Debunking Major Misconceptions

English, biology majors explore not-so-obvious opportunities for graduates in their fields

What can you do with an English degree? English professor Cassander Smith says she’s heard that question a lot. To help English majors figure out the answers, Smith and colleague Lauren Cardon have created a series of professional development workshops, kicking off this February.

“There’s this common misconception that a degree in English is just preparing you for education, but the truth is that it’s a versatile degree and we want our students to know that,” Smith said.

At the first event, a resume workshop on Feb. 3 at 2 pm in Room 203 B.B. Comer Hall, Smith and Cardon will discuss the general formats of resumes, the basic dos and don’ts, and the difference between a resume and a C.V. Students will learn how to tailor their resumes to market the skills earned from an English degree, and during the last 45 minutes, students will have the opportunity for one-on-one time with the instructors to ask questions and get personal critiques.

“I am hoping that our students can benefit from our collective knowledge and be better equipped for the job market,” Cardon said. “Preparing for the next stage after graduation can be overwhelming, and students get pulled in a range of directions. I’m hoping that our majors and minors can face the challenges of graduation feeling more confident and better informed.”

Future events include a graduate school informational session on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. in Room 203 B.B. Comer Hall where they will discuss graduate school options, and why an English degree can help prepare students for postgraduate education like law school, medical school, and others. The last event will be on April 12 from at 3 p.m. in Room 301 Morgan Hall, where they will discuss career paths and options for English majors such as business management, finance, journalism, and nonprofit work.

“I hope that [students] gain more focus in terms of how to apply their studies and learn to dream in a way that matches their desires,” Smith said. “I want them to realize it’s not a waste … and they can follow their true passion.”

The biological sciences department also hopes to make its students more aware of the diverse career options a degree in biology can offer them. More than 1,300 UA students are biology majors, and many of them, says associate professor Katrina Ramonell, may lack direction or understanding of the field’s potential. Most people think of a biology degree as preparation for medical school, she said, yet not everyone can or wants to go on that track, and there are so many opportunities beyond it.

“We want people to think outside of that,” Ramonell said. “If everyone was a doctor, the world would come to a screeching halt. We need biologists in all realms of life.”

This common misconception about the degree program inspired the department to host a career fair and create its own career center for students. The career fair will be held on March 31 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Smith Hall in the second floor atrium; barbecue from Pottery Grill will be provided. Ramonell has focused on inviting professionals from overlooked fields that often require biology degrees such as hospital administration, the Navy medical program, the Chattanooga Aquarium, biotechnology firms, and Teach for America.

“Come with an open mind,” Ramonell said. “We want students to think outside the box.”

Scheduled to open in fall 2016, the biology career center will be on the first floor near the main office of the SEC building on the engineering quad. The center will have staff on call daily to assist students with career advising, internship guidance, and scheduling classes for future semesters.

“Advising has become a year-long thing,” Ramonell said. “[Students] have a lot of options and opportunities, but they often involve planning, so this is to help them with their plan.”

Both departments hope to make these events an annual tradition in the spring. While the events are designed for biology and English majors, students from other departments who are interested in these programs are welcome to attend.