A new video about best-selling UWaterloo English alumna Rupi Kaur. For more on Rupi, co-op, and her degree, click here. Maybe you might be interested in taking a writing course? Creative Writing 1 (ENGL 335) is offered Spring 2017.
A new video about best-selling UWaterloo English alumna Rupi Kaur. For more on Rupi, co-op, and her degree, click here. Maybe you might be interested in taking a writing course? Creative Writing 1 (ENGL 335) is offered Spring 2017.
UWaterloo Arts Stories has profiled Amy, a fourth year Honours Arts and Business Co-op with a double major in English and Economics: “Amy’s last co-op placement was at Microsoft as a Marketing Associate for small and medium businesses. At Microsoft, she focused on marketing specific campaigns and worked on email newsletters and in-store events. At her last co-op placement, Amy was able to see how her work had an impact at the workplace.” You can read more at Arts Undergraduate Stories.
Richard Lander knows how to maximize things: he definitely got the most out of his UWaterloo English degree in Rhetoric and Professional Writing (now Rhetoric, Media and Professional Communication). And he appears to have utilized every classroom and co-op experience in his position as Principal Program Manager Lead on the .NET Team at Microsoft. Read on to learn more about his time at UWaterloo, his appreciation for Dr. Paul Beam (now deceased), and what he’s hoping to leave to his children. Thank you to Richard for participating!–JLH
JLH: Can you tell us how you ended up studying English Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Waterloo?
RL: In high school, I was interested in three topics: computers, politics, and writing. As it came time to look at universities, in grade 12 and OAC, I explored all three of those options. In the end, I decided to select a university based on an Arts degree and then add computer science (CS) as a secondary focus. I already had a lot of technological experience – my brother and I ran a pirate BBS during high school – but I still felt like my strengths were in the liberal arts.
Waterloo was an easy choice. My older friends went there, it was only an hour away from home, and the school had an incredible general reputation. Also, I was well aware of the strong CS program, so it seemed like an excellent place to get the CS education I was looking for as a non-major.
At first, I was more focussed on political science at UW and had vague ideas on becoming a lawyer. I was very interested in both Canadian and US politics and a huge fan of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I also followed Conrad Black and his writings. Then, in first and second year, I had some eye-opening English courses with Drs. Neil Randall and Paul Beam. That got me fully focussed on English and I dropped the idea of continuing with political science.
JLH: Thinking back, what stands out from your time at UWaterloo?
RL: Everything about Waterloo was amazing. I loved my classes, co-op was a major game changer for me professionally, and I met my wife! If I’m to really pin it down, I have to talk about my work with Paul Beam. I worked for his online learning company during a couple of my work terms and while I was on campus. He put a lot of trust in me, giving me fairly vague marching orders and just letting me execute my own (more specific) version of his requests. I spent most of my time work on an online course called “Professional XML Authoring.” I created the course (content and software), marketed it globally, and then taught it as well, to students on four continents. It was strange to be preparing for a test in Hagey Hall and marking an assignment from a student in Europe as part of a commercial online course, all in the same evening. It was also really challenging from a time and stress management standpoint.
As my professor, Paul let me do more than my fair share of “independent study courses” in the English department. I used those to study XML and related technologies, which were very new in the mid- to -late 90s. I was able to take a bunch of that work and add it to the courses I was producing for his company. That might sound oddly circular, but to me it was a great opportunity to get my work published and gain experience. In many cases, I was learning the technology as I created the content, too. You hear students complain about being taken advantage of by professors. That wasn’t the case at all. I was the primary beneficiary, unknowingly building a strong resume for an employer in Seattle, WA.
I also got to present about XML and related technologies to companies Paul had relationships with and at the local Society for Technical Communication on campus. We also presented papers we worked on together at Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conferences. Needless to say, I was privileged to get these rare opportunities. I remain incredibly thankful for that.
JLH: How did your course of study influence your career? Were there specific experiences that proved more useful?
RL: We have two roles in the product groups at Microsoft: developers and program managers (PM). If I wanted to be a developer, I should have taken CS (as a major). There are tons of successful Waterloo CS folks at Microsoft. My choice of RPW + CS was great academic preparation for becoming a PM at Microsoft. You need to be a great communicator and technical.
The technical part of the job is often the easy part. Often, you have a variety of options on the table to solve a problem and you like one best. You have to decide how to convince others that this choice is the best, sometimes through straightforward and other times less than straightforward techniques. This is where the Rhetoric part of RPW comes in, although the Professional Writing comes closely behind as a poorly written great argument is never a winning strategy.
