Sometimes You Will Fall Short.

Illinois alumna Ramona Sullivan (BA, Rhetoric, ’93) told the following story on Facebook about a formative moment she had in the Department of English:

You will have occasions when you fall short. No matter how much you achieve or how well you prepare, you will come up against those moments when you have to turn a bird into a refrigerator, and you just can’t do it. It doesn’t stop you moving forward. Not only did Ramona ultimately ace the class — she went on to the University of Illinois law school and became a public defender. Most recently, she ran for 6th Circuit Judge here in east central Illinois. You may have seen the yard signs around town. That bird didn’t turn into a refrigerator either.

And it was okay. Such moments will be for you, too. Learn more about Ramona here and here. If you’d like to contact her for advice (about law school, finding meaning and purpose in a legal career,working as a public defender, running for office…). make an appointment with Kirstin Wilcox ( to join the Department of English alumni mentoring network.

Networking with Professors

Find office numbers for English/CW faculty on this bulletin board outside the mailboxes, 2nd floor English Building.

 If the thought has crossed your might that you should seek out advice from a faculty member (professor, instructor, TA), then you should probably do so. Talking to students outside of class is part of the job, and faculty know a lot of things. Whether the topic is grad school, the upcoming paper assignment, or confusing course material, these conversations require some of the same skills you would use in an informational interview or networking situations, so it’s a good way to practice. Here are some suggestions for how to make it happen.

  • Go to their office hours. Faculty are required to hold a certain number of office hours for every class they teach. Those are times when they are available to talk to anyone who shows up. You don’t generally need an appointment. Office hours exist entirely so that professors can have conversations with students, and few students take advantage of them. So really — just go.
  • Office hours > email. Most professors get a lot of email, and answering it takes time away from the things they’d rather be doing (teaching, research, preparing classes). Talking to interested students is (for many) NOT a tedious chore. So you are more likely to establish a friendly connection if you can make contact by coming directly to office hours rather than adding to their email mountain.
  • Not sure when a professor’s office hours are? Find out!
    • If it’s a professor for a class you’re currently taking, look for information about office hours in the syllabus. If you look hard and can’t find it, ask at the next class meeting.
    • Some professors hold office hours by appointment only. If you encounter such a professor then ignore the advice above and go ahead and email them to set up an appointment.
    • If it’s a professor who isn’t teaching a class you’re currently taking, there are several ways to find out when their office hours are.
      • Walk by their office door. Office hours are often posted there. (if you don’t know where their office is, look them up in the U of I directory)
      • If you can’t find office hour information on their office door, then go to the main office for the department they’re in, and ask the clerical staff there. (If you don’t know where the department office is, use the search function on the U of I website — the office location will usually be at the bottom of the webpage for the department)
      • (last resort) Use Course Explorer to find out when they’re teaching, and lie in wait in the hallway when the class gets out — then ask (politely) when they hold office hours. Be prepared to explain your business (briefly) and set up an appointment on the spot if for whatever reason they’d prefer to set up a time to talk outside their office hours.
    • If none of these strategies work or if the professor tells you to email them to set up an appointment, then email is the way to go.
  • Is the faculty member on leave? If he or she is not teaching a class you’re currently taking AND does not appear to be holding office hours at all, they may be on leave, a fact you should acknowledge in your email. The whole point of leave is to give professors time away from their teaching responsibilities — so asking for their advice is something of an intrusion — but if you’ve done enough legwork to know that they’re on leave, you’ve already differentiated yourself from other students.
  • Not sure how to start a conversation in office hours? Use the library website to look up research the professor has published (just type their name into the “easy search”). Spending some time with that material should give you a question or two to ask to break the ice. It probably will be easier than you think, though — many college instructors are nice people who enjoy getting to know their students.

Surviving the Winter Holidays: A Guide for English/CW Majors (updated for 2018)

The holidays bring with them many opportunities to connect with loved ones. And chances are, those loved ones are going to ask you how college is going and what you’re going to do when you graduate.

The flexibility and open-endedness that makes majoring in English or Creative Writing a joy can seem less so when you’re being quizzed by a family member who doesn’t quite see how that amazing class in critical theory or modernist literature or poetry writing is going to help you cope with life after graduation.

