Finding a Home in the Duke English Department

Tuesday, December 11, 2018
By: Caitie Buteau, English Department 2018 Fall Digital Media Intern
Me and the Duke English Department

Growing up, I was the type of student who usually did better in science classes. I was on the Earth Science Team in middle school that competed with other kids from high schools in the area. From there, my involvement in the sciences grew and I competed in the Physics Olympiad, Biology Team, Chemistry Team, and Physics Team in High school. English was something I always enjoyed, but I never had really thought about majoring in.

Coming to Duke, I dealt with my fair share of problems. It was hard to adjust from a small town where I had known all my classmates since Kindergarten (some even earlier) to a place eight hours from home where I didn’t know anyone. The one thing I knew was that I wanted to major in Economics with a Finance Concentration and Duke’s combination major of Visual Arts and Art History, while minoring in Eastern Asian studies with a concentration in Mandarin Chinese. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, it is. And that’s okay for some people, but I quickly realized I didn’t have a passion for these subjects and that made studying the material and paying attention in class much harder than I expected. 

I stepped back my freshman spring and took a medical leave to go home and figure out how I wanted to spend my time at Duke. After long discussions with my family, I realized that throughout my childhood I had a real passion for reading, debating, and writing. And once I decided I wanted to pursue a career in law, I came to the conclusion that majoring in English would be a good path for me. 

Now writing this as I go into my final year at school I can look back and see this was by far the best decision I made during my time here. The department is small and it is so easy to talk and really get to know your professors. They can really take the time to critique and help hone your writing skills and work with you to make your writing better. I am now graduating a year early with an English major and Public Policy major with a minor in Sociology, all things I never even considered doing before I started college.

If you are a potential student reading this, a parent, or even a current student just trying to figure out what you want to do at Duke, I implore you to carefully consider English for your major. English and writing are skills that you will need throughout your life. My dad, who works in the finance sector in New York, tells me how he has hired students from places like Princeton who can barely write a persuasive argument or a sentence without grammatical errors! 

No matter what field you decide to go into, your major will probably not prepare you fully for whatever job it is you want. Time and again, I talk with recruiters who tell me it really does not matter what you major in, just as long as you have the skills and passion they are looking for. Consider English and help yourself to get real work skills that will be useful your whole life.