Melanie (Austria) Farmer ’95

Senior Writer, Columbia University

When I entered St. Mary’s as a freshman in 1991, I jumped on the pre-med track, a decision I made because it seemed clear to me: study medicine, become a doctor. There was a real career there. But, I felt like a fraud, an imposter in Galileo mixed up with the other genuine, budding scientists. What I truly enjoyed was reading and books and creative writing and fiction! But majoring in English would automatically mean what exactly? I wasn’t sure. There was no pre-identified, cleanly packaged career that went hand-in-hand with English. Well, there was teaching, but that field didn’t interest me.

After a month or two, and realizing once again that I despised math and science, I switched majors. I soon became one of those bookworms roaming the upper floors of Dante in search of more and more books to read, essays to write, literary greats to uncover. I became less afraid of the fact that an English major may not necessarily lead to a lucrative career. It didn’t matter. I was studying what I loved the most.

So it didn’t come as a surprise when I found myself lost and jobless after graduation – highlighter in hand and the classifieds in front of me. It was a soul-searching time. It was a rough period but most English majors I know survive this part! (It’s part of the English major experience). I enjoyed writing and began to daydream about penning articles for glossy women’s magazines. I attended Boston University for my master’s in journalism and soon after graduation fell into business and technology reporting. It was exciting to see my first byline! For the next few years, I enjoyed the fast-pace intensity of a reporter’s life, working in a deadline-driven environment in a chaotic newsroom. But, this soon got old. I stopped enjoying it, particularly the long hours, and the expectations of producing volume vs. quality. I loved Toni Morrison, not Microsoft! I had stopped reading and writing creatively. I was in desperate search for a balance.

I think I’ve found it now in a university setting. For the past few years, I’ve worked in higher ed, particularly in communications and public relations. My duties at Columbia University are a stimulating blend of writing, being creative at times and maintaining a role in the media world. And, in New York City, Columbia is an ideal place to gain this experience where global leaders, Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners study, teach and visit. As an English major, a career in public relations or communications is definitely one to consider. After graduation, you will be equipped with the written and oral skills needed to get started in this industry. I chose communications in academia, but there are numerous opportunities in this field: corporate PR or public relations at government/non-profit agencies, speech writing, entertainment publicity, marketing, just to name a few.

If you love English, major in it. That’s reason enough. Though it’s no secret that English majors typically have a tougher time finding their place in the career world, it’s not hopeless. In fact, it’s the opposite – the opportunities are actually endless.