Monday, September 8, 2008

What do you do with a BA in English?

What do you do with a BA in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can’t pay the bills yet,
’Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can’t shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the human race.

Morning, Brian.
Hi, Kate Monster.
How’s life?
What’s the matter?
The catering company laid me off.

The song, from the musical, Avenue Q, is entertaining, but its message is serious.

Yeah, what do you do with a BA in English, which basically certifies that you have been stuffed with literary criticism and appreciation of novels, poetry, short stories and plays? Such knowledge doesn’t seem practical, like repairing boat engines, designing clothes, writing computer code or advising banks to invest in the sub-prime market.

I have no idea. I have a BA in English Language and Literature, and all I can say is I am able to discuss The Wasteland as chim as any English professor and I can also write passionately and persuasively to convince you that this poem is crap.

Perhaps the ability to write and argue convincingly on any abstruse topic is the secret weapon that English graduates possess that make them eventually successful in life’s struggle. Go read The Wasteland by TS Eliot and tell me whether there is anything more annoyingly abstruse than this.

Sure, in the professional trades – building an Olympics stadium, coaching ping-pong players to win silver medals, cooking bank books, or sending a robot to Mars – you need specific qualifications, and a general BA in English probably would not qualify you. But there are plenty of jobs where it will be useful.

In public relations, marketing communication, newspaper reporting, or writing fiery speeches for Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, a BA in English sure comes handy. You can poach those eloquent speeches in Shakespeare’s Henry V (no they were not by Harry but by Shakespeare) when you need to write stylo-mylo texts for, say, your presentation.

It’s important too that you supplement your BA with a more practical-oriented diploma (in education, marketing, TESOL, corporate training or even Web programming). By the way, TESOL or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Language is a good-to-have skill. I was told there are one billion people in China waiting for you to get your TESOL qualification and decipher for them the Eight Parts of Speech and the difference between dead ringers and ringers who are still alive.

And don’t forget to watch the Avenue Q puppets singing “What do you do with a BA in English” and other songs at the Esplanade Theatre from October 30 to November 16.

1 comment:

James Yong said...

Yeah, Avenue Q was a very original concept and a great show! I was fortunate enough to catch it in London last year. The best way to describe it is "Sesame Street" for adults.

As for doing a BA in English (or Art History or Philosophy, which I've always fancied studying) I don't think it's necessarily limiting unless one allows it to. I recall that a certain J.K. Rowling did a degree in Classics.