May 14, 2016
Studying English at Queens College changed my perception of daily life and understanding of how to live a meaningful one.Reading and analyzing works of literature allowed me to stray outside of the bubble I had grown up in. In my town in Long Island, 20 minute drive from QC in average traffic, Success for a guy like me had a rather clear definition: $100,000+ a year with a 401K plan, a tanned wife with well-done highlights, your boyz ( the Z is mandatory and all, or at least the majority, of them should have 6-packs), a car that shines like a diamond in the desert, and don’t forget to make sure the priest at church knows your name to take care of that whole Soul situation. Freshman year at QC my ideals were all of the above.
I am writing this from Central African Republic where I work for Doctors Without Borders as a Logistician in an isolated village. We are operating a pediatric hospital, since vicious conflict in 2014-2015 left the country without basic public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and police. It is a mentally and physically taxing lifestyle, yet there is nothing I would rather be doing right now. Since graduating Queens College I have been in the humanitarian field either abroad or stateside. I attribute my drastic change in values to a message I gathered from reading, lectures, and discussions with fellow students that I believe was captured by the Irish poet by W.B. Yeats when he said, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” Literature opened my mind and allowed me to redefine my parameters of success. In the background right now a group of men and women are chanting in tones brought up from some pocket of their throats that I did not know existed before coming here. I am able to understand that as a type of currency due to a message gathered from books. The shiny car can wait.- Shane Hanlon
Wow I could write so much about how studying English has affected my life. So much of my identity was affirmed and informed by my studies at Queens College. I guess I will try to answer these questions in a way I would have found valuable when I was a senior at Queens College.
If you asked me in the period immediately after I graduated how I felt about studying English, you might’ve received a very cynical answer. I was working in a coffee shop, an embarrassing stereotype. Before Queens, I studied architecture at Pratt University for one semester (a loan I am still paying off) and realized early on I was much more interested in the readings and films we were assigned in English class than the different properties of steel. I often wondered, if I had just finished that architecture degree, I could have worked in real estate or something like one of my customers, instead of being on this side of the counter covered in spilled milk and breadcrumbs. When I declared my major to my parents and friends about my choice of studying English, they worried about my future and me.
Today I view my undergraduate studies at Queens College with appreciation and pride. I was a first generation immigrant who worked while attending school and it was comforting to attend a school with such a diverse student body. As a painter, writer, and critic, I found and continue to receive support from professors who encouraged me to speak and write from my point of view and draw from my seemingly disparate skills and interests.
During my junior year, Ryan Black nominated me for a fellowship at SILCS (Summer Institute in Literary and Cultural Studies). I was invited to Wheaton College. I was part of a cohort of students of color who studied English literature, given a stipend, attended an advanced course in literary and cultural theory, and introduced to the graduate school admission process. I am still in touch with the staff and other students there. Although we’ve gone on to pursue all sorts of occupations—some went on to graduate school, one of my friends works in public service, another the army, another is a social studies teacher—we keep in touch and always seem to end up talking about literature and culture.
A funny thing happens with former English majors. They find each other and elevate each other’s lives. At that coffee shop, I befriended a Salt Lake City transplant that was starting a library science degree. After work, we linked our experiences with those of the women in Kate Chopin’s and Marguerite Duras’s books, bemoaning the lack of intellectual stimulation in our temporary occupation. We were the source of our manager’s constant headaches, pointing out every sexist (he insisted all the girls wear lipstick) and racist (“Asians only drink tea and don’t tip”) statement and actions he made. We both eventually quit, but not after starting a few minor arguments and driving him to issue a staff wide apology and institute better procedures. She is now a librarian at a research institution. After that, I worked as a temp at a charter School, while doing other odd jobs and applying to graduate school. There I met a former poetry student at the New School. In between stuffing student papers into folders, we sent e-mails edits and comments on each other’s work, channeling the workshops of our undergraduate institutions. Her work has been published in some journals, she still continues to perform poetry, and she has a permanent position at that school.
