Critical thinking and clear writing are in high demand in the marketplace. Employers insist on these qualities and consider them fundamental requirements. The recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that 97 percent of executives rate strong writing skills as either absolutely essential or very important.
We sat down with Sydney Lines - who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in English from ASU and is now pursuing a master’s degree in the field - to learn about her experience both studying Literature and then applying what she learned to the workplace.
“I am passionate about English because it allows me to exercise my brain, exploring all the ambiguities that make language unique,” says Lines. “It improves my abilities to read, write, research, think critically, and analyze material. It expands my knowledge of other cultures, people and ideas and exposes me to ideas I’ve never considered. When I engage with literature, I gain a more complex, concrete understanding of what it is to be human–both negatively and positively.”
The mix of soft and hard skills obtained when studying literature is something that takes even English students by surprise. “When I say I ‘study’ literature, I do not simply read it,” says Lines. “I look for sub-text. I extrapolate ideas from the text. I ask questions. I try to discover how the smaller pieces connect to the bigger pieces. I dissect. I form theories and arguments and back them up with data from the text — it’s all much more scientific than often thought. Literary research involves investigation. Studying literature is a bit like completing a puzzle.”
Lines has taken her passion for literature as well as critical thinking and writing skills to the workplace. “Currently, I work at ASU LightWorks where I write about and engage people in ASU’s efforts and achievements in light-inspired research,” says Lines. “This includes, as examples, things like algae biofuel, solar PV technology, carbon capture and wastewater treatment. I provide written content for the website, I run a variety of social media outlets, and I create online strategic communication frameworks. I often engage with highly technical language from policy documents, research abstracts and scientific papers and then rework it in a context that makes it useable and understandable to a wider audience. Most importantly, I create conversations and disseminate information, and my background in English fosters the skill set to do so.”
Lines – who is a first generation college graduate - is set to graduate with her master’s degree in spring 2013. “I will apply for doctoral programs in English Literature in the future, though I am currently planning on taking a year off from studies to continue in my current role with ASU LightWorks,” says Lines. “It is a position in which I have been able to grow professionally in ways that I did not anticipate, and I believe the skills I’ve acquired there will be complementary to my academic CV.”
No matter her career focus, Lines is sure to have the skills needed to succeed. “ASU’s English Literature program has prepared me well and continues to do so,” she says. “Most speakers of any language must maintain a sort of dual-fluency: in the spoken language and in the written language. You become a better speaker by listening to the language, and you become a better writer by reading the language. Studying literature allows one to develop and maintain the ability to convey coherent ideas in both written and verbal forms. This is an essential component to communication in general, no matter what career field you go into.”
Indeed. USA Today quoted Mike Panigel, senior vice president of human resources at Siemens, as saying: “Being able to get your point across means the difference between success and failure.” Be a success.