Every English major encounters the same situation — maybe it’s already happened to you since going home for the summer: a neighbor, relative, or (just the other day, in my case) the optometrist politely asks you how school’s going and what you’re studying.
You tell them.
“Oh, English?” they ask with a note of concern in their voice. “So what’re you gonna do with that degree?”
I love being an English major and all, but I’ve had to go through this song and dance more and more since I changed my major from English Studies to Rhetoric and Writing a year ago. Only now, the concern in their voice is coupled with a puzzled, raised eyebrow whenever I reply, saying that I’m an English major with a concentration in Rhetoric and Writing.
Creative writers and literature majors are lucky; folks can at least grasp that there’s a lot of writing and reading involved.
But what comes to mind when most people hear “rhetoric”? It sounds intimidating. Perhaps they think we spend our days labeling everything ethos, pathos, and logos like in the rhetorical analyses many of us did in ENG 103 and 104. Or maybe they imagine us in class firing back at each other like politicians on the news.
So, what is the English major in Rhetoric and Writing?
Alum Sean Southern
Sean Southern graduated from Ball State University in 2000 as double major in English and History. After college, he earned an M.A. in English at DePaul University in 2002 and a J.D. in Law at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law in 2007, where he graduated cum laude.
Following law school, Sean practiced law in both the public and private sectors. First, he joined a large Chicago law firm where he focused his practice on commercial leasing and other real estate matters. Thereafter, Sean represented indigent criminal defendants at the Office of the State Appellate Defender, obtaining favorable decisions on both direct appeal and in collateral proceedings.
Then in 2011 he joined the Office of Professional Development at Indiana University’s School of Law, where he now serves as Associate Director. Sean’s responsibilities include developing and maintaining effective relationships with legal employers and the greater legal community, assisting alumni and students with job search strategies and resume design, and administering the on-campus interview program.
How did your English major lead to your career in law–as well as your job as a career counselor? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition?