English majors are often asked that unavoidable question: what are you going to do with that major? Sigh. The answer, of course, is lots. And there is no shortage of positive press about the strong return on investment offered by English and other humanities degrees. So yes, the question is unimaginative and, if we tap into that deep editorial intelligence that all English majors share, just a bit cliché. But it’s also the wrong question. Why not avoid the freighted concern with the future altogether and ask the next English major you encounter not about what they will do, but what they have you done—or are doing—with their major?
Skills that students develop in the classroom context are crucial, but it is increasingly important to gain practical experience in work environments. For many years, English majors at CofC have gained such experience—and earned credit along the way—through our internship course. The course combines counseling, peer support, reflective practice, and good old work, whether that involves editing, marketing, web design, grant-writing, data management, PR, or event management. Entrepreneurial English students—those willing to seek out opportunities in the area where they think their skills will be most useful—are particularly well suited to this course, though Dr. Cathy Holmes, who currently oversees the course, is happy to use our Department’s connections with community partners to help in this regard as well.
For Holmes, there are lots of reasons to complete an internship before you graduate: “According to a fairly recent Chronicle of Higher Education Survey,” she notes, “an internship is the single most important credential for college graduates to have on their resume. Plus, it’s fun. Our English majors have bylines in the City Paper, sit in on publicity meetings at the History Press, go on photo shoots, write copy for Charleston Style and Design Magazine, and meet their favorite writers working for Y’all Fest—among many exciting options. An internship lets you test-drive a career and gain expertise in the field, all while earning credit toward the major. What’s not to love?”
Our community partners who consistently host our interns have great things to say about them. Connelly Hardaway, who works with English interns at the Charleston City Paper notes that “interns are the source of a lot of valuable information and creative ideas at the City Paper. They are clued into their campus and their city in ways that most people are not. They are a voice not just for their peers, but for a lot of what happens in downtown Charleston.” At the City Paper, interns have an opportunity to fully engage as a professional member of a thriving community of journalists: “The City Paper editorial internship is extremely hands on,” explains Hardaway. “Interns have the opportunity to see how an alt-weekly runs, two write, to edit, and even to pitch ideas. Several of our former interns now freelance for us, extending their experience into a real-world job.”
English Major Amanda Phagan (’17) took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her experience.
Where did you do you intern, what important skills did you develop, and what was the most meaningful part of the experience?
I was an editorial intern at Charleston City Paper from September to December of 2015. The most important concrete skills I developed there were writing in/editing for AP Style, interacting in a “real world” office environment, and cold-calling/interviewing people (and therefore gaining connections and getting to know big players in the Charleston community). Aside from gaining those valuable skills, the most meaningful part of the City Paper experience for me was socializing with the staff and getting to hear their (often heated) opinions about local goings-on. This particular office also hosted random events such as live music during the day and there was always some sort of new food sample laying around for us to try. It was really just local businesses trying to bribe us for shout-outs in the Paper, but it made for a really fun office environment and a laid-back company culture. One more thing I found valuable was the chance to have tons of published print and digital samples of our work (with our own bylines) to add to our portfolios. I still have each issue where my work has appeared.
What did you learn through this professional engagement that you couldn’t have learned in the classroom? And, alternately, what classroom experiences ended up preparing you for this ‘real world’ experience?
I feel that having deadlines for most in-class assignments helped prepare me for this internship (I had several assignments due each week at the Paper). It’s often the subtle and underrated aspects of college (i.e. making meaningful connections with professors, turning things in on time, dressing presentably as often as possible) that end up meaning the most in the “real world.” On the other hand, this internship gave me the interpersonal/communicative experience that is so necessary to succeeding as a young professional–something I don’t feel is taught well enough at CofC (or possibly any college). It’s something that must be gained through experience rather than coursework and people just don’t understand how crucial that experience is for landing a job and making connections right before/after graduation. I’m still quite a shy person, so I’m doing everything I can to become comfortable speaking with people in positions of power and even just people I don’t know but would like to know.
How do you see your internship experience shaping or informing your future goals? And is there any advice you might offer to your fellow striving English majors?
As a senior who is graduating in May, I can officially say that my career goals and interests have changed quite a bit since I began college. I have gone from wanting to do “something to do with writing” to “copywriting, publishing, or editing” to “something along the lines of journalism and/or public relations.” I expect my goals to change a little over the course of next semester, too. Either way, though, my internship at Charleston City Paper helped get my name in print and bolster my portfolio of work. Employers love seeing examples of hard work and that’s something that shows in what I took away from that internship. Also, as a member of the Martin Scholars Program with the department of communication (communication is my minor), I have learned from our visits to local PR agencies and multimedia outlets that writing is a highly desirable skill. It’s hard to believe because of what society is always telling us about bring English majors, but it’s true. A way with words, solid analytical skills, and confident communication skills will always be valuable to potential employers.
In terms of advice I might offer, I would like to stress that minoring in something in addition to declaring an English major has helped me tremendously. I minored in communication and it really compliments English very well. Doing this gives students something to lean on when applying for jobs that might not perfectly suit their English major or if they have more than one prominent academic interest. I also highly recommend doing more than one internship–even if they aren’t both for credit. It’s so important.