Other times, I need to be more introspective, particularly when reading or listening to a proposal that is outside my area of strength. I use skills I learned in a critical analysis course to help navigate these more challenging situations. In that class, we had to analyze works according to a given (often unfamiliar) analytical style, for example a feminist analysis. That experience is always a good reminder that there are multiple points of view that are objectively equal in nature. Further inspection can uncover biases, assumptions, and other flaws in each of these points of view. From that vantage point, the points of view remain equal in nature. It’s sometimes important to keep my initial thoughts and opinions in check as I analyze a proposal. I will search for a set of “first principles” that I can use to consider and analyze the proposal to develop an opinion. This approach usually results in a strong opinion that I have confidence in because it’s not based on an emotional response, but on values that are broadly shared and durable.
JLH: You seem to do a fair amount of outreach in your current position: can you tell us a bit about what you do and how that came about?
RL: For the first few years after school, I just focussed on my core job and didn’t do any external outreach at all. I was absorbing so much new information that it felt like I was doing a Masters degree at “Microsoft University.” We also had our first child relatively early on, after moving to Seattle. After catching my breath, I started writing for the .NET blog, the primary public outreach for the .NET Team at Microsoft. I later started the @dotnet twitter account. I’ve also written a bunch of documentation.
In terms of outreach, I’d say my primary activity is blogging. Every time we release a new version of the product, I write an approximately ten-page blog post that describes why you should care about the release and how you can use it. I have a few simple goals with each of those posts: tell a compelling story about the product, describe the state of the product at a point in time, and answer all of the obvious questions.
When I’m writing those posts, I try to answer most of the questions that appear in my head as I work through the various topics that need to be covered. I get feedback from my team that I’m “wordy” but I feel strongly about answering the main questions in the body of the document as opposed to in a disconnected FAQ. Also, while we have a ton of customers in Western English-language countries, we have another large set that have to work harder to get meaning out of blog posts written in English that may contain Western phrases and jokes. I try really hard to make sure that people in Japan, China, Egypt, and Germany, for example, can read my blog posts, assuming a base level of English competency. It is an exercise for the reader if I’m successful at that.
JLH: Finally, are there any books you are really looking forward to reading?
RL: I’m a fan of Patrick Rothfuss and his Kingkiller Chronicle series. The first book, in particular, was intellectually really exciting for me. Like many other people, I’m waiting for his third book in the series. The series is apparently going to become a movie, so I’m worried that he’ll get distracted finishing the last book. I did get to see him speak at Emerald City Comicon. He’s a great speaker and a very interesting and compelling personality.
I’m also interested in reading more from Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. I’ve been watching youtube videos and listening to podcasts by them recently, but I think it is time to dig in a bit deeper with those folks. Sam Harris is a bit controversial, and I’d like to understand that further and be able to participate in that conversation. I’m almost planning on going back to reading Noam Chomsky and some of the ancient philosophers. I plan to do that while taking time off in December. The recent election in the US is part of my motivation for reaching for these writers and topics.
I just read The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. It’s a novella from 1909. A bit like works by H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, it’s an early but incredibly prescient dystopian tale. You can read it in little more than an hour. Recommended. While I like and appreciate dystopia, I think the genre is a bit overdone in contemporary novels and film, probably because it sells well. The recent movie Arrival is an example. I’d like to see more focus on possible futures and shared societal experiences that are compelling and possible and that I might want to leave to my children. That’s very much an open landscape for writers and artists.
How did English alumna Rupi Kaur (BA 15) end up on a bestseller list? Find out on Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM as the poetess and author of Milk and Honey, will give a poetry reading and chat about her self-publishing experiences that led to Amazon’s bestsellers list.
Read about Rupi’s runaway success with Milk and Honey, and her final English project, period., that sparked a viral sensation and made Instagram change their content policy. As an extra bonus, here is an early Words in Place interview with Rupi where she discusses her experience of the UWaterloo English co-op program.
With 324K followers on Instagram and a best-selling collection of poems, Rupi Kaur is an emerging feminist artist touching on issues of love, violence, and healing in women’s lives. In just over two years, Kaur (BA ’15 English) has gone from self-publishing to landing on the Amazon top seller list for Canadian literature, alongside literary icons like Margaret Atwood. Her book, Milk and Honey, also made it into the second spot for the Amazon best seller list for poetry.
Kaur, a recent Waterloo grad, is drawing hundreds of fans to her readings around Toronto and her online community has gone international with posts of support. Mainstream media has also taken note with the Huffington Post calling Kaur’s work, “beautifully honest poems read like the everyday, collective experiences of today’s modern woman.”
