5 Things A Graduated English Major Doesn’t Want To Hear

Even five years after graduating with my English degree, I still describe myself as an “English major.” Do non-English majors do that? or do they all switch from “art major,” “accounting major,” or “biology major” to artist, accountant, and biologist? Maybe it’s because the English major can go so many different directions. Writer, teacher, editor, lawyer, journalist … the list goes on. So if you want to connect with other former English majors, you need to describe yourself as an English major.

Whatever the reason, I still think of myself as an English major. And apparently, people I meet do as well. New acquaintances, and even people I’ve known for a while, make certain assumptions when they hear I’m a writer and my degree is in English. With those assumptions comes a few predictable questions and comments that I’m sure other graduated English majors are all too familiar with as well.

“Can you edit my __?”

I need to preface this section by telling all the friends who I have edited things for, “No, I’m not mad at you.” I’m perfectly happy to look over the new about page for your blog or proof-read your extremely important email. What I’m talking about is the larger editing projects.

I am a professional writer. That’s how I make money. Just because I like writing doesn’t mean I can do it for free all the time. If someone wants me to read every post on their blog before it goes live, or proof-read their new e-book, or edit a story or novel, we need to talk about compensating my time. Maybe we trade critiques, or you use your website to market my e-book, or maybe it’s a per-post editing fee.

You wouldn’t ask your friend who’s a dentist to clean your teeth for free, or your friend who runs a farm to give away their produce because you’re buddies, or an accountant to do your taxes in their spare time. Ask us for an occasional favor, but don’t put your English major friend in the uncomfortable position of explaining they don’t work for free.

“I’ll probably write a book one day”

Yes, tell me how you’ll just pop out a book some day when you have a little extra time. Go ahead and imply writing is easy or something anyone can do if they cared to bother. I dare you. Because the next person who catches me in a bad mood when they say this is going to get a lecture on how much work it actually involves to draft, edit and re-edit a manuscript, then find good beta readers, edit again, and finally decide it’s ready to publish. And then if they haven’t run off yet they’ll get to hear about how the publishing industry actually works.

“I know you’re judging my grammar”

In-person, on Facebook, here in the comments section …. people are constantly apologizing for their grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. (Strangely enough, it’s not usually the people whose comments are actually hard to read.)

I do think people should make an effort to use good grammar, especially in something they publish, and I am a word nerd. But I don’t just sit around judging and resenting my friends for not proof-reading their Facebook message dozens of times before having the audacity to send it. Am I really such a scary grammar Nazi that you feel the need to make jokes about your terrible writing before communicating with me? That just seems weird.

“How do you spell __/What does __ mean?”

I love words. But I’m not a walking dictionary. This question feels good when I know the answer, but when I don’t it’s usually followed up by some variation of, “So what’s your English degree good for?” *facepalm* Apparently I have failed in my life calling. Here, why don’t I Google  the answer for you using a mobile device like the one you’re currently holding in your hand?

“I hate writing/English/reading”

… and we have nothing in common. I spent four years of my life reading and writing things in the English language, and most graduated English majors are still doing that at least to a certain extent. But the main reason I don’t like hearing this comment is because it instantly shuts-down avenues of connection. I don’t care so much about the fact that you don’t enjoy these things. What I care about is that you’re basically telling me not to talk about my career because you didn’t like that subject in school.

Nobody likes to be told their passions have no value. Regardless of what your conversation partner majored in or does for a living, it’s generally not a good idea to tell them you hate it. Much better to say something like, “Wow, that’s cool. I have no talent for it. Can you tell me more about why you enjoy it so much?” Now we’re having a conversation.

Bonus: “Are you making any money?”

Or any related questions including “Do you still live with your parents?” or “Do you have a real yet job?” That’s just not any of your business, especially from new acquaintances. I’ll tell you about my living situation and finances if and when I want.

My fellow English majors, what are your other pre- or post-graduation pet peeves? Any questions or comments you’re tired of hearing?

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5 Tips for Academic Excellence

5 Tips for Academic Excellence | marissabaker.wordpress.com

bg image credit: Steven S., CC BY

It’s finals week (or close to it) for many of the universities, so it seems a fitting time to talk about academics. Unless you’re just in school for the parties, most students want to succeed academically, and we can always use more tips for doing just that.

Different study and learning techniques will work for different people with different personalities and learning styles, but there are a few ideas that work across the board. These are my top five tips for achieving academic excellence, which I used all the time when I was studying at The Ohio State University. Share what works (or worked) for you in the comments!

