Don’t listen to the people who make (bad) jokes about you making no money. They’re sad, you’re great, and English degrees are well worth your time. –Conni Boykins, UTC ‘15
In the age of the emoji, the skills businesses value above all else is the increasingly rare ability to read vastly and write fluently, to take complex information and concisely condense, synthesize, and analyze it. English majors are being hired in practically every field, from law firms to tech agencies and financial firms. Conni Boykins, UTC English alum (’15), is a great example of how useful an English degree can be in the professional world. She used her experience as an English major to get a job with The Patten Group, a Chattanooga based investment firm.
Conni was living in Atlanta, pursuing a degree in accounting, realizing to new depths each day how much she hated it. On top of that, the program was costing her a fortune. She needed a switch but didn’t want to move back to her hometown in Knoxville, so the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was the clear choice. Like many English majors, Conni is a self-selector, professing a lifelong love of reading and writing. She decided to focus in on a Rhetoric and Professional Writing track she wanted to get a job in professional writing and felt like that offered her the most potential.
The program offered her an opportunity to develop her skills not just as a professional, but as a well-rounded and critically-thinking human being. Part of what is so valuable about an English degree is that English courses encourage the student to think complexly and analyze information closely from multiple angles. She said that people who are trained in finance sometimes can only see as far as the numbers go. Her education taught to to look between more holistically at the situation. Conni cited Persuasion and Propaganda as greatly increasing her value as an employee, saying:
“I read a lot of corporate jargon and research that often overweights the positives and underweights the negatives,” Conni said, “That class really strengthened my ability to cut out the noise and get to the heart of the thing.”
She got to take some fun elective classes in her time at UTC, too, exploring her passions in an academic context. One of her favorite classes was Rhetoric, Food, and Culture with Dr. Ingraham.
“Food and cooking are a huge part of my life and I loved incorporating the two into my education.” Conni said.
While at UTC, Conni also had the chance to get involved with the community. She joined the UTC chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the national English Honors Society, and Spectrum, UTC’s LGBTQQIA organization, as well as participating in a number of events hosted at the Women’s Center.
Towards the end of her time at UTC, Conni signed on as an intern with the Patten Group, an investment managing firm in Chattanooga through the English department’s internship office.
She attributes her success as a professional to asking a lot of questions and looking for new opportunities to apply herself with her time at Patten. Conni focused on doing good work and learning a lot, conducting extra research and reading books on her own outside of her on-the-job training. After interning for one semester, they promoted her from Research Intern to Executive Assistant and Research Intern. The Patten Group then offered her a full-time position as Junior Research Writer and Intern Assistant immediately after graduation. Although she had spent two years studying accounting in Atlanta, Conni says she went in pretty blind into Patten, saying accounting and investing are universes apart in the world of finances.
For English Majors considering trying an internship out, Conni recommends asking lots of questions, looking for side-projects and extra tasks to help you stand out, and to really try to develop an efficient workflow in a professional setting.
When I asked Conni if she had any advice for students considering an English degree at UTC, she had this to say:
“DO IT. The skills you learn are broadly applicable and you can truly do anything with the major.”