In the midst of a global pandemic, a struggling economy, and political turmoil, college students are understandably anxious about their job prospects after graduation. Humanities majors are under additional pressure as parents, peers, and potential employers push them to articulate the value of a liberal arts degree. While graduate education is often a straightforward next step for humanities majors, the temporary closure of many doctoral programs to new students due to COVID-19 has made the question “What can I do with a humanities major?” all the more urgent.
The 2020-2021 Careers in English program at Haverford College aims to address some of these pressures by connecting English majors with diverse and successful alumni working in a range of fields including education, publishing, law, communications, entertainment, medicine, and finance. The program aims to build community among past and present English majors and encourage current students to imagine a wide range of career paths. Although the program is aimed at English majors, all humanities majors are welcome. The conversations fostered by the program help students to think about how they can translate a humanities skill set into the working world and craft an exciting and meaningful career.
The first Careers in English event took place in October 2020 on Zoom and featured a panel of four alumni speakers followed by a lively discussion with students. Meredith Foote ‘06, principal at Overbrook Educational Center in Philadelphia, shared her experiences of teaching high school English before moving into leadership roles in various public school districts. She identified joy, teamwork, and growth as key Haverford experiences that have informed and energized her career in secondary education. Abigail Wacker ‘10, a program officer at FHI 360, a nonprofit human development organization, described how her study of global Anglophone literature at Haverford and her experience studying abroad in India led her to a Fulbright in India followed by a career in international education and development. She noted that the research and writing skills she gained at Haverford have been essential to her success. MJ Franklin ’12, a books editor at The New York Times, described his experience of working as a social editor at Mashable and The New York Times before becoming a preview editor at the Times Book Desk. He noted that his time at Haverford alerted him to how the written word shapes culture and gave him the skills to be an analytical reader, a careful listener, and a confident communicator. Finally, Andrew Bostick ’12, assistant vice president of credit analysis at Delaware Investments, reflected on how his double major in English and economics led him to a career in asset management, allowing him to help individuals and institutions invest money and thereby accomplish their goals and broaden their impact. In particular, he noted how the English major taught him to identify important details and patterns within a large amount of information and communicate these findings in a clear and compelling way. While each speaker told a different story, all four noted that a key to their career success was bringing mindsets they learned at Haverford, specifically curiosity and openness to learning and growth, into the working world.
These four short talks were followed by a lively Q&A. The 35 Haverford and Bryn Mawr students in attendance asked a wide variety of questions ranging from industry-specific inquiries to broader questions about career exploration and success. Several overarching insights developed over the course of the conversation. First, the alumni recommended that in choosing a major or majors students seek out a challenge and follow their joy. Your major does not determine your career destiny–people who complete the same major go on to pursue a wide range of different careers. Second, the alumni encouraged students to reach out for help and stay connected. Haverford and Bryn Mawr grads want to lift each other up and be helpful. Asking an alum to talk with you about their career story can be a great way to learn more about a potential career and make a new connection. Finally, the alumni urged students to take some of the pressure off themselves and be open to exploring multiple opportunities. There is a lot of pressure to choose the “right” job that will set you on the “right” path after graduation but in reality there are many possible paths that will lead to an engaging and joyful career. If you don’t love the first job you have after college, you can take the skills you gain from that experience and use them to build towards an opportunity that is a better fit. These and other insights made for a generative Q&A session. If you missed the October event, you can access a recording of the event on Haverford Connect by following this link.
The next Careers in English event will take place on Friday, March 19, from 2:30-4:00 p.m. on Zoom. This alumni panel will feature Jillian Kirn ’08, an environmental attorney based in Philadelphia; Emily Shaw ’10, a product manager at Netflix who has also worked at Marvel and EA; Alex Sah ’96, a successful orthopedic surgeon; and Mitchell A. Cohn ’80, who worked for more than 30 years as a foreign service officer. The panelists will share their career stories, reflecting in particular on how their Haverford English major helped guide them to their current positions. To register for the event please follow this link. If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Watson.
Haverford has numerous resources which support career exploration and connection building between current students and alumni. The Center for Career and Professional Advising offers a variety of career exploration tools, including a “What Can I do with this Major?” page and a resource called Beyond Haverford, which allows users to explore the wide range of careers that Haverford graduates go on to pursue. (Learn more about English major outcomes.) Additionally, Haverford Connect offers a place to build professional connections with alumni. Career advisors are also available to help you navigate your career search.
While it is a challenging time to navigate through the world, Fords are there to help and inspire each other. With a Haverford or Bryn Mawr education, you can succeed, you can enact change, and, in the words of one of our panelists, you can “lift others as you climb.”