1) Study Concepts

I think some of the best advice I received was to study with the goal of understanding the ideas behind a subject instead of just memorizing specifics. Knowing facts and formulas can get you through a test, but if you understand why the fact is true then you’re more likely to get high scores.

“B students” can answer questions; “A students” know why the answer is right (that’s not the only difference, but it’s an important one). With this method, you’re not cramming your head full of facts right before a test hoping you’ll pass — you’re studying the subject consistently, trying to really understand and learn it.

2) Take notes by hand.

There’s something about the act of writing things down that helps it stick in your mind. When I was in school, I’d take notes in lectures, while reading textbooks, and as a study aid when preparing for tests – especially for the subjects I struggled with.

This is partly because my primary learning style is “Read/Write,” but psychology studies indicate that it’s true for most, if not all, students. Students who take longhand notes do better on exams and have more accurate long-term recall of facts and concepts than students who take notes on their laptops.

3) Take breaks.

If you’re studying something you love, this isn’t so much of an issue, but for something you’re not passionate about your mind will start to wander. I had to discipline myself to sit down and study for a certain amount of time, then take a walk or work on something else for a few minutes before going back.

4) Sleep

You might think it makes sense to stay up late cramming for an exam or get a few extra hours of study in, but it may actually do more harm than good.

Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways. First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.

Second, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day (WebMD).

On WebMD’s list of 10 effects from lack of sleep, it lists forgetfulness, impaired judgement, and lower cognitive abilities — none of which is good for academic excellence. Know how many hours of sleep you need on a regular basis, and make sure you get it.

5) Talk With Teachers.

When I was in college, it helped me to get to know the professor a little. Some are happiest if you answer questions in a precise way, others will encourage more creativity in assignments. Knowing what they expect of you, and planning your responses accordingly, helps ensure higher grades. And it’s not just about improving grades — some of my most valued connections during my time at university were with faculty members.

Making time to talk with your teachers and ask a question or two lets them know you’re interested in their classes. They’ve spent many years studying the subjects they teach, and love it when students actually take their classes seriously. Be genuine — if you love the class, then it’ll be easy to talk about, but even if you don’t like a class, you can still ask honest questions like “Do you have any study tips? I really want to do well in your class.”

Vive Les Introverts

I’ve been fascinated by type psychology since high school. In lieu of a guidance counselor (since I was homeschooled), my mother suggested I see if the library had any books about career testing or if I could find websites that offered free tests. That was when I first stumbled upon the MBTI and discovered my personality type. I know there are many people who don’t find value in personality types, either because the type method doesn’t fit them well or they just don’t care, but when I found out what my type was, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone in the universe. Apparently this is a typical reaction for INFJs, since it is the least common type.

Before this turns into a post about my personality type, I want to get on to my real topic. Last week, I came across this video via the blog Personality Junkie. If you have 19 minutes, I highly recommend watching it. Even if you’re not an introvert, she has an interesting perspective on culture and the contributions of both introverts and extroverts to society.

I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a few months ago. If you like this talk, you should check it out. Her research is extensive, and it’s presented in a reader-friendly, almost conversational format.

“Introverts … may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.” – Susan Cain

Even though I grew up in one of the most introvert-friendly environments you can find (homeschooled by supportive, introverted parents), I’ve long felt like there was “something wrong with me.” This is apparently common for introverts, especially in western culture where we are constantly presented with extroversion as a cultural ideal. Fun, outgoing, talkative people are surrounded by friends and happy — melancholy, lonely bookworms who stay home on Saturday night can only wish they were that “cool.”

good grade, social life, adequate sleep. Pick Two [welcome to college]

I’ll take #1 and #3, please

By the time I was a couple years into my college studies, I’d become convinced that working alone was the best way for me to succeed. Writing my ideas was more productive than talking about them, working in groups just slowed me down. But even carrying a 3.98 GPA didn’t help much when favorite professors said, “You’d be the perfect student if only we could get you to talk more.” I was already talking more than I wanted — sometimes as much as once or twice per class to get those participation points I didn’t usually need, but was too contentious to just ignore.

Since reading Susan Cain’s book and another called Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life if Your Hidden Strength by Laurie Helgoe, I’ve started to feel more comfortable embracing my introvertedness. Ironically, this has helped me when I need (or want) to extrovert — it’s easier to talk to people when I’m more comfortable being myself.

“Let’s clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” – Laurie Helgoe

About 50% of the world’s population is introverted, and research indicates we are born with a base personality type. Though socialization plays a role, we can’t help being introverted or extroverted. And there’s really no reason we should want to “help it.” Introverts have just as much to offer the world as extroverts. We just approach life a little differently.