business concepts or new technologies). That said, I have found my firm in particular to be very open and accepting of people with non-finance, non-economic, non-business backgrounds (and consequently to be a more interesting place to work!) I would definitely encourage interested students to rely on OCS’s advice with regards to finding job opportunities at consulting firms.
Adam Green, 1999
After graduating with an English degree in ’99 I lasted for about two years in the office world of online writing and editing (travel and baseball websites), but ended up going back to school to get my MFA in acting. I’m now a professional actor in New York, working at established off-Broadway houses and regional theaters.
My English concentration and the classes of heavy interpretation and scrutiny of texts have been of great use, especially when tackling the classics. Though dense critical reading may not transfer so readily to one’s physical being on stage, it is always a useful tool when delving into the psychology of a character during the rehearsal process. In particular, the thorough discussions in the late Richard Marius’s Shakespearean history plays class, Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet seminar, and Robert Brustein’s modern-postmodern drama have served me well in tablework at rehearsals. Many of the lectures have stuck with me as far as the revelation of creative processes. Since what I do professionally is (essentially) tell stories, how fine a intense background in literature is to help build a character with real human desires.
Will Burke, 1999
I am an actor and a writer in Los Angeles. After graduation, I spent a couple months performing with two of my classmates in the three-man comedy “The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” at The Hasty Pudding theater. I scrapped plans to move to New York City and bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, where I began training at The Groundlings School, a sketch comedy and improv theater. For the next few years, I performed with a number of sketch and improv troupes in Los Angeles, and kept myself afloat by bartending and running a small tutoring company. Along the way, I managed to land some acting work in some independent films, television shows, and commercials. For the past couple of years, I have been working as a writer for the ABC late night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
As an undergrad, the English Department always told me to explore all the department had to offer and find a niche for myself, and write a thesis that is the logical conclusion of your self-guided course of study within the department. I focused on plays — from Shakespeare to medieval cycle plays to 20th Century American Drama.
Elena (Jacobson) de Leonardis, 1999
I live in LA and am pursuing a career as a film producer. I currently work in script development at Manheimer Entertainment. My first job out of Harvard was as an assistant to a director on a feature film.
Jennifer Kurdyla, 2011
After I graduated in 2011, I attended the Columbia Publishing Course thanks to various forms of support from the English department at Harvard. This six-week summer program, held at the Columbia University School of Journalism, is fondly known as “publishing boot camp,” appropriate because of the in-depth and intensive training students received in all aspects of publishing—from books to magazines to digital media, from business to publicity to editoria—through lectures with publishing professionals and workshops. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to interview for an editorial assistant position at Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House, about halfway through the course. Not only were the skills from CPC helpful to my being hired, but being able to discuss the fiction and poetry I studied as an undergraduate (when I mentioned Wallace Stevens, my current-boss’s eyes lit up) with the rhetorical and analytic skills I honed in my English courses as well were most beneficial to my application. Knopf in particular is the home to many of American literature’s giants–from Vladimir Nabokov to Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy–and the offices exude with their essence in quite a powerful, tangible way.
Over the past two years, I’ve worked with three different editors at Knopf and Doubleday (the two branches of our imprint) whose list of authors and titles are as diverse as they are long: these include works by Jhumpa Lahiri (Professor Fisher lectured brilliantly on her), Daniel Mendelsohn (New Yorker contributor), James Salter, Arthur Golden, Claire Messud, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (a former Radcliffe Fellow), Anne Carson, Jonathan Galassi, Nell Freudenberger (who graduated from Harvard), Jane Smiley, J. Courtney Sullivan, Jennifer Close, Dave Eggers, Rebecca Harrington (another Harvard alumna), Toni Morrison, Bill Clinton, Nora Ephron, and many more talented writers with brilliant careers ahead of them. My responsibilities are equally varied. I liaise with all of the other divisions of the publishing house, such as production, publicity and marketing, contracts, etc. to ensure that our books are made and sold to the best of our abilities from start to finish. Currently, I assist the Editorial Director of Knopf, and in this capacity I have greater insight into the large-scale publishing decisions of our group’s entire list. With the constant and myriad changes that occur in publishing due to eBooks, social media, and other new technologies and audiences, we are always encountering new challenges and finding creative ways to ensure that our books and authors–across all Random House divisions–meet the highest standards and find their readers in the best way possible.
