Writing Interns Make Their Marks

Table of Contents

Fall/ Winter 03


Writing Interns Make Their Marks, by Ramon Duterte

Some question the usefulness of studying literature, adopting the unfortunate and unshakable notion that English majors are only capable of becoming teachers. While teaching is a worthy profession, there is something to lament about the stereotype that English majors are limited in their career choices.

Consider Deborah Bailey, a Rutgers English major who is now a computer programmer for AT&T Labs, or Cary L. Sheehan, a copy editor for Time Inc., also an English major. There are Rutgers English majors working for Bristol-Myers, Reader's Digest, and Lucent Technologies. Clearly, the English major is more flexible than most people believe.

One great strength of the discipline is that it teaches students to read critically, write analytically, and communicate clearly. In doing so, the English Program emphasizes skills that are useful in almost any profession. However, it can be difficult to explain these qualifications to potential employers, who are often less familiar with the kinds of work English majors can do.

Professor Michael Goeller, director of the Business Writing Internship Program, says internships may be the solution. "It's really what English majors need," he says. He explains that many students do not really think about the job market when they decide to study English, often choosing their field because they love literature or enjoy writing. "There are great skills that English majors have," he says, "but they don't always get to exercise them." Internships allow these skills to flourish.

Internships have become a prerequisite for employment in many fields, including publishing and journalism - recent graduates must be willing to work for free to gain experience. The internship program at Rutgers, which has been running for three years, allows students to earn credit while they complete an internship, by combining intern work with an academic course on writing in the workplace. Participants have worked at magazines, at nonprofit organizations, in mass media and broadcasting, for Website developers, and in corporate communications and public relations. The internship program allows them to gain real work experience, a vital asset.

Professor Goeller notes that students who do internships fare better in the job market not only because they have more experience, but also because they have confidence that they can succeed within the culture of a professional workplace. For example, Dan McVey writes of his internship with Epic Records that part of the challenge was learning the "informal rules dictating people's behavior." Through his internship, Mr. McVey learned that work-related communications "both written and oral, take place in a social context," an important aspect of his job which he could not learn in classes.

The intern's training ground is often intense, requiring many hours a week at workplaces such as NJ Lifestyles, Nerve.com, Mercedes-Benz, VH1, and "Late Night with Conan O'Brian." Sometimes, internships relate directly to the student's intended occupation. Kerry Weinstein, interning at Seventeen Magazine this fall, says, "I chose this internship because I am considering a career in magazine journalism, and [am] also learning how I can apply the skills I learned as an English major to a career."

Other times, an internship can help an English major solidify his or her career direction. Sagar Patel, who interned with the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, explains: "I had originally gone into my internship to see how I'd feel in a legal environment. Instead, I became fascinated with the publishing aspect, and want to explore that a bit more; I hadn't even thought of it before."

These internships also force English majors to face a formidable obstacle: the need to change one's writing style to suit his or her job. Mr. Patel noted that documents written by experienced lawyers for inexperienced lawyers differed drastically from his normal academic writing, and that he had to develop a whole new style as he edited these documents. In the case of Mr. McVey, his role as a recording-industry liason required him to learn a more informal writing style: one of a "relaxed excitement" about new projects, a tone which, he says, suggests to the recipient "that you are attempting to give them something they will enjoy." Even the interns working for the English Department itself (see article) are doing communications work that differs from their usual academic essays, writing for this newsletter and also using media like photography, Web design, and layout.

At three years old, the internship program is still growing. The average number of interns has doubled from eight per semester to sixteen, but Professor Goeller hopes that number will increase much, much more. He hopes that one day more than ten percent of majors will do an internship, making work experience "a significant part of the culture of studying English." A shift like this would make it easier to confront the familiar question: "What can you do with an English major?" The answer: Anything you want.

Related Links
Rutgers Writing Program

Information about the Writing Program Internship

Help Us Grow
If you could use the work of a skilled and intelligent intern, the Rutgers Business Writing Internship Program can help. We seek to place interns in positions where they will gain experience writing, editing, researching, or coordinating and analyzing information. Employers will be responsible for interviewing and selecting their own intern candidates, but we will advertise the position for you and screen applicants. If you have (or can create) a possible internship for a Rutgers University student, please contact Barclay Barrios, Internship Director for 2004, at barclay.barrios@rutgers.edu, or 732-445-2106.

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