I tend to be the friend who has an interesting recommendation for books and films and an annoyingly long-winded criticism of it. This was true before I went to Queens College. I just developed a broader vocabulary and a sense of place among critical conversations. A course in literature from the Americas with Anamaria Flores and a course in Asian American literature with Caroline Hong instilled a subversive attitude about the canons in literature and other dominant culture. A course on critical theory with David Richter gave me a vocabulary and a history of criticism to draw from and, at times, speak against. These professors instilled in me a sensitivity and intolerance towards inequality and injustice. The things I studies have also resurfaced in unexpected ways. At Queens, I took a senior seminar called Dreams with Jason Tougaw, where we read psychoanalytic and cognitive theory and other literature about the mind and applied them to various texts. After graduating, I worked as an assistant to the Director of Photography on a series about the mind. Though I was hired to prepare lights and cameras, I spent most of the time speaking with the director discussing the interviews.
Today, I am working at an art conservation studio. Our official tasks involve examining artwork, manually restoring them, documenting our treatment, and writing reports. The process is not so different from planning and writing research papers and each artwork has a different set of conventions and narratives that must be taken into account. In part because of my studies, my technophobic boss and coworkers often turn to me to proofread their writing, perform background research and assist them in putting together presentations. While working, we often discuss films we have recently seen and books we are reading. We are all reading Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels and, at my suggestion as it was once suggested to me, they’ve gotten copies of “The Lover’s Discourse” while one has borrowed my “literary theory comics” (“Structuralism and Poststructuralism for Beginners,” “Derrida for Beginners,” etc.).
While working, I applied for graduate studies. Years after I took their classes, Caroline Hong, Ryan Black, David Richter, and Jason Tougaw responded to my desperate e-mails, took the time to read and edit versions of my curriculum vitae, writing sample, and statement of purpose. They e-mailed me words of support, encouragement, and congratulations. I am now attending the CUNY Graduate Center in the digital humanities track of the MALS program. During my senior year at Queens College, I took an honors seminar on technology and literature. Today, in my work and in my studies, I involve contemporary research, writing, films, software, and hardware having a comprehensive understanding of emerging technologies and industries and their effects on culture and society.
One thing I found really rewarding after graduating doing volunteer work. I did it through NYCares and I helped some disadvantaged people use job searching databases, write resumes, and cover letters. It’s extremely rewarding and, when I felt aimless or my degree was perhaps a mistake, volunteering reminded me of what a privileged position I hold and how important it is to share that.
Graduate: Danabelle Ignes
Studying English at Queens College changed my life because of the people I met along the way- the teachers and mentors who not only taught me how to read and write critically, but who modeled the generosity, engagement, and care I try to bring to my own teaching and research today. I have learned so much from them that this response must also take the form of a (somewhat gushy) thank you letter.
I should begin by admitting that I did not enter QC intending to be an English major. Even though I always enjoyed reading and writing as a kid, I never thought that I could make a real career out of it. So in my first year it was almost by chance that I wound up in Jesse Schwartz’s “Introduction to Literary Theory” course, hoping to fulfill some prerequisite. This was the first of many English classes at QC that, as corny as it sounds, changed my outlook on what I wanted to do with my life and how I saw the world. It was in this class that I was first introduced to that elusive, mind-blowing thing called theory. Between reading works on psychoanalysis, Marxism and feminist critique, I learned from Jesse the joy that comes from being completely unsettled and disoriented, to rethink the things I thought I knew. I learned from him that engaging theory isn’t just about applying various theoretical lenses to different texts, but rather using the insights I gained from them to construct an alternative way of seeing and knowing- to create something, an argument, that is uniquely my own. Although we discussed primarily literature in his class, I went through a period of seeing theory in all of the things I encountered, from movies and TV shows to random strangers’ conversations in the subway.
As I write this, I am learning all over again how small encounters can change your life. It was at Jesse’s encouragement that I entered an essay I wrote for his class into the English department’s writing awards. At the prize ceremony, I met Duncan Faherty, who has influenced my life in more ways than I can say. He was the first person to float the idea of applying to graduate school for a doctorate in English. And I should add that he helped turn it into more than just an idea- Duncan worked tirelessly to help me prepare my grad school applications. I still remember with no small amount of horror those red marks on my writing sample that seemed to make the paper bleed. Still, those red marks were a sign of Duncan’s sincere support and care, the effort he put into making sure that I submitted the strongest essay possible. His mentorship has helped sustain me throughout my time at QC and through the difficult years of grad school. (I did get into the CUNY Graduate Center with that writing sample, but more on that later).