What I still find most exciting, though, is the work I do at the manuscript stage of a book’s life. I am fortunate to have worked with editors who value my editorial comments and suggestions, and being able to contribute to a book’s—and an author’s—development, even at the acquisition stage, so directly is most rewarding. Often during my undergraduate career, I often paused over why a novel or poem progressed the way it did; why a character would have a certain motive or personality trait; why a setting was chosen; why a chapter or line of poetry broke where it did. As a reader and student, I would try to assign meaning to these things as if they were indelible components of that piece of art’s essence. Now, it’s clear that literature is a much more fluid medium. Books are the way they are in many ways because of (or sometimes in spite of) the editorial handiwork behind them. My ability to offer meaningful comments to their evolution is no doubt thanks to the thoughtful and dynamic literary training I received as an English concentrator.
In this respect, it may be glaringly obvious why an English degree is helpful to a career in editing literary fiction. Nonetheless, there are myriad ways in which fundamental components of the concentration—namely developing good communication skills—are useful in all areas of my job, in fact any job. Whether I am writing an e-mail to a colleague or a seven-page editorial letter, explaining to another department why a manuscript is late, drawing on literary tropes or traditions to evaluate the merit of a new submission, or arguing why we should make an offer on a book for several hundred thousand dollars, effective writing and speaking skills are crucial to my daily life. When I work on the brief descriptions of books you see on the jackets (aka flap copy), I recall my professors’ advice on how to write succinct yet poignant sentences with attention to their content and form; when I select review quotes to put on the back of a jacket to promote a book, I remember how strategically selecting passages from novels and secondary sources was key to any good paper’s argument. My English concentration thus provided me with the micro- and macro-level knowledge needed to work with books in much the same way I did as a student—only this time on the other side of the publication date.
Rachel Glover, 2001
Along with my English degree I also got certified to be an English teacher (middle school-high school). When I graduated I enrolled in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education to further my studies in that area. But I soon decided that teaching was not what I wanted to do right away, and I left the GSE. Teaching is something that I certainly may return to down the road, especially when I am ready to start a family, and I am glad I got certified.
I then started doing freelance work for McGraw-Hill in their trade/business books division, mainly copyediting and proofreading. I don’t even need to comment on how my English degree applies there! After a couple of years, I got a job at Elsevier/Saunders, the world’s leading medical publisher. I was hired as a Developmental Editor (working with authors in preparing raw manuscripts for production), and have worked my way up to Acquisitions Editor within three years. As an AE, my primary job is to come up with specific topics for publication and recruit leading doctors to be authors. I am also responsible for profit margin and circulation, and I travel to conferences to meet with doctors, plan publications, and conduct market research. My main publication is the Medical Clinics of North America, which is considered the 3rd most prestigious medical journal in the country, behind the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association . I have no doubt that my Harvard English degree helped me achieve that, as I got promoted more quickly than my colleagues. My job requires a whole lot of research, and my English degree definitely helped prepare me for that. It also helped me with marketing to some extent, with things such as writing advertisement copy. It did not prepare me for other aspects of my job, such as financial analysis and interpersonal relations. (Much of my job is about “schmoozing.”) But there are many other venues at Harvard that can help you to refine your skills in those areas, whether elective or extracurricular.
Having a Harvard English degree is the easiest way to get your foot in the door of any publishing house, whether it be medical, trade, fiction, academic, or science/technology. Many of my colleagues in the production, acquisitions, and marketing departments have English degrees.
I have just been accepted to a graduate program at Pennsylvania University, where I will be studying writing and composition. I will be focusing on creative writing, as I am interested in transitioning my career into fiction publishing. My English degree was obviously invaluable in helping me get into that program.
