What can I do with a Cultural Studies degree?
November 13, 2007 8:02 AM   Subscribe

After a college career based on worrying about the present, I've graduated up to worrying about the future. What sort of jobs can I get with a cultural studies undergraduate degree from McGill University (Canada's Harvard!)?

To all appearances, it looks like I'm going to graduate from college within the next year. After three universities (Parsons School of Design, Columbia & McGill) and several changes in focus, I've ended up with a degree in Cultural Studies. I've also developed a few unfortunate literary pretentions, to where I think I'd like to make a career, like everyone else on the internet, through writing. I think I'm an alright writer, although I'm still writing like I've got a thesaurus jammed up my ass and I know I have a long way to go. I guess I have a couple of questions-
a) What jobs could one get, in the States and Canada, with just an undergrad cultural studies degree? I'd like to write, and I wouldn't be adverse to writing for magazines, editing, writing for television or film, doing low-level press release writing, etc.- but would any of those jobs be available to me?
b) If I was shooting for a writing job, in some fashion, what sort of things should I be working on now- screenplays, interviews, articles, etc?
c) Every time I open nytimes.com, there's some article about 17 year old quadlingual pearl divers who have internet businesses and doctorates and shit, but are worried about getting into an Ivy. I've just started doing maybe TWO extracurricular activities. Is my resume going to look like cold shit in a Dixie cup?
Sorry this is such a whiny question- I'd just rather ask about my options now instead of when I'm living on my brother's couch. Thank you!
posted by 235w103 to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Many universities, including yours, offer career counselling services. Visit them.
(McGill is "Canada's Harvard" now? Literary pretentions indeed.)
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:13 AM on November 13, 2007

Best answer: After I finished college, I did an unpaid internship at a music video television network, from which I was hired to write "scripts" (string together facts about musical celebrities into sentences). To those tasks various other writing assignments were added (web content, channel-self-promotional copy). I left at that point, but other colleagues went on to write for reality programming at that network and from there to other networks that produce history- and discovery-related programs. The resume and writing experience didn't matter a whit -- hard-working interns were simply pressed into service when needed and taught on the job. College cohorts who followed the internship path into magazines and PR companies had similar experiences.

My advice would be to spend some time thinking about what kind of writing you want to do and to scout out related internships. You might want to save up money as well, depending on your financial circumstances, in case you decide to work for free in NYC, for example. Be on the lookout especially for indie magazines and documentary programs -- these types of operations allow their unpaid labor to take on much more responsibility than the big guys do, which will help your eventual portfolio.

I may have had a lucky string of experiences, but everything I've wanted to try at so far in life I've just done as an internship and gotten hired from. That why to me, the real work comes in narrowing down what you want to do -- so you don't waste time unnecessarily. Don't go into TV if you'd rather be in PR -- just work in PR from the start. Working in the field that most excites you will also help during those dark hours when the work itself is miserable.

Once you've narrowed down your first choice, look for opportunities right now to work for free -- literary magazines, local documentaries, college-produced dramas, radio station... whatever comes closest to your ideal.
posted by xo at 8:57 AM on November 13, 2007

xo has it - it's all about internships. All of my literary jobs have stemmed from them. Not only do the companies you intern for tend to hire you when positions become available, but the contacts you make with other companies are invaluable. Good luck!

(And McGill isssssn't really Canada's Harvard. When I was doing postgrad stuff with Cambridge, they referred to it as "that Canadian francophone school".)
posted by meerkatty at 9:38 AM on November 13, 2007

I don't think a cultural studies degree is actually good for anything in particular. It isn't particularly good for anything, but on the other hand you can do whatever you want with it (and I say this as someone who studied in the same program). Don't worry about what your degree does and doesn't qualify you for because you are going to have to stand on your own merits, i.e. do whatever you can to build your portfolio if you want to write.

(I always thought that McGill was "Canada's Harvard" because there are a lot of American students there, many of whom would prefer to be at an actual Ivy school, but didn't have the marks or money. I don't think anyone actually believes that a degree from McGill is worth more than one from, for example, UBC).
posted by ssg at 10:13 AM on November 13, 2007

Response by poster: The Canada's Harvard thing was a joke from me, but many people here buy into it fully. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.
I'm slightly worried that I won't be able to get internships- every time I find one that I think I might like, I worry that it'll already be filled with the previously mentioned overachievers. I'm currently working on a student literary magazine, contributing to a 'zine and maybe doing some short films- would this be enough to get my foot in the door?
posted by 235w103 at 10:39 AM on November 13, 2007

would this be enough to get my foot in the door?

Not to be trite, but you won't know until you try.

I was going to say something similar to what ssg said - it's not about which degree you have, or whether you have one at all. What matters is what you can do. Keep writing, keep writing, and write some more. Get your name out there.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know." I've always shuddered whenever someone utters that sentence, but it is largely accurate. "Networking" (a.k.a. meeting and getting to know people) is important. Connect.
posted by splendid animal at 12:16 PM on November 13, 2007

Those of us with useless degrees usually do better in life because there is not clear path, so we have to think our way through things. Personally, I think you degree sounds like a good start.

Please, harvard of what. One of the great things about Canada is that the playing field is much more even. And that's a good thing. (I went to u of t-- they come out and call themselves the Harvard of Canada. Personally, I'd rather have gone anywhere else, except maybe harvard :-)
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:15 PM on November 13, 2007

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