The Bend in the Road: Jobs and Adulting after your BA in English

In case you didn’t know, the Department of English hosted the Brownbag Lunchtime Career Series. You might have been at the popularly-attended first session, where the speaker was Amanda Lewis, who edited for Knopf/Random House. I’m sure most everyone reading this knows that being an editor at a major publishing house sounds like The Dream to an English student, so I’m sure you aren’t surprised that the room was full for Amanda Lewis’ talk.

This November, the English department brought in Professor Lindsey Richardson, who works in the Department of Sociology at UBC.

If you knew about the event but chose not to attend, it’s probably because you shared my thoughts on the matter: I am not interested in sociology; why would I use my degree in English, the humanities, to work in an entirely different field?

I’m interested in all sorts of fields, from literature to mathematics, but sociology isn’t really one of them. Sorry, Dr. Richardson.

Still, I wanted to go. Working for an academic program on campus and being an ESA exec helps me appreciate the effort staff and faculty put in to throwing events like these, so I figured… might as well go and make their time worth it.

To be far more brief than Dr. Richardson deserves: She completed her BA at UBC in Honours English and International Relations, worked in Ottawa (in the Prime Minister’s office, for a time!) before coming to Vancouver and working on policy, health-related projects for the city. Realizing she didn’t have the research related skills for policy analysis, she went back to school for a master’s in sociology (at Oxford!!!) and decided to stay for her doctorate. After doing post-doctoral research in medicine (!), she was hired as a professor of sociology at UBC.

What! How cool is this lady?!

I called my partner afterwards and he laughed at me because I told him that I wanted to get my doctorate in sociology now.

Of course, I’m joking. That’s not actually what I took from Dr. Richardson’s story.

Speaking of my partner—his incredibly intelligent older sister finished her schooling (a master’s in physiotherapy) two years ago. I’m fascinated by people transitioning into adulthood and “the real world,” and she seemed to go exactly in the direction she planned. She went into physiotherapy after graduating and getting married, which was exactly what everyone expected, as far as I know. My partner’s brother, also very good at what he does, is now also starting to move into “the real world” and will be graduating soon from BCIT’s computer IT program. He, too, will probably (definitely) do exactly what everyone expects of him.

You know how people always say you’re going to change your mind about what you want to study once you get to university? I didn’t. I knew, by the time I was ten years old, that I wanted to work with words. By the time I got to grade 9 course planning, I had every course that I was going to take in high school already planned and laid out. I knew that I wanted the Top English Student award at my high school, and I wanted to go to the University of British Columbia to study English.

I am a person who plans. I am constantly living in the near future and the distant future. I have always known what I wanted, and because of that, I always knew what was coming for me.

Unlike my partner’s siblings, however, English does not necessarily lend itself to one path, nor particularly straight ones.

Like Dr. Richardson when she was in my position, I’m not exactly sure what comes next after graduation, two years from now. (Yes, I know, I still have two years—I think ahead, remember?) This isn’t because there’s a shortage of things that I want to do. I love thinking about words and literature, about social issues, and about a plethora of other unrelated things—mathematics and science, health and fitness, the terrible state of French language education in the province I grew up in (this one) … the list goes on.

For the first time in my life, there is a bend in the road, and I can’t see what’s around it, but—especially after hearing Dr. Richardson speak—I am actually kind of thrilled by the fact I don’t know.

I can’t trust that I’m going to land internships in the federal government or at a big Canadian publishing house, like Dr. Richardson and Amanda Lewis did, but I do know that I’ve gotten this far, and my English degree is so much more valuable than others might think it is. I can trust that I work hard, and I am good at things, and I know that this is enough.

If you’re now feeling that you missed out on Dr. Richardson’s talk, I can give you three of the most important things I took out of it:

Be open to opportunities that you might to even be able to imagine right now.

Put faith not in your plans, but in your skills.

And, my favourite, particularly reassuring to hear during this stressful time of year: Everything’s going to be okay.



Be sure to check out the rest of the Department of English Brown-bag Lunchtime Career series! Their next speaker, a recent UBC English grad currently working for Microsoft in Seattle, is coming in January. Keep your eyes out for an announcement!

Jia (3rd year Honours English—Literature and Language) + Law & Society) is a determined commuter who does not let three hours of transit a day keep her from doing all the things—which, this year, includes coordinating both the physical and digital of the social side of the ESA. If you manage to find her in between doing all the things, she’ll be clinging to her beloved planner, hopefully not spending all her money at Starbucks, trying to memorize all the lyrics to Hamilton, or fighting you for the seat on the 84.

Image: “Around the Bend We Go” by Jocelyn Kinghorn via Flickr. License: CC by 2.0

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