I should have been an English major
You may have noticed, but I like to write. In fact, I like to write a lot. But what do I mean by a lot? Well, I REALLY like to write, and I like to write LOTS of things. But damn, how confusing is that? You could have interpreted that simple sentence in two different ways. Good thing I was here to clarify for you.
You see, I’m a technology guy – not originally a writer. My undergrad degree is in biochemistry and biology. My PhD is in data science. But would you guess the skill I use more than all of my technical skills combined?
I don’t just write blog posts – I write emails, memos, grants, academic papers, text messages, tweets, social media posts – the list goes on and on. After I finished college with TWO degrees in biology and biochemistry I found that I knew a lot of facts – like the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell – but I really couldn’t write all that well. Unlike my engineering and computer science friends, I graduated with knowledge and no power to unleash it all.
Whoever said “knowledge is power” left off the part “as long as you can write about it.”
So to all the English majors out there, I’m sorry my STEM friends and I give you a hard time. And to everyone reading this article, here are the three reasons I should have been an English major.
Writing is the greatest skill in the world
I’m not saying I’m good at it, but I’m saying I understand how important it is. We write every day of our lives. How often have you sent an email or text messages and someone responds with, “can you explain what you mean?” If we can’t communicate our message, whether it’s about life, our job, or our science, then we’re going to have a hard time. This is why lawyers get paid so much – writing is hard, and the devil is in the details. So if you practice no other skill, write daily. It will help you think better, speak better, and communicate more clearly.
Skills take a long time to master, facts can be crammed in a weekend
Malcolm Gladwell made the notion of the 10,000-hour rule popular. The premise, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master something. So if writing really is the greatest skill in the world, then we should start practicing as early as possible.
But what about all those STEM majors?
I would argue instead of double majoring in biology and biochemistry, I should have been an english major with a pre-med minor. I still would have learned calculus, organic chemistry, and cell biology, but I missed the opportunity to develop writing skills.
Ok, but you want to be an engineer, so you need to major in engineering, right?
Yes, that’s true. So how about a BS in Electrical Engineering and a minor in English? If not that, then you should start a blog or write a column and practice writing every day. It doesn’t have to take long, but you have to do it.
I don’t remember a single fact from college, but I know the difference between there, their, and they’re
Any skill or fact is fleeting unless you’re practicing. Do you know how often I need to use the “speed of sound” in my daily life?
Now to beat a dead horse, do you know how often I need to use writing in my daily life?
Every single day.
When I need to know a fact, I pull out my phone and ask Google. When I need to know how to write, Google translate just won’t do. In the STEM fields, we rarely talk about writing as a critical skill. Heck, I’m a scientist and academic, and even I can’t stand dry academic writing. With a little practice, at least I can make a droning list of the introduction, materials, methods, results, results part 2, results part 3, results part 4, and conclusion just a little more interesting. And if not, at least I’ll know how bad it is.
I wasn’t an English major, but at least I can practice my craft
I write, and I write a lot. Yes, often and in high volume. I write because I enjoy writing, but mostly because I recognize how important it is to my career and my life. I think you should consider the same. We all have different reasons to write, but no reason is better than the other.
When you do, you grow. You’ll send better text messages, emails, memos, and Mother’s Day cards. You’ll think more concisely, speak more clearly, and write more effectively.