It is a tired and thoroughly unfunny trope that English Majors must aspire to be either teachers of English or baristas once they graduate college. Even I, a senior this year, have started feeling acute anxiety at the thought of leaving academia–the only world I have ever known– to join the ranks of professionals.
To demystify embarking on a professional career path, I reached out to UTC English Alum Laura Coker, one of our Outstanding Graduating Seniors of 2017, and asked her about her time at UTC and her search for gainful employment after graduation.
When I asked her to walk me through the processes she took to find the job she has now, Laura responded: “It was honestly a nightmare.”
Around six months prior to her graduation, Laura began applying to any and all positions listed online that had any writing component to them. She applied to social media positions, grant writing positions, and law firms.
Laura estimates she sent out around 40 well developed applications in those 6 months. And it worked! Eventually, Laura saw and applied for a position as a clerk at the regional law firm Leitner, Williams, Dooley, & Napolitan, PLLC. As a clerk, Laura was responsible for assisting the workflow of the various attorneys and paralegals in the firm, making copies scanning documents, organizing pleadings, and filing paperwork.
Just a few months later, after demonstrating herself as a hard worker with excellent skills in reading and writing, Laura was promoted to paralegal. Now she works closely with that same attorney on a daily basis, assisting and weighing in on significant court cases in the Chattanooga area in a way that is fulfilling and meaningful to her.
“You would be surprised at how many people can’t form a complete sentence or don’t know basic sentence structures,” Laura said. “I’m also able to analyze texts more closely than most people, notice details that may seem insignificant but, do in fact, have a purpose. I’m also able to communicate verbally and through email with people. Maybe that doesn’t seem like it would be difficult, but one little detail can make all of the difference in the outcome of a case.”
There you have it: a veritable paragon of the English Major success story. Forward this blog post to any family member that challenges your life-decisions this Thanksgiving.
What can you do to make the most of your short time here at UTC? Laura, like most English Majors, was of the self-selecting type, expressing a lifelong love of reading and writing. Choosing to be an English Major was never a question in her mind, because it was what she loved and what she was good at.
One thing Laura stressed about getting the most out of an English degree, is getting involved in extracurricular activities, participating in internships, and getting published. Laura was a member of the UTC chapter of the English Honors group Sigma Tau Delta. Laura worked on the University’s literary and arts magazine, The Sequoya Review.
During her sophomore year, she worked as an intern for senator Bob Corker. Her job working for Corker was answering phone calls, recording these calls, and synthesizing them into a newsreel for Corker to hear the concerns and complaints of his constituency.
One thing I took away from Laura was the flexibility the English Major offers. Although Laura concentrated in Rhetoric and Professional Writing, many of the classes she cited as most influential in her education were primarily literary in focus. Her four favorite classes she took at UTC were History of the English Language, Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, and Women’s Rhetoric.
“History of the English Language strengthened my linguistic abilities, Shakespeare and Lord of the Rings developed my skills in reading comprehension. Women’s Rhetoric was great because we analyzed current events and tied them to the rhetoric from older pieces written by women,” Laura said, “Another one I should mention would be Design for Writers because it taught me how to use Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop, which I wouldn’t have learned otherwise and are important to know in this technologically driven world.”