Sara Houghteling, 1999
I graduated in English from Harvard in ’99 & am currently a fiction writer. My first novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, about Nazi art theft during WWII, had its roots in the thesis I wrote my senior year on the role of museums in Henry James’ The American & The Golden Bowl.
My first job when I moved to New York City after graduation was as a comedy writer/editor for an internet entertainment company. Sadly that did not last long as it coincided with the very end of the internet boom & bust, but I moved on to a job as an assistant to a literary agent. I should say that it was not merely my Harvard English major degree but actually my Hasty Pudding Theatricals affiliation that got me that job. The agent who hired me told her friend, also a Harvard/Pudding alum (and my favorite author John Irving’s longtime editor) about me and he said, “Any lady who can lead the Pudding can hold down this fort!” I got the job and worked with such authors as Don DeLillo, William F. Buckley, Jr., Marge Piercy, Stacy Schiff, Ben Stein, and William Least Heat-Moon for nearly a year before I moved into my true calling: editorial.
I knew by then that I preferred to work hands-on with the texts, and although I did sell a book while I worked at the agency, I wanted to spend more time with the authors, on the writing, and less on the selling. Once again my Harvard connections paid off: another fellow Harvard English major who had already been working in publishing for a year would send me job listings that were only circulated within the industry, not online at HotJobs or Monster or even The New York Times. I got several interviews, but the job I took was with the Scribner imprint of Simon & Schuster – “the home of Hemingway.”
The person who hired me told me specifically that he was impressed with my Harvard degree, and with the courses I listed on my resume, such as Italian, Gender & Popular Culture, Poetry, Drama, and the 20th Century Novel. He also asked me, “What was the last book you read?” My reply: MYRA BRECKINRIDGE by Gore Vidal. Turns out that was the book his wife read while she was in labor with their daughter, who shares my name! To top it off, I’d been working for Don DeLillo’s agent and Don is published by Scribner, so he put in a good word for me. It was fate.
I stayed in that job for four years, advancing from Editorial Assistant, to Assistant Editor, to Associate Editor, working for two editors the whole time and eventually acquiring a few of my own books before I left to take a promotion to Editor at Henry Holt & Co.
Holt is a smaller publisher than S&S, and is privately owned, but the opportunity to become an editor in my own right was tremendous. My boss and the editor in chief who hired me were both Yale grads but didn’t hold it against me. I’ve now been at Holt for 2+ years and I have fantastic authors and great books on my list, which is the best combination of literary writing and commercial sales potential. I can’t tell you how many times I have thanked not only my Harvard English degree, but also the invaluable Harvard community connections, for getting me into interviews, meeting writers, and closing deals. Currently I’m editing a comedic travelogue called THE RIDICULOUS RACE which is written by two other Harvard grads (Lampoon alums) who are currently employed as TV writers in Hollywood. I won their book in a hotly contested auction, and I’m sure our shared college connection helped seal the deal.
So I would say I’m the model Harvard English grad, in terms of working in a related field. Although I couldn’t necessarily forsee it, I ended up as a book editor in the New York publishing world, working with some of the most legendary writers of the 20th century, as well as discovering brand new talent, and a lot of that is on the strength of my degree and the connections of the Harvard network. I also still socialize with English majors who went on to careers in theater, film, TV, and academia, so I know there are a lot of other routes one can take.
