More Roads to Travel for English Ph.D.s

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Spring / Summer 04


More Roads to Travel for English Ph.D.s

The only question that might be more frustrating than “What can you do with an English major?” is, “What can you do with an English Ph.D.?” Teaching literature and writing is still the primary career path, but Ph.D.s in English, and the humanities in general, meet with success in all sorts of professions.

That was the theme behind this semester’s panel discussion “Careers at the Intersection,” organized by Vice Dean of the Graduate School Jolie A. Cizewski and featuring William Bartlett, who earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers in 1995 with a thesis on the rhetoric of Victorian science. Dr. Bartlett is now the Vice President of Executive Communications at NBC. Joining him on the panel were two Rutgers History Ph.D.s: Sam Elworthy, the Editor in Chief of Princeton University Press, and Peter L. Jakab, Chair of the Division of Aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian. The stories of this panel made one thing clear: there are many fascinating career possibilities for someone with an advanced humanities degree.

Dr. Bartlett began by describing his first “real job” after graduate school, as Manager of Editorial Services at NBC. Though his role was to help out with dozens of different communications tasks, he joked, the press department began referring to him as “our proofreader.” Rather than take offense, Dr. Bartlett says he embraced the role and drew upon his graduate school experience, not only committing himself to ensuring that NBC’s press department issued the best, most grammatically correct press releases imaginable, but also circulating a series of entertaining memos on proper grammar, teaching others how to avoid common errors. When the CEO’s speechwriter retired, Dr. Bartlett was asked to do that job in addition to his other duties. Now, in a position he describes as NBC’s “in-house rhetorician,” Dr. Bartlett writes speeches and op-eds for the company’s CEO and other senior executives, and edits corporate literature to make sure all strategic communications carry an effective and consistent message (in addition to being grammatically correct).

Answering a question about how to move away from an academic career path, Dr. Bartlett was blunt: “It’s about showing what you’re able to do,” he said, “not what you’ve done. When you get a job that’s right, you’ll be able to use many of the same skills you used in graduate school, and learn a few new ones. But you won’t get that job simply by listing ‘Ph.D.’ on your business card.”

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