As a Waterloo student, Kaur juggled her academic courses and co-op terms with performance gigs and writing poetry on the side. Kaur, who graduated last year, said: “I explored my passion for writing at Waterloo – I took writing breaks from my homework and became hooked.”
First self-published poetry edition sold 17,000 copies
The product of that passion was Milk and Honey, a self-published book of nearly 200 poems and line drawings that was picked up last fall for a second printing by Andrews McMeel Publishing after quickly selling the initial 17,000 copies. Her new publisher added Spanish and e-book versions.
Written in spare yet piercing language, Kaur describes her work as “a collection of poetry and prose about survival and the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.”
She is emerging as a strong feminist artist and a voice for her generation as the fan comments show:
A few months after the release of Milk and Honey, Kaur unleashed an online viral sensation with her project entitled period. – a final assignment for her Visual Rhetoric course with Professor Beth Coleman.
Poet advanced design, writing, and marketing skills in English program
“The Rhetoric and Professional Writing program taught me actual skill sets and provided a framework for literary analysis. It taught me what moves an audience and what doesn’t. I gained the skills of design, marketing, creative writing and branding.”
The easy route for sharing her poetry would to be to simply post them online. But, for Kaur, the poems had to be made tactile as a print collection. “The Internet wasn’t enough for me because the poetry couldn’t reach everyone it needed to reach by solely being online. The poetry needed to seep onto bookshelves and into libraries.
Co-op terms built job skills
“During my first co-op term I learned to use Adobe InDesign – which I eventually used to design Milk and Honey. In my last co-op job I mastered Adobe Illustrator, which I used for my illustrations.”
To students who want to build a career in art, Kaur says: “You have to work tirelessly. Sure you don’t get paid for a while. But work anyway. The tangible things will come. Trust me, there is nothing more liberating and freeing than being able to do what you love. Everything worth doing is difficult. So keep doing it.”
This is such a thoughtful reflection on first year, choices, and how to make the most of it all, that I really can’t think of anything to add. As soon as you read on, you’ll understand how lucky we are that Trenton elected to study English at UWaterloo.–JLH
JLH: What made you chose English at UWaterloo?
TM: Well, choosing a university and choosing English were actually two very different decisions for me. I think back then I knew that I wanted to do English, but finding a school that catered to my needs came first. Of all the schools I applied to, UWaterloo was the only one that really stuck out in my mind: it was recommended by some of my closest friends, and it was far enough away that I could live in residence, but still go home occasionally. When I toured the campus, there was something that set it apart from the other schools I’d seen – it felt familiar, like I could be comfortable there. That was really important to me.
I think more than anything, though, my choice was a result of the flexibility UWaterloo allows its students. The Honours Arts program, which I applied under, allowed me the freedom to pick and choose my courses for first year. I could shop around, test the waters, all without feeling tied down to any one decision. But my experiences throughout that first term really reminded me why, more than any other subject, English was what I was passionate about. The university atmosphere was intimidating, sure, but my professors really made me feel like I fit in. Like I was getting it, so to speak. It didn’t take long for me to be sure of my decision.
JLH: You’ve expressed an interest in co-op. What makes that particularly appealing? Have you started looking at the on-campus resources?
TM: Co-op was definitely an influence in my choice of school. A huge influence, actually. I knew Waterloo was famous for co-op, but I was actually really surprised to find that the program accommodated for English. As far as I can tell, UWaterloo is the only university to offer that type of comprehensive experience for English majors. It alleviated my main concern about university – that after four years I would walk out of school with no practical experience, holding a degree that, while personally significant to me, wouldn’t be as appealing to employers. While I now see just how valuable an English degree can be, co-op did a lot to put those worries to rest. I’ll be able to get real, practical experience, and better understand how my skills in the classroom translate to those in the workplace. If I’m lucky, I’ll graduate with zero student debt. That’s an extremely liberating feeling.
As for the on-campus resources, I have checked out a few online, but as of yet I haven’t gotten in contact with my academic advisor. As I understand it though, I don’t have to worry about registering until the end of this term. I can just focus on my schoolwork for now, and let future-me deal with it. Good luck, future-me.
JLH: Did anything surprise you in your first semester? Reflecting on it, are there things you might have done differently?
TM: I tried not to have any expectations going in, but on reflection it’s really striking just how different university and high school can be – at least in terms of personal responsibility. Sure, we still go to class, we listen, we take notes. But because of the smaller, much more personal environment of high school, there’s a greater obligation to actually do these things. You feel present, like you’re a part of your education. The constant back and forth between students and teachers and peers means that even if you fall behind someone notices.