After graduating, I attended the MFA program in creative writing at Columbia for a year and then dropped out for various reasons. I then worked in some unusual publishing jobs–I edited books for a greeting-card-and-gift-book company, and then later edited an online book review magazine–before ending up back in grad school, at the University of Michigan, studying American Jewish literature; I’m hoping to finish my PhD in the next few years. I’m still writing fiction, when I have time, and book reviews and essays for newspapers and magazines on a more regular basis. The English department at Harvard prepared me quite well for grad school, even though I was more focused on creative writing than on scholarship while I was an undergrad. The sophomore and junior tutorials–and the preparations for my oral exam at the end of my time in the department–exposed me to just enough literary theory and to a broad enough range of literature to make the GRE subject test seem not quite impossible (and I took the test several years after graduating, meaning that I actually remembered a fair bit of what I read as an undergrad). In terms of my nonacademic post-collegiate goals, I’d have to admit that the writing I did for campus publications was probably more helpful than the essays I wrote for English classes, both in terms of developing my style and impressing potential employers. On the other hand, I’d say that the creative writing workshops I took at Harvard as an undergraduate were the best and most useful I’ve ever participated in.
Kate Alexandra Borowitz, 2011
I decided to be an English major at Harvard because I adored the subject and loved my classes. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue after college, but I knew that having a strong background in reading and writing would be an asset in the job search, whichever industry I chose. After graduation, I interned for several months at Writers House, a prominent NYC-based literary agency. Following my internship, I was fortunate enough to land my dream first job as an Editorial and Publicity Assistant at HBO, where I worked for more than a year and a half. A large part of my job revolved around editing and creating press releases, and my English background provided me with the skills I needed. While working, I studied for the LSAT, applied to law school, and was accepted to my top choice. In the fall, I’ll be a student once again as a member of NYU School of Law’s class of 2016. I couldn’t be any happier with my future plans and I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been able to get such great opportunities without my experience as a Harvard English major.
Mary Nir, 2002
I am currently a practicing attorney in New York City; I work in-house for a hedge fund. Unlike litigators, who, especially as young attorneys, spend much of their time researching the current state of the law and writing legal memoranda and trial-related documents, I do not produce a great volume of text. My legal writing work is mostly confined to drafting and negotiating contract provisions and to corresponding with employees regarding legal matters.
However, although I am not writing much, the skills that I struggled to develop at Harvard were a crucial foundation for the skills I needed both in law school and in my professional responsibilities. As an attorney of any kind, critical reading and textual analysis are essential; these skills allow you to make a reasoned analysis of legal rules and case law interpretations as well as to explain to others the source of your analysis and conclusions. Close textual analysis can be particularly useful for transactional attorneys, like myself – I was comfortable from the beginning of my legal education that sometimes the choice of a single word can be crucial in drafting work. and was able to understand the importance of word choice at least in part because of my undergraduate education. I believe that the skills I worked to develop both as an undergraduate and as a law student were closely related and sometimes identical, and I believe that a focus on literature can be a valuable basis for a legal career.
Victoria Steinberg, 2001
I loved every minute of my work concentrating in English and American Literature and Language. It was a true pleasure to read, write, and research constantly, and to apply myself to the project of a thesis. After graduation, I combined my writing skills and my passion for politics and policy as the Legislative Director for the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization for Women (Mass. NOW). I am now an attorney practicing employment law and business litigation in Boston, as well as the Co-President of Mass. NOW. I owe much of my professional success to the analytical and technical skills developed and honed through this concentration. Perhaps more importantly, it laid a foundation for a lifetime of finding joy in the appreciation of literature and language.
Jelani Jefferson, 2001
Like some others, I went directly to Harvard Law School after graduating from the College in 2001. My college English education served me well in law school because I was used to long reading assignments, and felt fairly comfortable writing persuasively. After law school graduation, I clerked for Judge Eldon E. Fallon, U.S. District Court, Louisiana Eastern District. Again, the analytical reading and writing skills that I developed as an undergraduate made my clerking job much easier. I then clerked for Judge James L. Dennis on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. My English background continues to benefit me as my current profession in legal education consists primarily of reading and writing (thought there is some talking in there, too!). I am now an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Kansas (a position I started after a year as a Forrester Fellow and Instructor in Legal Writing at Tulane Law School). Though I didn’t plan on being a professor when I was in college, I have since seen many valuable opportunities arise for me that are clearly related to my English degree. And, of course, it never hurts to be well-read when making conversation with academic types!