It was also through Duncan’s recommendation that I met so many other amazing professors at QC, including: Roger Sedarat, whose 1-page essay assignments taught me the skill of writing succinctly and still compellingly; Karen Weingarten who sharpened my theoretical chops with readings on Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler; Jason Tougaw whose use of blogs and digital media in the classroom showed me what an engaged virtual community looks like; Gordon Whatley, who instilled in me the importance of reading (poetry) aloud, to learn from listening to literature; Caroline Hong, whose infectious enthusiasm and brilliant powerpoint presentations taught me that class could be both fun and rigorous, Richard McCoy, whose honors seminar on “Love,” in my last year, was where I not only grasped the purpose of the annotated bibliography, but also finally felt like I could write; and so many others that I can’t name here who impacted my life in both big and small ways.
Writing this has made me realize that it wasn’t just studying English, but studying it alongside these teachers and mentors that made all the difference. After QC, I entered the CUNY Graduate Center in the English PhD program. My undergraduate coursework didn’t make the transition into grad school any easier- it was hard work and more reading than I ever dreamed I could do- but my time at QC did lay the foundation for the skills that I would continue to develop and strengthen over time. I entered the program having been exposed to challenging theoretical concepts, having had my writing critiqued (and, yes, torn apart in some cases), having already gone through endless revision cycles, having already presented my writing in public forums… And yet, there were things in grad school that I wasn’t prepared for- dealing with rejection when I submitted articles for publication, fielding difficult (sometimes antagonistic) questions at seminars and conferences, struggling to articulate exactly what I “do” to people both in and outside of academia, grappling with failure when I was on the job market this past fall and it seemed like I was only ever getting polite rejection letters. Through all of this, what has kept me going has been the structures of support that I found at the Graduate Center, which I can now trace back to my studies at QC.
The mentors I found there, many of whom are still in my life, gave me models for the kind of scholar and teacher I want to be. This was especially vital when I began crafting the syllabi for my own courses. Since then, I have had the pleasure of returning to and teaching at Queens College, encountering students who made the work of lesson planning and grading worth it. I have had the rewarding experience of encouraging my own students to enter the English department writing contest, composing letters of recommendation for internships and graduate school, and working with students on personal statements and writing samples, in hopes that I could touch their lives in the same way that my mentors have influenced and inspired me.
After six long years of research and teaching, I finally defended my dissertation this past March and will be graduating in June. In the fall, I will be working as a lecturer at Fordham University, teaching courses on composition and introduction to literary studies, where I hope to continue building the networks of mentorship and support that I first found at Queens College.
Hello! I’m Elyse and I’m a professional actress born and raised in Queens. Thank you fo taking the time to peruse my thoughts on what I have taken from my time studying literature at Queens College.
Firstly, let me say the people I met at QC completely flipped my life around. They remain my close circle and creative partners all these years later. I was a double major in English and Drama. Studying English in conjunction with performing profoundly helped me advance in my career thus far. Let’s just say– the power of rhetoric and knowing how to use it can get you far.
The skills you acquire can come out to play in such unexpected ways. Conversations I have had based at on Shakespeare or Dream Theory or John Donne or whatever—these all make you a more interesting person. People will want to engage in conversation withyou. You know things! Not just how to sit in silence and use a calculator or code or trollthe Internet; you know about ideas. You know how to contribute to a conversation, andquestion things and argue a point. You have had discussions and debates about these ideas. You know the stories of people all around the world, people whose lives are completely different than your experience. You can draw on this knowledge in so many different ways, in so many different settings— job interviews, auditions, networking events, family dinners! You never know which future employer is a huge Jung fan. And these things are important! It is all about connection.