Some preparation can make those holiday conversations less daunting.

Here are some resources to help you talk to the people who love you about your prospects and plans.

“English/Creative writing majors don’t get jobs — maybe you should switch to something more practical.”

Just wrong. Wrong in general, but also specifically wrong for the University of Illinois. Read the data, know the numbers. Save the links on your phone to show the disbelieving. Need more talking points?  Try thisthis, this, or this.

“So you’re going to teach, right? Or maybe go into publishing? What else do people do with an English (or Creative Writing) degree?”

Some English or Creative Writing majors do go into teaching or publishing, Many do not. Every business, organization, industry needs people who can solve problems with words. You have choices to make about where to use your skills. Take some time to browse this very blog for additional information on jobs that English majors do. Some possibilities include human resourcesadvancement/nonprofit fundraisingcommunicationbusiness consultingscience journalismrunning small businesseslegal writingproject managementbook publishingvideo editingscience editingproject operations, PR and digital marketing, librarianshipB2B publishing, entrepreneurship, content creation, higher ed administrationmanufacturingevents coordination, sales managementdata researchmanagement training, and real estate development.

“You’ll have to go to grad school to get a job, won’t you? What grad school are you thinking about?”

Well, no — you don’t need to go to law school or get a master’s degree to be employed — but you may want to get more education to achieve specific goals“Grad school” doesn’t have to mean further education leading to a teaching or law career — recent alumni have chosen to get advanced degrees in bioinformatics, business, education administration, human resources, information/library science, medicine, nursing, social work.

“Hmph. Okay. But you’re graduating in____, right? So what’s your plan?”

There are many things you can do to reassure the people who care about you that you’re on your way to a stable, self-supporting adult life. Don’t have a specific career in mind yet? That’s okay — tell them about some concrete steps that you’re taking now that will help you get a job when you graduate.

  • Find time to go to the LAS Life + Career Design Lab
  • Sign up for a course that will give you some professional skills:
    • Publishing and Editing (ENGL 199 – E, 1:00 – 1:50pm MWF, Prof. Hapke, CRN: 53975)
    • Self-Publishing and Digital Branding (ENGL 380, 11am -11:50am MWF, Prof. Gallagher)
    • Environmental Writing for Publication (ENGL 498, 12:30 – 1:50pm TR,   Prof. Wood)
  • apply for a spring or summer internship.
  • find a part-time job that will help build your skills.
  • create or update your resume
  • sign up for alumni mentoring and start scheduling some informational interviews to help you build your network.
  • get to know Handshake and start checking it regularly to learn more about the kinds of jobs you’d like to apply for. (Pro-tip: use the job function filter to explore the opportunities in different potential careers. “Writing/Editing” is an obvious one to try — but certainly not the only one available to you.)
  • get involved in a campus publication
  • register for a career preparation course:
    • Career Fair Preparation (ENGL 199 – CIP, online, Prof. WIlcox, eight weeks, one credit, Jan 14 – Mar. 8)
    • Career Planning for Humanities Majors — freshmen and sophomores (ENGL 199 – FS, 4:00 – 5:30pm M, Prof. Wilcox, eight weeks, one credit, Mar. 11 – May 1)
    • Career Planning for Humanities Majors — juniors and seniors (ENGL 199 – JS, 4:00 – 5:30 Tm Prof. Wilcox, eight weeks, one credit, Mar. 11 – May 1)
  • schedule an appointment to talk to Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships by calling 333-4346.
  • find some upcoming Career Center events that will be helpful to you and put them on your calendar.
  • follow up on contacts your family has suggested to you.
  • practice your elevator pitch, get your professional attire, and research employers to get ready for the Gies Business Career Fair.

“<changes subject>”

Take some time to remind yourself why you got into this major in the first place. Spend time with a book you want to read and haven’t been assigned. Write a poem. Make a trip to the nearest independent or used bookstore. Storyboard your screenplay or graphic novel ideas. Geek out by surfing Open Culture, Paris Review, LA Review of BooksWatch a movie with some intellectual heft to it. Send an email to the teacher who first got you excited about words. Let yourself get lost in the sheer joy of language.