In the coming year, we will feature guest posts from English majors who work at Ball State in positions outside of the English department. This is part of our larger effort to emphasize the many different ways that one can use an English degree after graduation. In this post, the assistant director of Ball State’s career center, Dr. Joseph Goodwin, discusses how he has used the skills he developed in his English major and in his graduate work in folklore in his various careers. Dr. Goodwin earned his B.A. in English at the University of Alabama in 1974, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University in 1984.
During my freshman orientation, I told my advisor that I planned to major in psychology and minor in sociology with a goal of teaching high school. He told me I couldn’t because those subjects weren’t offered in high school (despite the fact that I had just taken both). Having enjoyed English, I decided on the spot to major in English and minor in sociology. As I later learned, I should have declared a social studies major to be certified to teach my original choices.
By my junior year I’d completed all of the academic requirements for licensure except for student teaching and one follow-up course. I also realized that I didn’t want to teach in a secondary school. At the same time, I discovered a new area of study that I became really excited about: folklore. I eventually completed fifteen credit hours in folklore through independent study.
My folklore instructor suggested that I apply for the graduate program at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute (now the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology). At the time, it was the leading program of its kind in the United States. At I.U., I had an editorial assistantship with the journal Indiana Folklore.
By the time I was finishing my Ph.D., I realized that with no teaching experience and few faculty positions available in the field, I would have to pursue another career path. I was not prepared for work in museums, arts agencies, and the like. To my good fortune, a part-time job as an editor opened up in I.U.’s publications office—just in time. I got the job and a few months later was moved temporarily to a full-time position. Just as that job was ending and I was to revert to half-time, I applied for the position of assistant director of University Publications at Ball State.
After I had been in that job for almost eight years, the director of the Career Center called me for advice about advertising an opening in her office. She wanted someone with editorial experience and was wondering how to get the best applicant pool. As we talked, she explained that she could teach the career development skills. She also mentioned she needed someone with a library background (I had worked in libraries and archives while in college and graduate school) and public speaking experience. Hmm. She was describing me!
In the Career Center, along with my other responsibilities, I edit, proofread, and approve all materials and communications produced in the office (except for personal correspondence). With our technology specialist, I developed our original website in 1995, one of the first on campus. I also supervise the coordinator of our resource lab.
Every day I use the knowledge I gained while earning my bachelor’s degree in English. In many ways, however, I’ve obtained my jobs by selling my transferable skills rather than my degrees. What does that mean? There are many skills that can be applied in a variety of jobs—skills that one develops in classes, at work, through hobbies, and in many other ways.
For at least the last two decades employers have consistently named several key skills and competencies that they are seeking (beyond the content of students’ majors). Among these are communication, teamwork, adaptability, interpersonal skills, analytical skills, creativity, and leadership—knowledge and abilities expected of all liberal arts majors. By focusing on my accomplishments in these areas, as well as using my technical skills, I have been successful in my searches for employment.