When I was getting ready to graduate from QC, I was preparing to apply to Graduate School for acting. This experience is beyond daunting because the competition is insane. I was ambitious and only applied to the top 3 schools in the country. I wasn’t worried about the audition part (okay, that’s a lie), but even more, I was terrified to sit down and write the dreaded STATEMENT OF PURPOSE. Well, when I finally sat my butt down and got to it, it was easy. Not the facing yourself part, but the part where I said, “Come on girl. How many papers have you had to write on a deadline with no sleep and a billion things on your mind on a topic that doesn’t interest you at all? And you got A’s! You can do this!” And I did. And I got an A! Well… there are no grades on those things, but I was accepted to a program that only accepts ten students a year. A straightforward example of how your writing skill, and ability to put your thoughts on the page and make them work for you in invaluable.
At school, I kept writing, and finished my first play, which was produced in the Sky Festival at the American Conservatory Theater. Since then, I have been working nonstop in my field. I have toured and performed at the Moscow Art Theatre, The Town hall Theater of Galway, Ireland, Theatre Calgary in Alberta, and California Shakespeare Theatre. Since moving back to Queens, I have been working with my theater company (a company I started while at QC with other students) producing theater and acting. I was recently cast as the lead in a feature film and am in the middle of shooting as we speak!
(Multitasking… another thing I learned from my time at QC).
I’ve heard so many people say, “Well… yeah. I have an English major that will never do anything for me.” But that’s simply not true. You make it work for you. You have empowered yourself. You have the ideas and theories and stories and speeches of all the greats you have studied and written about and spoken about inside of you. And you actually know how to communicate! It always blows my mind how many people simply do not possess this skill. It will allow you to rise to the top faster than those who do not.
And part deux of that thought? I believe it is imperative to use this knowledge, this strength to pursue a career that actually excites you. What kind of job will make you excited to wake up in the morning? An editor? A playwright? A reporter? A Hotel Reviewer? Times are tough and starting salaries can be scary. But what will make that starter paycheck worth it is if you are working toward something that you want to be a part of. And every one of us has something that no one else has. Figuring that out is a really important step in the start of your journey as you—the grown up QC graduate who is now out in the “real world” stirring up trouble and making a difference. I still take side jobs to get the bills paid, and with every job I take, I make sure it is in some way related to my craft, or making me a better human, or something that I just flat out enjoy. At the end of the day the most important person is you—your health, your happiness, and maintaining your passion. You have the skills to do that. So go do it!
All the best,
PS: My sincere apologies for my abuse of the exclamation point. It’s always been a problem… tsk tsk…bad English major!
Queens College was where I found myself falling precariously in love with literature. This feeling of precarity haunted me in very real, tangible ways. My parents had always pushed me towards the hard sciences, where I would be able to develop a highly marketable set of skills and knowledge towards some lucrative STEM career. Studying English meant courting an unknown, unpredictable future with a diminished promise for success (defined in the normative sense of attaing a high salary, prestige, and job security). But the English courses that I took at QC were also the ones that I found the most intellectually stimulating, teaching me how to write and think critically about different texts as well as the world I inhabit. Reading Edward Said’s Orientalism for the first time in Jesse Schwartz’s class completely blew my mind and provided me with a whole new theoretical framework for apprehending gendered, imperial power relations between the East and the West. For a short while, I managed to trick my parents (as well as myself) into believing that I was majoring in English with plans to apply for law school. By the end of junior year, I knew had to come clean and finally told them that I wanted to pursue a PhD in English. They were very apprehensive about my choice but ultimately, supportive of my passion for studying and writing about literature.
Today, I am a doctoral candidate in the English program at UCLA and am in the process of completing my dissertation. I can therefore say that studying English at QC has directly shaped and changed my life in major ways. It led me to move away from New York, where I was born and raised, all the way to the West coast, where I have found new communities of wonderful peers, mentors, and friends. I have had the pleasure to learn from the brilliant faculty at UCLA and work with Rachel Lee, an amazing advisor who continues to challenge and push me intellectually with regards to my research on Asian American literature and culture. At UCLA, I also had the opportunity to teach undergraduate students for the first time. In my classes, I continue to draw on a lot of the different teaching strategies and styles modeled by my excellent QC English professors such as Duncan Faherty, Caroline Hong, and Jason Tougaw, to only name a few. I have found teaching to be one of the most rewarding aspects of being an academic and I hope to continue helping students become more critically engaged readers and writers in the world they live.