Dr. Rebecca Brown, 1999
I attended medical school after college, and am currently completing my residency in internal medicine at UCSF. Next year I’ll be a fellow in geriatric medicine at the Longwood combined program.
Mercedes Marie Blackstone, 1998
While at Harvard, I was an English concentrator and also pursued my premed requirements. I then went to medical school, completed a residency in Pediatrics, and am currently a fellow in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I continue to feel that majoring in English was one of the best decisions I’ve made; I enjoyed my English classes far more than my premed ones even though I now spend the vast majority of my time on medicine. Whereas some of my colleagues only read medical literature in their free time, my love for novels has endured. I also think that the writing skills have helped me to write cases and chapters even though medical writing is totally different from the papers I was writing as an undergrad. An interest in medicine definitely shouldn’t deter students from concentrating in English.
Greg Anderson, 1998
After graduating from Harvard in 1998, I attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and received my M.D. in 2003. I stayed on in Philadelphia for my internship, and am currently in Los Angeles at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center finishing up the last year of my radiology residency.
I don’t know that my English degree has directly helped me in my current career, but it certainly helped keep my sane during my premed undergrad years. Literature was always a welcome counterbalance to the rigors of science. It was, in fact, hard to let go of that, and I ended up auditing a class on Lacan in my first year of medical school. Since then, I think the main value of my time in the English department has been the enjoyment I’ve derived from my ability “to read.” A novel, a poem, a film are all made that much more pleasurable when read with a critical eye familiar with the canon and different modes of interpretation.
Dr. Kevin B. Jones, 1998
Briefly, I am finishing training this year in surgery specialized in the care of children and adults with a rare form of cancer called sarcoma. As this cancer typically affects the limbs, my surgeries first remove the cancers from the bones, muscles, or other tissues, then reconstruct the limb to be functional again. As most of these cancers arise in teenagers and young adults, and threaten not only mortality, but often the athletic and physical capacities of their victims, it is a rather drama-filled field of medicine. Although this sounds very far from English literature, one of my central attractions to this specific field is the plentitude of stories both heroic and tragic surrounding the lives of patients with sarcomas.
Megan O’Keefe, 2011
I had always assumed I would move to New York after graduating to pursue my interest in theater, but beyond that, I had very little idea what I would be doing. During the summer after my senior year, I applied to various internships in the performing arts, and found a perfect fit in the full-time literary internship at the Public Theater. In my four months as an intern, I saw more than fifty productions, including the Public’s subscription season, their Public Lab productions (featuring shows at different stages of development) and their New Work Now! Series, two weeks of readings of new works, as well as readings and productions at other theaters and venues that I attended on behalf of the theater and literary office. I evaluated these works, as well as various script submissions, for plays and writers of potential interest to the Public. I was lucky enough to remain at the Public, and am currently the Assistant to the Production Executives. As such, I provide support to the production offices, which in turn oversees all of the Public’s shows, including acting as a liaison to designers and their agents. Outside of my work at the Public, I have worked as a dramaturge, offering contextual research and thoughts to other non-profit and commercial theatrical works. My study in the English department at Harvard has prepared me incredibly well for the different types of work I have engaged in since graduating, which have in turn provided me with many options for future work: whether I continue to pursue work in theatrical production and producing or return to school to study entertainment law, I feel strongly that my background in reading, writing, and research will continue to serve me well.
Ali Leskowitz, 2011
After graduating from Harvard, I received my Master’s degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, so everything I learned from Harvard’s English department has proven both relevant and helpful. Writing essays and analyzing literature have prepared me to write articles and analyze sources. The type of writing is perhaps different from what I was doing as an undergraduate, but the skills I use now have been shaped by my studies in the English department. Currently I am working for the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, which will be well-served by my English degree.
