After nearly spilling my cappuccino all over my British poetry homework, a stranger and I began talking the other day about what I wanted to do when I graduate. She asked what I study here at Penn, and when I replied, “English,” she touched her hand to her heart and lightly smiled. “I studied Russian Literature myself, and I loved it. Do you love what you study?”
I could confidently answer that "Yes, I do love what I study," which was an amazing feeling. She then proceeded to ask about future jobs and if professors here have useful connections. In answer to her practical question: Yes, professors at Penn are hugely connected, and are often willing to share those connections with their students, strengthening the network that makes a Penn education so invaluable. Though Penn’s pre-professionalism is largely cultivated by On-Campus Recruiting events, humanities-focused students aren’t limited by our inability (or unwillingness) to participate in scheduled schmoozing. We need to take advantage of our opportunities outside of scheduled OCR events, or we’ll miss out on the few available. It’s hard enough to find a job in the arts, let alone a job in the arts at a school that prioritizes everything else. This can make for an extremely stressful and disproportionately competitive job search.
However, Penn is rife with pseudo-OCR opportunities. For example, RealArts@Penn is a program dedicated to connecting Penn students to arts-related jobs in the real world or funding otherwise unpaid arts internships. Other opportunities can be found at Kelly Writers House events, or through special guest lecturers or speakers. Just because there aren’t distinguished booths and time slots for English major types to forge their connections doesn’t mean these opportunities don’t exist for us. I spent last summer working at McSweeney’s headquarters in San Francisco, where I put to use my ability to read three books a day.
I copy-edited, proofread, fact-checked, and ordered coffee. All of these are skills that my English classes and extracurriculars have fortified. At an intern level, I was given immense responsibility and tasks that were incredibly enjoyable because it was the kind of work I love to do. Give me a book and a coffee and I’m happy. This opportunity for practical work experience in a field not typically known for its high demand was made possible because of RealArts@Penn. However, it is a highly competitive program that I applied to multiple times before being selected. If you truly want a career in the arts, it will involve dedication. Sometimes it will require multiple rounds of applications. But if that’s your passion, then it’s worth it.
Beyond structured programs like RealArts, Penn’s beauty lies in its excess. In my magazine journalism class last year, my professor Avery Rome disclosed that she used to work as an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She was more than willing to sit down with any willing students and share the knowledge that years of work has taught her, as well as connect us to people she thought could facilitate our ascent into the real-world job market.
Seeing our friends shake hands with employers that sign hefty checks can be discouraging in the small and competitive bubble that is Penn. But there is an entire world out there that celebrates creativity and divergence.
We might have to dig a bit deeper into Penn’s folds in order to find the doors that can lead to our dream journalism or art critic job, but once we find them, we shouldn’t be afraid to ring the bell and start our lives. The woman who nearly spilled my cappuccino left me with a parting thought. She said she didn’t remember a thing about her classes except how they made her feel. My classes make me feel inspired and in love with what I’m studying, and because I’m not afraid to go searching for opportunities in the job market, that’s enough for me. How do your classes make you feel?
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is email@example.com
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