The feeling of precarity regarding my chosen career path still persists in various ways. I feel it as I meticulously budget all of my living expenses and attempt to stretch my stipend as much as I can. I feel it as I scramble to apply for various research fellowships/grants and take on extra graduate student researcher work to make ends meet. This feeling of precarity will, no doubt, increase in the following months as I prepare to go on the highly competitive job market in the fall but I have also come to accept insecurity and risk as the price for doing something that I truly love. I can say that I have become more adept at living-with-precarity, at not allowing this sense of precarity to immobilize me but to instead serve as a more productive, driving force in my research as well as my life.
A small red die-cast car was dropped on my desk on day one of my poetry workshop with Professor Cooley. Each of the other students in my class received an ordinary household object like mine. Then we were told to jot down whatever ideas came to mind. Professor Cooley did not want us to think too much about what we were writing but to allow our hands to convert thoughts to ink, effortlessly and almost meditatively, regardless of errors in spelling, grammar, and logic. There was only one rule: Do not lift your pen from your page until ten minutes are up.
While my hand ran across the page, my mind ventured to odd and random places. A small car became pavement, and then stone, and then water. One thought after another unfolded into a web of loose associations. When time was up, I did what is sometimes known as “boiling down the soup,” crossing out excess words until I was left with a potent product, a poem, at the bottom of the “pot.” It was not the process of writing but process of erasing that required critical thinking.
Before this workshop, I had always thought of writing as an exercise in addition rather than subtraction. Words included in an essay demanded more thought than words excluded. But I eventually learned that absences can be as important as presences. A single added space between two lines can alter the meaning of an entire poem.
Writing with an eraser, so to speak, was one of my greatest lessons I learned as an English major at QC, and one I have found useful in the various roles I have filled as a law student. Law school has required attention to detail, research savvy, and the ability to identify textual ambiguities—whether in reading Internal Revenue Code provisions for class, drafting trial memoranda and employment agreements for a lawyering simulation, or synthesizing and applying course readings on exams. But it has also required a great degree of creativity, and attention to the white space on the paper. For example, interpreting statutes in my administrative law class involved heavy use of “canons of construction,” or traditional interpretive rules that define statutory analysis. These rules dictate that meaning may be derived from both words chosen and words excluded. Canons like noscitur a sociis (drawing meaning from surrounding words) and expressio unius est exclusio alterius (inclusion of one thing in a class means exclusion of another in that class), have almost a poetic dimension if you squint a little.
A bit about where I am now: I have recently completed my second year at NYU Law School, and this month I will begin rotating through corporate law practices as a summer associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. This past academic year I was an editor of the NYU Journal of Law and Business, where I reviewed academic articles as a member of the submissions committee. In the fall I served as a teaching assistant to Professor Arthur R. Miller in his Civil Procedure course, during which time (and for the prior summer) I updated two volumes of his legal treatise on American civil procedure, Federal Practice and Procedure (Westlaw/Reuters).
As a board member of OUTLaw, NYU Law’s LGBTQ student association, I also continued some of the extracurricular work I began as an undergrad at QC, which involved creating spaces for dialogue on issues concerning LGBTQ members of the Orthodox Jewish community. For example, in October I spearheaded a panel on the groundbreaking Ferguson v. JONAH conversion therapy trial, in which a New Jersey jury found a conversion therapy organization guilty of consumer fraud for claiming it could change (mostly Orthodox) followers of its therapy program from gay to straight.
At Queens College I studied both English and Sociology, which has given me an advanced psychosocial perspective and the skills to write. But what is most important to me about my studies is the accomplishment of finishing the degree. I am proud of my academic achievement. I raised four children while working on my education, and I am happy to say that they are proud of me. I set a good example for them. I showed them that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. My education has made me a richer person.
I am a residence counselor. I work with people diagnosed with mental illness. I teach skills, write service plans and progress notes. This comes very easily to me. I would like to do something more challenging. I realized that to have more opportunities, I need more education. I am in my first semester at CUNY School for Professional Studies in the Disability Studies-MA program. My studies at Queen’s College: reading, interpreting literature, and writing have prepared me for this level of course work. This semester as a final project I am preparing an article for publication. I like the idea of writing something meaningful and with the education and passion about a subject I am excited to take on this endeavor.
