I was an English major class of '07, worked as a Student Assistant (for the department in general and for a writing professor) and as a tutor (essay-writing and creative writing) for the department as well. In addition to the English major I completed the Creative Writing track, which basically means additional workshopping classes. Any specific questions? Shoot away.
I will reply to the private message I received, just in case others have the same questions as Stasis.
"hey --- how are you? thanks for responding to my thread. it's quite impressive, to say the least, what you seem to have accomplished at Wellesley.
well, i was wondering how the English classes are. are there a lot of in-depth group discussions? what were the favorite courses you took and why?"
First off, I'm well, thanks, because not too long after graduation I was able to find entry-level work in academic publishing, so I'm pleased to be applying my hard-earned degree to my first post-college position pretty directly. However, it is true that an English degree is applicable in almost any industry. It has never been a hindrance for me, only a benefit.
My experience with the English Department was basically....infatuation. I loved it. I camped out in the common room, applied for jobs there, and made great use of office hours. The department offered a wide enough range of courses to satisfy my rather specific interests (literary and study style, etc..) while still requiring basics that grounded me in the tradition, namely Shakespeare, Victorian novel, pre-1800, and Critical Analysis (that's Eng/Writ 125). By the time I was a senior, I was taking only course I really felt a vested interest in - Fiction workshops and British lit. There was one very memorable course entirely on George Eliot.
From my first year to my senior year, I never had a class of over 30, and only one over 25. Queer Lit is exceedingly popular. My writing workshops - and here I mean fiction, screenwriting, advanced fiction, not Critical Analysis - averaged 12-14 students. Remarkably, blessfully small.
I had the most amazing professors, and even when I took courses where the professor took an approach other than my preferred lecture style, I still learned tons. For example, Frank Bidart is a superstar of contemporary poetry and his classes were a bit of a thrill ride, but they were also more free-form than I expected. All said and done, I was never not challenged, not excited.
The courses you're drawn to once you're in the department and meeting the professors might be different than the ones you expected to enroll in before the semester began. That's the wonder of the shopping period at the beginning of each term. You don't like the direction of a course? Switch to something else. You have a few weeks to put out feelers.
I found that I had a few favorite professors and I took every single course they offered. For me, those amazing mentors made the classes memorable. Lisa Rodensky covers Victorian and British Lit, Kate Brogan has contemporary poetry and the literature of NYC, and Paul Fisher has American lit and Queer lit down. I believe they are all tenured or tenure-track, so seek them out if you visit campus.
Oooooh, English majors! Friends! :-) I have a question: as far as the Creative Writing track goes, is it a bunch of writing prodigies, or is it some English people who just happen to enjoy creative writing of many kinds? I enjoy creative writing, especially creative nonfiction and some fiction, but I'm not delusional enough to believe that I'm Shakespeare II, and I have a horror of being the clueless one in the class.
Also, what are class atmospheres like? And what are the job/internship opportunities from the department? Is the writing center thingy good?
(I figured I'd better capitalize on having a real live English major around, instead of just reading the English section of the Wellesley catalog religiously, which is what I'd been doing). Thanks!
Hi Mariposa! I'll try to address your questions one by one. Apologies in advance for the lengthy response. I wanted to be thorough.
"As far as the Creative Writing track goes, is it a bunch of writing prodigies, or is it some English people who just happen to enjoy creative writing of many kinds?"
I would say it leans toward the latter, with the occasional standout writer. I took Short Narrative, Advanced Fiction, Screenwriting, and Playwriting (a Theater Studies course) and there were certainly good writers in all of those courses. There were also one or two abyssmal writers in most of them. No matter the makeup of the class, I benefitted from being workshopped, and it was rewarding to help others improve their work. What I'm saying is, the class is what you make of it. If you assert yourself on assignments and during workshop, if you listen to feedback, you'll inevitably improve. I am 1,000X the writer I was going into my first writing class. Think of it this way: even at a place like Wellesley, someone will enroll in a creative writing course thinking it will be fun and easy. They won't try. They won't take good advice. And they will turn in horrendous piece after horrendous piece. So if you put in the effort, you will never, ever be the worst writer in your workshop.
