English Honors Alumni Testimonials
Jinwoo Chong (BA, 2017): MFA Columbia; novelist (author of Flux, a New York Times Editors Choice), New York
If you had an education anything like mine prior to arriving at Georgetown, you did not have much opportunity to engage in any meaningful study of creative writing while in school. The discipline known as ‘English’ or ‘Language Arts’ was something known to you as a research heavy, citation-laden practice of theory and criticism, often a dizzying mix of philosophy and history that often sidelined the entirety of the non-white, non-European-descended perspective. It was also, in many ways, overwhelmingly solitary. And yet, it was the only subject in school that you genuinely loved, because it allowed you to brush with some of the greatest art you know exists in the world, to study it, religiously; to attempt to understand the environment in which it was being written, and the shift it enacted on the world after it was. You bucked against the guardrails put up around you in the more fundamental classes that tackled these literary works. You found yourself asking for the freedom to work with what most interested you. I owe everything to the Honors program at Georgetown. It was the scene of my first short story, my first novel outline, my first workshops, my first critiques, my first in-depth meetings with faculty who not only understood what I was trying to do in my work but gave me the freedom to experiment with my own solutions to problems that arose. It was where I first understood the landscape of Asian American Literature and its reckonings in the ever-modernizing sense of the American identity. I laid the foundations of everything I have ever written since while a student in the Honors program, both under the supervision of my incredible advisors, and my wonderful cohort of Honors students.
Rachel Biggio (BA, 2020): paralegal; and Levy Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School starting Fall 2023
Countless times throughout your career as an English major, you’ve been writing a paper for one class, and recognized a connection between the topic of your paper and a seemingly distinct concept from another class. In those moments, you’ve wished you had the time or space to explore further — but you don’t, because you are writing a 3 page essay, it’s due in two days, and your idea totally doesn’t answer the question posed in the prompt. But, if you do Honors, you CAN follow that thread! Honors is your opportunity to expand upon your original ideas, and create a project with boundaries you set yourself. It is a totally unique and rewarding way to finish out your undergraduate degree. The moment my outline fell into place and I knew the titles and themes of my chapters was literally magic. Also, I loved getting to present my project via Zoom back in April 2020 — it felt right to finish out the year alongside my classmates, if only virtually. And all of my non-Honors friends logged on and cheered for me! Through the Honors program, I gained some extremely valuable project management skills. I learned how to work directly with a mentor, take responsibility for my own deadlines, and collaborate with peers. As a working professional, I use those skills every day, and I do think that Honors gave me the confidence to see myself as a mature young adult ready to stand on her own. And of course, I met so many amazing people through the program!
Bassam Sidiki (BA, 2016): Ph.D. in English, University of Michigan; currently Assistant Professor of English, University of Texas, Austin
English Honors is one of the best things I could have done during my time at Georgetown. The honors proseminar was a fantastic experience: it was an intimate group, about nine of us, including both literary scholars and creative writers, and we all became quite close! The proseminar was fun but rigorous, where we workshopped our materials, held each other accountable, and exchanged ideas on theory and methodology. It was perhaps my first introduction to what a graduate seminar or advanced scholarly workshop looks like, and was therefore immensely useful for graduate school. Graduate admissions are very competitive, and nearly everyone admitted in a program has done some form of advanced research workshop of this kind, so doing English Honors will set you up for success should graduate school be on your radar—and not just graduate school! I think I’m the only one from my cohort who stayed in academia; my brilliant proseminar peers went into business, law, advertising, consulting, creative writing, and a host of other professions where the skills you acquire in proseminar (research, presentation, providing feedback, editing, and more) will undoubtedly come in handy. You will also develop a lasting and unique intellectual relationship with your honors mentor/advisor, and that kind of rapport is one of the most invaluable gifts of an undergraduate education.
I don’t think anything has had as much of an impact on my confidence and my career as the English honors program. As someone who always loved writing but had never finished a long project, committing to a yearlong process and deeply focusing on one particular text strengthened my discipline tenfold. In my work as a professional writer now, deadlines and feedback do not daunt me in the slightest. The Honors program helped me develop my writing process and a confidence in my voice and perspective. I felt very supported throughout my honors journey, and it was so encouraging to have some of the department’s brightest professors believe in the importance and relevance of my work and my contributions to the field. The chair at the time and a lifelong mentor, took great care to pair me with the perfect advisor, and the fall seminar sessions sharpened my editorial skills and trained me to give and take feedback in a way that is collaborative and helpful. What would’ve taken me years to develop professionally I developed within nine months. I cannot say loudly enough: do it.
Why do Honors?
On a superficial level — it has been one of my strongest resume blocks. If you are worried about getting a job in general or in a certain field, interviewers ALWAYS ask about it. It also gives you an opportunity (practically and professionally) to understand how to complete a long term project with multiple steps in a relatively short period of time. Very helpful for completing projects in the workplace.
On a more meaningful note — it is your chance to show your stuff, on your terms. In four years of studying English you’ve had to write a lot of discussion posts, reflections, essays, and research papers with clean parameters and pre-approved topics. With the thesis, you are your own professor and you get to evolve your own questions (with LOTS of help!) for a topic YOU are fascinated by. All your skills will be put to the test, and you will be better for it. Hopefully.
Some highlights: starting with one advisor and one idea and two months in, changing advisors and ideas almost entirely. Cultivating a personal and professional relationship with a mentor and with the thesis writers in my cohort. Writing something others found compelling and being able to share the story of my family.
In job interviews senior year, I told people that finishing my thesis would be my proudest professional or academic achievement. It feels kind of strange to say two years out of Georgetown, but that might still be true, at least as a single, standalone accomplishment. You don’t get a lot of chances to dive as deep into, or to have such total ownership over, one project. The program is designed so that you leave senior year feeling really satisfied with your work in the English department, and in a way, with all your schoolwork, from grade school on: it really does function as a capstone to your academic career.
You’re very indebted to your teachers and peers in the program—it’d be impossible to finish without your advisor or the sessions we’d have as a group—but your thesis is something that’s yours. For a year, this is your baby. It’s inevitably frustrating at times: you’ll feel like you’d hit a wall with the project, or your whole idea will just feel kind of stupid. But at the end of the day, it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do at Georgetown. This is an academic topic (or creative project) that you chose to write about, that you’re passionate about, that you learn inside and out, and that you’re eventually able to say something new about—and you have 60 or so pages to show for it. I loved being an English major, and this—thinking long and hard about some meaningful topic, and being able to come up with genuinely new ideas about it—was a perfect way to end it.