Majoring in English was the smartest decision I’ve made to date. Studying English prepared me in a few key areas that are directly translated in my day-to-day life:
- Capturing the key details in a sea of words and being able to translate them to other people.
- Talking about books I never read (or in this case topics I don’t know much about – know enough to talk to smarter people about it and learn every step of the way).
- Avoid adverbs. This one’s always stuck with me (Stephen Kruger).
- Be conscious of the ratio of other people’s ideas in your own work and leverage it to your benefit. It’s important to acknowledge the ideas of people you’re doing business with.
- Take notes. Copious notes. Pro-Tip: Use Google Docs so they’re easily indexed and searchable at a later date.
Now I am leading a team of incredibly passionate and talented digital designers and developers. As Lead Digital Project Manager at a creative agency, I oversee the full lifecycle of mobile/web application development projects, digital marketing and content strategy engagements, and highly technical projects (that are often over my head in terms of tech, but hey, I still get to learn every day!) On top of a full-time job, I am getting my MA in Digital Humanities at the Grad Center (in the MALS program–Master of Arts in Liberal Studies). Always more to learn. Reading, interpreting, and writing about literature in new and innovative ways is my focus these days. How do we blow up the book and take it from a different angle?
Long story short, for all the paranoid English majors who have read one-too-many memes on Facebook about their imposing doom, it’s going to be okay. Just hustle. Learn. Adapt. Don’t be afraid to bullshit a little. You do it every time you fluff up your papers to hit 10 pages.
This might sound trite, but I honestly think that one of the biggest impacts being an English major has had on me is teach me to write (a fierce editing habit is implied).
In our digital age, the written word is often the first medium in which people have a chance to make a good impression. Whether it’s building a website, sending an email, putting together a resume and cover letter, or reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, writing is imperative. There is also something to be said for developing your own voice. The way you express your thoughts “on paper” gives people a sense of who you are. Also, let’s not forget that more and more employers are also checking out applicants on text-heavy social media.
Granted, having memorized William Carlos Williams’ This is Just to Say is probably not going to make a huge difference in your day to day life (unless, of course, you derived some sort of special meaning from Williams’ poem that brings you joy). The same goes for understanding Mikhail Bakhtin’s thoughts on what makes good literature (although, I should note that name-dropping Bakhtin can be a hit at cocktail parties), but being able to wrestle the point out of complex and sometimes contrary texts is valuable.
Those are two pragmatic skills that are applicable to jobs across many industries.
I’ve been working for CBS Radio News since 2012. From an entry-level position I worked my way up to staff writer and now assignment editor. My B.A. from Queens College was not enough on its own, but my experience at QC was instrumental nonetheless.
First of all, I joined the student run radio station (yes, there is one) and fell in love with the medium. I also took media studies classes on radio and audio production. Professor Tougaw himself deserves a fair amount of credit (whether I’ve actually said this to him yet or not I can’t recall). During his senior seminar he encouraged us to submit our theses in new media formats. Since he had introduced us to Radiolab (a radio show / podcast produced by the NYC based NPR station WNYC) and I was already interested in the field, I decided to produce mine in a radio format. Despite the production classes I’d taken, this was my first experience creating a complex narrative using audio. I stumbled my way through it and I had a great time doing it. It was one more factor that made me determined to get a job in radio.
I graduated from QC in 2009. Worked a menial job for a year while unsuccessfully applying to any radio job I came across. Finally, I decided that the experience and degree I had would not be sufficient to get me my dream job, so I applied to grad school. Some of the applications – including the one for Boston University (from which I hold my M.S.) – required samples of my work. This is where we circle back to the audio format senior thesis I submitted to prof. Tougaw. I attached it to my application and was accepted. I was able to thrive at BU because of the production / editing skills I learned as an undergrad.
Since I work in news, there are a lot of skills I learned as an English major that I use constantly. Identifying the most important factors of a story is its own form of close reading. As a staff writer I would have to explain stories in just a few lines of text to be read on the air by anchors who may not be familiar with the story.