The nice thing is that for fiction and poetry, the two CW courses in highest demand, there is both an introductory class and an advanced course - Short Narrative/Advanced Fiction, Poetry/Advanced Poetry. Even if you have not taken the intro course, if you believe you can contribute and benefit from the advanced course, you can submit your work to the professor for evaluation and potentially get accepted into the advanced course. I will also say that if these classes remain as popular as they have been for the past few years, you may not gain a spot in any of them (First Years register last) because all of the upperclass women want to take them. But, if this is indeed the case, do not despair. Show up to the first class meeting and stick around. People inevitably flake since it is shopping period and you can take their spot. Also email the professor in advance and tell them that you will be doing this, as you really, really want to take their course.
"Also, what are class atmospheres like?"
I think this depends entirely on who's teaching the class, what they believe is helpful, and how much control they exert over the direction that the workshop takes over the 2-3 hours. I took three classes with the same professor (She was visiting and is no longer there), and she laid down firm ground rules: Respect your classmates. Watch your language (writers have fragile baby egos). Do the work well (i.e. don't hand in a load of crap bogged down with typos because you wrote it the hour before class). Be on time; we need to be productive. It seemed to work well. Generally, everyone in your class is going to be damn smart, pretty funny, and insightful. They honestly want to help you and learn from you. The college keeps these workshops small, 12-16ish students I think. It's a good number.
"And what are the job/internship opportunities from the department?"
Well, during any given semester, there are 2-3 administrative assistants for the department who take phone calls, keep the bulletin board up to date with conference posters/paper submission opps/grad school info/news articles, and help out at department events like lectures and parties. Then, professors can employ Student Assistants as they need them - for help with book research or what have you. Those opportunities are rare and are offered at the professor's discretion, so there's no set number. I don't believe there's a real application or interview process - these jobs are generally offered to a student whom the professor knows well and believes will suit the project. Now, I could be wrong about that, but I think it's mostly about having a solid foundation with a professor in the department, and being a good fit for the sort of work they need done. If this is really the kind of opportunity you want, these are all very good reasons to make yourself a presence in the department. When I worked for one professor it was rather unconventional - I was co-writing screenplays and editing a few small essays, not researching anything much. I don't know of anyone else who did that sort of thing. I'm simply saying, you never know what kind of work you might fall into, so keep close to those professors who are working in your favorite era/medium. Impress them without brown-nosing.
Now, tutoring is different. There IS an application process for becoming an English Department tutor. There is also a separate application for becoming a Writing Department tutor (there's a good deal of overlap but English Department tutors are assigned to particular classes whereas Writing tutors mainly do drop-in appointments or work with a few assigned students). These jobs never go to first years, rarely sophomores. At any given time there are roughly 10 tutors. One of the professors in the department is the contact for the tutoring program. Look out for flyers and emails if you want more details.
"Is the writing center thingy good?"
Okay, I've heard mixed reviews. Some students go there for absolutely every assignment, so strong is their faith. Some (wrongly) assume it's only for struggling students. Some people go and simply make use of the enforced quiet space.
I personally never went there (bad tutor, bad!). I did contact English tutors outside of the PLTC - Phorzheimer Learning and Teaching Center - for help on a few occasions. Your experience with either an assigned tutor or a drop -in tutor will probably depend on a lot of different factors, but plain old chemistry is a big one. If you want somebody to read your paper and give you unbiased feedback, this is a huge resource. I think the PLTC is underutilized among all classes, but especially among first years and seniors. Part of that is due to the fact that students are often procrastinating their essays and they don't have anything even half-finished to hand over to a tutor. They're embarrassed. But here's the thing. You can go just to throw ideas for a paper around if that's where you're stuck. You don't NEED a polished anything. And, it's free. FREE!
All right, I hope that addresses most of your questions. Feel free to ask for clarification or whatnot if something was unclear or I didn't answer the question as you intended it.
Yep, in my first post I name check Profs. Lisa Rodensky, Kate Brogan, and Paul Fisher. They all have completely divergent styles, but each is an amazing lecturer in my humble opinion. Charismatic, funny, and sharp as tacks all of them.
There are many others I could list, but those are my most memorable.
Oh, and to answer your other question: I did. I knew that English was one of the majors I was most interested in so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I took English/Writ 120/125 which covered both my writing requirement (every first year must meet this but can take specially designated courses in any department) and one of the major requirements, which is Eng 120 Critical Analysis - that's a poetry analysis course. The roster of teachers who instruct this rotates - I took it with Prof. Brogan and she hooked me on the major.