Trisha Ball, 1999
I graduated thinking I would want to spend my entire career in the publishing industry, and that I would never want to go to grad school. Funny how neither of those have turned out to be true. I did go to the Radcliffe Publishing Course the summer after I graduated, and spent about a year as an assistant editor at University of California Press in Berkeley. Like most entry level/early jobs in publishing, it was a ton of administrative work and very little money. I didn’t enjoy it very much, mostly because I didn’t feel like I was using my education at all, but I’m willing to admit I didn’t give it much time.
I started missing being in school, moved down to Palo Alto (where Stanford is) to be with my college boyfriend (now husband of 5 years, and found a job working in development at the med school. I’ve been working in development (fundraising) ever since, either as a grant writer or writing donor publications about undergraduate education. I also began a part-time master’s program in liberal arts while I was working at Stanford. Now I’m finishing my thesis (on the forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and three other versions of the tale written by other authors), but from far away. We moved to Houston so my husband could begin teaching in the chemistry department at Rice last fall. I’m working as a grant writer again, this time at the Museum of Fine Arts here, and enjoying it very much. Writing about science was interesting, though not a particular interest of mine, but writing about art is fascinating. I particularly enjoy the research I have to do before writing new proposals; it’s also incredibly interesting to see how a museum functions from the inside.
My education has been extremely helpful in my career so far. What I’ve learned on the job market is that writing is a useful skill in almost any industry. The research skills I developed first as an undergrad, and then as a grad student, have also been very helpful. I’ve never had much training in science or art history, but I found I could write compellingly about these subjects if I took the time to dig in and learn the nuts and bolts. Writing is also a very portable skill.
Sarah Rodriguez, 1999
Four days after commencement, I started officially working for Houghton Mifflin, the textbook publishing company I’d interned with as an undergraduate. As I loved books and had worked for this company before, it seemed like the job “I was supposed to do.” Plus, it paid just enough to keep me above the poverty line, unlike the (much more interesting) “Boston Phoenix” job offer I had. Within weeks in publishing, I was bored beyond belief–never challenged and always looking for more projects. In less than a year, I had moved to writing newsletters as an associate editor for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which I enjoyed tremendously. The hospital and its energy fascinated me, and I adored working somewhere that had a larger mission beyond profits and sales.
I left the hospital in 2001 to rejoin my extended family in Austin, Texas, where I enrolled in graduate school because, again, it was what “I was supposed to do.” A year into the University of Texas at Austin’s prestigious Preservation Administration program at the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences (now the School of Information), I realized that this particular librarianship career–which boasted many great opportunities abroad–was less important to me than staying in Austin and being close to my family. I finished the degree anyway, and left the university with work experience in the following: designing web pages for the Perry-Castaneda Library’s periodicals department, working as the media consultant for a cross-disciplinary grad school program, and cataloguing metadata tags for state agency web sites.
After receiving my Master’s degree in 2003, I worked as the editor of a fluffy lifestyle magazine, where I was thankfully fired after two weeks. Having bills to pay, I utilized my writing skills and ability to critically analyze challenging written works (thank you, Harvard English Department!) to find employment as a technical writer for the fiscal division of another state agency. For almost two years, I tried to sink into complacency and contentment, but I couldn’t find either there. I left in mid-2005 for another opportunity in textbook publishing–this time as a “Senior Editorial Something”–at a company that was going under fast. I was dismissed within a couple of months.
This is where things started to change.
Like millions of people, I was horrified by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. While perusing even more state agency job openings, I found a temporary position at the 2-1-1 Texas Information and Referral Network involving disaster response. Considering my Master’s in Information Science and my work at “The Harvard Crimson” (the stress of which I believed would prepare me for any disaster response situation), I applied and was hired the next day to coordinate information on evacuation and shelters for people fleeing the rapidly approaching Hurricane Rita.
