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Listen up!

If you’re wondering whether an English degree is for you, consider these testimonials from our grads. Although their career pathways may not be the same as yours, read what they have to say about how studying English at Carleton helped them.

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Lynn Coady, Novellist and Giller Prize Winner, writes:

My time at Carleton studying for a double major in English and Philosophy was essential to my development as a writer. After a year of underachieving in a “practical” program which I thought would train me for a job, it became clear that what I really craved and needed was to gain a baseline sense of the texts, stories and ideas that had shaped Western culture up to that point. This was the first time in my life I felt granted the time and permission to think deeply about literature and I still remember the mental electrification I experienced in my Shakespeare and Milton classes. Similarly, I still think about and revisit the books from my Literature of Existentialism class, where we read everything from Sartre’s Nausea to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra to Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. These courses have stayed with me even to this day and I’ll always be grateful for the thrill that I discovered in those texts.

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Tavis Apramian holds a double major in English and Biology from Carleton University.

After graduation, he completed an MA in English at Carleton and a second MA in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. He was subsequently accepted into the prestigious MD/PhD program at the University of Western Ontario. He says: 

As a candidate in the MD/PhD program at the University of Western Ontario, I have chosen a research project that focuses on surgical education. In surgery, as in all medicine, it is essential to wed our hard-won medical knowledge to an awareness of the limits of that knowledge. But to convey this strange admixture of the known and the unknown, of achievement and aspiration, we need effective means of communication. I came to the English program at Carleton University simply knowing that I was interested in stories.

The double major in English and Biology that I earned at Carleton played a key role in my intellectual development. My biology courses showed me the power of our knowledge of the human body and the vast potential of the scientific method. Yet, in English, I could not escape being taught that, despite the complexity of our civilization, we are bound to ancient but powerful means of communicating. Our experience of the world runs through stories. Our civilization is built on them and our science works through them. My double major has taught me that art and science form no dichotomy, but a robust dialectic: that is, they come together to make something necessary and new.

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Marcus Creaghan, the English Department’s first blogger, graduated from Carleton with a BAHon in English in 2013.

He is currently pursuing an MA in English at the University of Toronto. Of his time at Carleton, he writes: 

The very first peoples that mined language for meaning saw no need for words to distinguish between happy and sad. Both came on the wind and filled the body with fire, of the red and blue variety, respectively. And syllables were in such short supply that it seemed wasteful to split hairs and subdivide. But without words they found it impossible to recognize happy and reconcile sad. Finally giving into the impulse to name they became not only better able to feel the two, but better able to subdivide further, building words upon words to fully imagine what now struck them as a vast spectrum of humanity. And maybe that’s the best reason there is to study English: language allows us to be more broadly.

Theological lexicographers, janissaries of dead vernaculars, and tobacco-spitting slang swingers with cigarette stubs for teeth have all suffered shame and medieval torture to protect specific words that they acknowledged as the portals to new, more honest, experience. Writers—sending relays back from some outbound meridian of the mind, awake and raw after 3am, prowling for words to emote the ripple, ripple, stop of the blood-pumping sea swell inside of them—find new far-flung coordinates from which to stare back at the little light of your life. And beyond letters on a page, beyond straightjacket syntax, and cut-and-dry grammar, this is what we come back for again and again: the opportunity to read the world more deeply.

chelsea_houdeChelsea Houde holds a B.A.Hon and M.A in English from Carleton.

Over the past four years, she has worked as a freelance writer, and she has held communications positions in digital marketing and international development. She has been working as a technical writer in medical education since July 2014.

I never planned to study English. In the beginning I just wanted some sort of formal recognition for the fact that I have always read a lot of books. Once you reach a certain age they stop giving out ribbons for that kind of thing. But in my first English Literature class at Carleton, something happened: I started to read books differently. Suddenly, I wasn’t just reading books anymore. I was reading with an eye for context, form, rhetoric, and theoretical concepts. I started asking questions and setting out to answer them.

By the second half of my undergraduate career I was certain that I had made the perfect accidental choice. My professors at Carleton helped to guide and encourage me as my interests and curiosities grew more focused, and the M.A program offered a means by which to explore those interests in greater depth.

I look back on my time at Carleton with much gratification. I am thankful for the experiences I had, the friends I made, and the skills I developed. I am also thrilled that my evolved understanding of literature and text has served as the foundation upon which I have built my career in technical communications.

David Chariandy holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English at Carleton.

Now a faculty member in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University, Chariandy is also an acclaimed novelist and non-fiction writer. He writes:

I vividly remember attending my first English lecture at Carleton. It was by Dr. Wurtele, a medievalist, and he concluded the lecture by reciting a part of The Canterbury Tales as it would have sounded in Chaucer’s own time. I was mesmerized by the language — an English at once alien and familiar, a “common tongue” only beginning to be recognized in official contexts and by the social elite. I wonder if the magic I felt in hearing this relatively early version of English owed something to the fact that I had heard my own parents speak a vernacular all of my life — an English likewise understood to be ‘common,’ and yet possessing its own complexity and incantatory power. But an essential turn in my studies happened when I began to discover literature that spoke to me in more intimate ways. At first, I had to discover these writings on my own — the essays of James Baldwin, for instance. But when I reached the upper years of my degree, I had the chance to take courses with professors like Enoch Padolsky, Parker Duchemin, and Jack Healy. They taught writings by Austin Clarke, Joy Kogawa, Maria Campbell, N. Scott Momaday and others. These writings shook and inspired me in profound ways.

I did pursue creative writing during my first years at Carleton, but secretly, and even a bit shamefully. It was only during my third year of studies when I enrolled in a creative writing course — the only one the department then offered, as far as I recall.  It was taught by Professor Tom Henighan. I wrote a short story that he felt I should attempt to publish; and I managed to do so, in the student newspaper The Charlatan, a place where I suspect other writers got their precious first chance to publish.  Interestingly, the title of my story, “Soucouyant,” become the title of my debut novel some twelve years later.

Gila Green holds a Combined Honours BA in English and Journalism from Carleton University.

I remember someone telling me early on at Carleton that double majoring in Journalism and English was not the best idea. “You’ll write English essays that read like news articles or news articles that read like English essays,” I was warned.

I resisted this well-meaning advice and was doubly enriched for it. As an English major, my appreciation for examining texts at different levels of analysis is now indispensable for me as a fiction writer and freelance editor. Writers and editors must examine the historical, cultural, and literary significance of works and I continue to lean on this solid foundation.

More importantly, I enhanced the love of literature that I have had my entire life and that feeling has only become stronger over time. I consider myself privileged to have learned skills at Carleton that continue to serve me in my professional career.