Gillian Portt - I acquired the essential skills for a professional environment

Gillian Portt - Graduate student

In my career I have sometimes joked that I have a degree in “word play”, “knowing the word you need”, or simply “stories”. I mean it light-heartedly, but those truly are some of the skills that I value most from the M.A. program in English Literature at the University of Ottawa. Through the program, I learned to better appreciate the power of narrative and to track and analyze the expression of that power in wider discussions of science, technology, economics, politics, and human behaviour generally. I also gained the confidence, time management skills, and professional attitude required to transfer those essential skills into a professional environment.

An English Literature degree may not seem like the obvious choice for someone planning for a career outside of academia. However, the program equipped me with an appreciation for word choice, a curiosity about the world, and an analytical ability that seems unique to a discipline that both spans the history of the written word and can consider for hours the nuances of a single one. In my work with a non-profit supporting national museums, I discovered that everyone craves narratives, and the ability to pitch, draft, edit, and analyze them is an essential skill.

Although I can assume that most English Literature programs would offer those benefits to a greater or lesser degree, the difference at the University of Ottawa is the unique and wonderful community who supported me as I gained those skills. My professors encouraged me to explore my interests – as broad as they were and remain – and allowed me to engage in different areas of interest in each class while other colleagues were equally supported in their pursuits within specific theoretical frameworks, periods, or genres. My colleagues formed an irreplaceable group that challenged each other’s thinking, helped shape each other’s interest, and became the invaluable listeners for thesis ideas, literary jokes, and personal struggles.

Ottawa itself offered a comfortable environment with enough attractions to keep busy but not so many that I ever felt overwhelmed. I chose it in part because it is home to the federal public service, corporations, and a vibrant non-profit sector, which together provide an appealing selection of career opportunities. I have always felt at home in this city, and at the University that prepared me for life beyond its walls.

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