The overnight shifts at the 2-1-1 Texas Information and Referral Network were the hardest, and most exhilarating, hours I had ever worked. I believed in the program (during non-disasters, their call centers give people information on and referrals to community services, nonprofits, and government agencies, like a 4-1-1 for social services). But I wasn’t sure, again, that this was what “I was supposed to do.” I left briefly for another pay-the-bills job, and again found myself painfully bored. In May 2006, one of the managers with whom I had worked during Rita started heavily recruiting me to be disaster response coordinator for their call center. Within a year, I was promoted to managing the statewide emergency management activities for the information network. I coordinate program information and do outreach and liaison work, ensuring that people can call 2-1-1 at any time from anywhere in Texas and get up-to-date disaster resource information from a live, compassionate human being.
While studying in the English Department at Harvard, I learned several lessons: how to sharpen my analytical reading and writing skills (which are extremely necessary in my position), how to debate and disagree with others’ opinions without arguing (section after section taught me that), and even how to think on my feet when I didn’t know the answer (ahem). What I had to learn on my own, though, was to try and do something that I never thought “I was supposed to do.” I may not work for the state forever, and I am not sure how long my emergency management career will last, but it is a wonderful opportunity to help thousands of people–and it is never, ever boring.
After I graduated, I worked for an advertising company for about a year and then got into commercial real estate. I’ve been working for a private real estate investment company for the past 5 years or so.
Erica LeBow, 2001
I majored in English and simultaneously enrolled in the UTEP (Undergraduate Teacher Education Program) at the Ed School, and am now – quite predictably – teaching 7th and 8th grade English at a public middle school north of Boston. I love it!
Elisabeth McKetta, 2001
After leaving Harvard’s English program, I stayed in Cambridge and took on half a dozen writing-related jobs that would allow me to start to make a living as a writer. I had written a creative nonfiction thesis as a senior, and for my last three years of college I participated in a Radcliffe seminar taught by memoirist Hope Hale Davis. I knew that I wanted to write for a living, but as a new college graduate I didn’t know how to begin. After a few disorderly months of freelance assignments, I applied to get an MA in English literature at Georgetown. It was a decision made greatly out of desperation. But I found that I loved spending full days working with ideas, so afterward I applied for a PhD and came to the University of Texas at Austin. My first year in Austin (where I grew up and lived before going to Harvard), I started a local literary & arts magazine called Farfelu with my high school best friend. I applied to teach adjunct English classes at Austin Community College. I took classes, read, and have made time alongside dissertation work to continue writing fiction, poetry, and plays. Though UT, numerous opportunities opened up: the chance to help start a Graduate e-newsletter, to write and act in plays, to teach a class on the Jazz Age. I have not planned concretely for what to do after I finish my doctorate. I left Harvard with a central idea of what I wanted to do (write), and in pursuing it I have taken opportunities that were offered and created new ones as well. Whatever the result may be, graduate school has enabled me to spend my twenties reading and writing, and for that I am grateful.
Sarah Lahey, 2001
After graduation, I entered the Columbia Publishing Course, which was formerly conducted through Radcliffe College. A few months later, I was hired by Scribner as an editorial assistant, and worked with two wonderful editors there for about a year before leaving for New Hampshire to become a high school English teacher. After a year of secondary teaching, however, I realized that I wanted to pursue higher education in English, and flew to the midwest to attend the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH) at the University of Chicago. Since I was a non-honors English concentrator at Harvard and never had any aspirations towards graduate school, I needed the one-year M.A. program to boost my resume in order to get into a quality Ph.D. program. Thankfully, my time at University of Chicago was well spent, and after an interim year of serving as adjunct faculty at two local universities I began graduate study at Northwestern University in their Ph.D. program. I am currently a 3rd-year student, and usually occupy myself with pretending to work vigorously on my dissertation while watching re-run episodes of “Sex and the City” and, on more productive days, serving as a teaching assistant. The life of an academic is tough, but wonderfully liberating.
