Jennifer Bute’s advice on what to do with a Ball State English major

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It’s pretty common for English majors not to know exactly what they want to do with their lives. That’s why we feature Ball State English alums here.

We want to give you some stars to steer by.

Check out all our archives posts on “Life After the English Major.

Jennifer Bute graduated with a major in English in 1997 and then went on to pursue an academic career in Communication Studies. She specializes in communication about reproductive health, and you can check it out here. Currently, she’s an Associate Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and she has some great advice about how to figure out what you want to do with your English major.

1.      How did your English major lead to graduate education in communication? And to your current position at IUPUI? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

As an English major, I cultivated skills that served me well in graduate school and that I continue to draw on every day in my current position as an associate professor of communication studies an IUPUI. English faculty emphasized critical thinking in every class I took. I learned to read deeply, analyze critically, and write thoughtfully–all of which are prerequisites for success in advanced study in any field. I would encourage anyone considering graduate school, even in fields outside the humanities, to take coursework in English.

2.      What’s a typical day like for you?

Part of what I love about my profession is the ability to set my own schedule, so my days are rarely typical. During the academic year, I usually teach 2 or 3 days a week, depending on my teaching assignments for that semester. When I’m not teaching, I can be found in my campus or home office chatting with students, preparing lessons plans, grading assignments, or catching up on email.

I also spend quite a bit of time “in the field” talking to people who have experienced health challenges about how they talk about those challenges with the people they love. My research centers on communication about reproductive health, and I’ve spent many hours interviewing women and men who have coped with fertility problems or pregnancy loss, which sometimes means I’m travelling to people’s homes to talk with them about extremely personal experiences. It’s an incredibly humbling and sometimes intimidating experience to have complete strangers open their lives to you, and I am honored to bear witness to their stories.

I love this part of my job, so much so that it feels odd to call it a “job.”

I also love meeting with students, getting to know them, and learning with them. It’s by far the best part of my work–to play some small part in helping students tackle the challenges of academia and work toward their future goals.

My position also allows me to travel to professional conferences to interact with other scholars in my field (and perhaps have little fun, too), which I always find energizing.

Finally, on rare occasions, I get to spend an entire day reading–keeping up with research in my discipline or searching for new readings for my classes–which a pretty great ways to spend my time.

3.      Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

I am a firm believer in the importance of a well-rounded liberal arts education.

I know from firsthand experience that students often feel pressured to pursue a narrow career path from the moment they set foot on campus.

But in my opinion, students are better served from an educational experience that equips them to succeed in a wide range of contexts, both personal and professional. And an English degree does just that.

A degree in the liberal arts or humanities, like a degree in English, grows with you rather than simply develops skills for a specific vocation.

I worked at a 9-5 job in human resources for four years before deciding that working in a cubicle every day just wasn’t for me. When I decided to pursue a PhD, I was prepared to do so because my English degree had prepared me for the challenges of graduate-level coursework.

For students who need more certainty about what their futures hold, I’d highly recommend taking advantage of the Career Center at Ball State (and I’m not just saying that because my husband works there!). There’s a beauty and a freedom to being an English major that prepares you to do almost whatever you want to do. But having too many choices can be paralyzing, and the coaches at the Career Center can help you narrow your choices to the pursuits that interest you and that draw on your unique skills and passions.

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