Rachel (Sauls) Wright’s academic and professional success, as well as her growing list of accomplishments, offers a convincing rebuttal to the unfortunately common criticism of English degrees. Wright has answered the “what do you plan to do with that English degree?” question by becoming a prolific writer and holding the Internal Communications & Media Relations Manager position at Mohawk Industries, a S&P 500 company. Dedicated to her undergraduate studies at UTC, she earned two B.A. degrees in English and Communications (2011), neither of which hindered her employment status, as she was soon thereafter hired by the world’s largest flooring company, Mohawk Industries. While working full-time, maintaining family and spousal relationships, friendships, and taking care of a “lazy pet,” Wright decided to head back to UTC to earn an English M.A., which she completed in 2016.
Wright put forth tremendous effort, and when asked how she would respond to the idea that English degrees are “useless” or “impractical,” she explains that “these days it seems like employers consider most degrees ‘useless’ unless the candidate has relevant experience.” Looking ahead is essential: “the key is researching the job market so you have a realistic idea of what’s available to you after graduation.”
Only being informed about the job market, though, is usually not enough. A passionate English major should expect to do “the legwork to get experience. Clear communication and compelling storytelling are integral to so many fields, including non-profit work, public relations, advertising, marketing and internal communications. Where I think English undergraduate and graduate students have an advantage is using effective argument to articulate the skills and value they can bring to a team.”
Wright heeded her own advice. During her undergraduate studies, she involved herself in “both The Echo and the Sequoya Review,” “completed two internships,” and “ took creative writing classes.” When asked why these experiences were relevant and beneficial toward her career, she explained that “being involved in student media taught me how to work on a deadline while also giving me practical writing and editing experience. [The] internships were essential for getting that ‘real world experience’ so many employers are looking for, and they also gave a better understanding of the types of jobs I wanted to pursue post graduation.”
Undergraduate experience did not only push her closer to an ideal career, but it saved her from further pursuing one she would not have enjoyed later on: “initially, PR sounded appealing to me, but [the] PR internship shifted my perspective without making me feel like I wasted my time.” The work experience opened new vantage points to how Wright viewed her future occupation, as she states, “creative writing is often considered the least practical of all when it comes to English coursework, but I am eternally grateful for my workshops, because they taught me how to give and receive constructive feedback.”
In Wright’s first job after graduation, a few days in, her experience from schoolwork immediately became applicable and advantageous. Wright states, “a week into my first job after graduation, my supervising editor gave me feedback that I may have taken poorly or personally if it weren’t for [creative writing] workshop[s]. Thanks to my creative writing background, I was able to implement the feedback and adjust my writing style without feeling like a failure.”
Despite working full-time at Mohawk, Wright made the exciting—and daunting— decision to head back to UTC. Though warmly welcomed into the English graduate program, Wright began to feel the stress of her many commitments, both in professional and personal life; she “had less time and energy for family, friends, and other interests.” Wright claims that a support group of the people in your life is also necessary when pursuing a graduate degree. Wright recalls the many people who made lifestyle changes to help accommodate and allow for her attendance: “my coworkers covered for me when I left early for class, my spouse took on additional responsibilities at home and my friends and family spent less time with me during the program.”
Graduate school can be more than the degree at the end of the tunnel. Wright urges a potential and current students “to cultivate strong relationships within your graduate school community,” because “the people I learned from and alongside during graduate school are some of the smartest, most caring, creative and interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting … and they were incredible resources when it came to sharing relevant articles for papers, talking through difficult texts or ideas, and just generally commiserating about life or school.” Graduate school is a community, and a wealth personal and professional connections and support can come from being a graduate student.
Many previously unseen career paths may appear by making these new connections. “Be open minded about your future,” Wright suggests. “Be confident in the skills you’ve developed. There are countless opportunities to use your degree with and find meaningful work.”
The long-term problems are easy to overcome. The “day-to-day basis,” the balancing of the small things, like commutes, feeding a pet, making dinner, is when school begins to overwhelm. To combat the struggle, feelings of helplessness, Wright advises that “being fully invested and setting realistic expectations [is] essential.” Learn to deal with one day at a time. She also urges students in similar positions to take “care of themselves physically and mentally,” and to “make time to recharge,” to care for yourself, whether that be the decision to “spend time with friends and family, prepare a healthy meal or even just go outside, but it’s absolutely necessary.”
Wright’s final message? “Put yourself out there and see what happens.” So forget the negative rhetoric that discourages getting an English degree.
Rachel will give a talk, “I got a job with an English degree, and you can too,” to English undergraduate and graduate students on March 26th at 5:30pm in room 112 of 540 McCallie. There will be pizza!
EVENT CANCELED and to be rescheduled.