Jennifer Little 1999, Ed.M. 2002
After graduating, I took a job teaching English at a boarding school in New York, thinking that I would teach for a year or two and then decide what I was “really” going to do with my life. I discovered that in fact I loved teaching, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I have taught at three different schools — two boarding and one day — and believe that I am currently at a school where I could see myself spending my career. In 2001, I took a year off teaching to come back to Harvard for my Ed.M. at the Ed School. My experience at Harvard definitely was a factor in my being where I am now. I model my classes after the engaging and collaborative seminar discussions I first encountered in my English classes at Harvard, and I invariably turn back to notes from my own classes when I need inspiration. More importantly, I am able to teach writing effectively because of the wonderful experience I had with my thesis advisor, who was a graduate student when I was writing in 1999 and whose clear and thoughtful comments were essential to my truly understanding how to write good prose.
I love teaching high school because it allows me to play with words, to engage with students who are just coming into their own as academics, and to immerse myself every day in texts that I love. That said, I realized recently that I was not finished with my own education, and this year I began to pursue my PhD in English from the Graduate Center at CUNY, taking classes full-time while I continue to teach half-time at my high school. I am focusing on Medieval English literature and have never been happier — it’s so much fun to be studying again. Coming back to graduate studies after some time off from college was a really good idea — I have a much better understanding of myself as a student now than when I was 22.
Safia Jama Cross, 1999
I found the English degree from Harvard opened many doors–for me the biggest challenge was figuring out which one I wanted to enter.
I am currently teaching high school English at a NY Public school called Townsend Harris High School at Queens College. Prior to that, I worked at Poly Prep Country Day School, a private school in Brooklyn, for four years.
After graduated from Harvard in 1999, I worked in Advertising as a Copywriter. I also worked at CNBC TV and govWorks.com (subject of the documentary “StartUp.com.”)
I completed an M.A. in English Education at Teachers College, which was invaluable in terms of learning the tools needed to teach adolescents. I recently spent a summer in Ireland studying the poetry of Yeats thanks to the N.E.H Summer Institute.
Scott Seider, 1999 (Ed.D ’08)
After graduating from Harvard in 1999 (with my certification to teach high school English through the UTEP program), I began teaching 9th and 12th grade English at a public high school in suburban Boston. I taught in the suburbs for four years and then decided to shift into the Boston Public Schools, where I worked as a teacher and administrator for the next four years. When I began teaching in Boston, I also began to pursue my doctorate in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I will complete my doctorate this June, and next September I will begin in my new position as Assistant Professor of English Education at Boston University. I am excited to say that I will be helping to prepare the next generation of middle and high school English teachers as well as continuing to conduct research on effective teaching and learning. When I first started working as a high school English teacher in 1999, I think I secretly suspected that I would teach for a year or two before going to law school (the top-secret, back-up plan of all English concentrators, I suspect). But teaching turned out to be far too rewarding to consider doing anything else.
Anne Stiles, 1998
After getting my A.B. in English lit. from Harvard in 1998, I obtained my M.A. and Ph.D. in English from UCLA (in 2003 and 2006, respectively). From fall 2006-spring 2007, I came back to Cambridge as a visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Now I am an Assistant Professor of English at Washington State University, specializing in Victorian literature.
The best thing about my undergraduate experience was the opportunity to write a thesis. The experience prepared me well to write my dissertation, since I was already used to digging around in libraries and spending a lot of time writing and thinking.
For the past seven years I’ve been teaching; the last five have been at Wayland Middle School in a sixth grade English Language Arts classroom. It is, quite obviously, a career choice closely connected to my study of English at the undergraduate level. Books and writing of almost any type delight me, even that of twelve year olds! I find teaching to be the most challenging work I’ve encountered; but the challenge is always worth the moment you discover that your students have learned something.
My path from college to teacher included a brief stop working for the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Research Council and then a year spent earning a M.Phil in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin. That was an incredible year that both built on my undergraduate experience of writing a creative thesis and provided the requisite masters degree for pursuing my teaching license. The Trinity writing program is structured slightly differently from many American programs in that it mixes writers working within various genres into the same workshop groups. It is also a very small program, only graduating about 14 students per year. I have only high recommendations for the program and would be happy to speak to any English concentrators considering it.
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