That’s not the case with university – at least when you’re starting out. I remember walking into Psych 101 on the first day of class and being completely overwhelmed by the size, the noise, the rows upon rows of people. I didn’t feel like a part of that class – I felt like a spectator. Because of this disconnect, it was an uphill battle not to brush off assignments or miss a class here or there. If I did, no one would care. I wouldn’t feel the consequences of my mistake for weeks, maybe even months. If I were to do it all over again, I actually wouldn’t change that experience. It taught me that I can’t ever just scrape by – that with university you get out exactly what you put in.
The same thing applies outside the classroom as well. University lends you more freedom, sure, but it also demands a greater degree of proactivity. Unlike high school, you can’t just fall into friends by virtue of seeing them five times a week – you have to go to clubs, study groups, events on campus. If you don’t, you’re not going to make friends, and you run the danger of going through the day without saying a single word. Unfortunately, I speak from experience. So that’s the one thing I would change.
JLH: Are you mapping out your future courses or specializations?
TM: I don’t know if I’m definitively mapping things out (as a general rule I try not to), but there are quite a few English courses that really cater to what I’m passionate about. Popular Potter, Science Fiction, Creative Writing, and Game Studies are just a few that stand out to me – particularly the last one.
Plain and simple, I love video games. I know a lot of people like to brush them off as either juvenile or lacking in substance, but I honestly believe they have the potential to be even more compelling than books and movies – especially because they combine aspects of both. Through narrative, lore, and player choice, games have the ability to immerse players in a world like no other medium can. It’s why, of all the specializations offered by the English Department, Digital Media Studies, really stands out to me as one worth pursuing. It’s something I think I’ll always be excited about.
JLH: Finally, what words of advice might you have for other first year students?
TM: I’m probably the least qualified person to give advice, but if I had to do so, it would be this:
You’re not going to be your best, and that’s okay.
The thing with university, and I guess life in general, is that at some point you’re going to feel like you’re not good enough. Going from high school to university is a big change – you’re surrounded by people just as competent and passionate as you are. It’s intimidating, and you’re going to feel that. Be it failing an exam, handing in a poor assignment, or simply feeling out of place – it will happen. When it does, you can’t afford to beat yourself up over it. The only thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. Try to do better. Be better.
When I asked first-year English student Hanna Colbert if she was willing to be interviewed for Words in Place, I had no idea that she was already blogging on behalf of the university, or had previously contributed to the Ottawa Citizen. Not that knowing these things would have raised my expectations any higher: Hanna had already distinguished herself as a fantastic writer and thinker in English 101. Thank you to Hanna for participating.–JLH
JLH: What made you choose UWaterloo?
HC: I get asked that quite a lot! When I tell people that I’m from Ottawa, they’re often confused as to why I chose UWaterloo – a university so well known for its science, engineering, and mathematics programs – to study English and Psychology. It wasn’t an easy choice, especially since I’m pretty family-oriented, but two main selling points for me were: 1) Waterloo’s co-op program; and 2) its flexible programs. Finding ways to make my degree marketable after graduation was high on my priority list when looking at prospective universities, and it’s pretty rare to find co-op offered so widely at a university, especially in Arts programs. So that impressed me right off the bat. Waterloo also has a very open-minded approach to degree programs. I knew I wanted to continue with both English and Psychology, and while it seemed like it might be overly complicated at other universities, Waterloo assured me that it was not only doable, but also a very common choice for students here. The March Break Open House sealed the deal – every student I met, from the Residence Ambassador giving me my tour to the department representatives, seemed humble, hardworking, and accepting. It was definitely refreshing.
JLH: You’ve been blogging for the university: can you talk a bit about that?
HC: Students in our year have a Facebook group where we share events, ask questions, verify deadlines, and so on. It’s been running since summer of 2015, and around mid-summer I saw a post from the Marketing and Undergraduate Recruitment Office looking for student bloggers. The main requirement was that you liked to write, which I do. Plus, I thought it might be a good way to get the ball rolling with extra-curricular activities. So far, I’ve really enjoyed it: I love answering questions from potential students, especially now that Tumblr (the blogging website/platform I chose) has upgraded their “private message” options. My early posts were quite long and “list”-y, and although I do enjoy that style, I’m hoping to mix it up in the New Year with shorter, more accessible posts, in addition to the longer, “advice column”-like posts (because from feedback I know many people do find those helpful).
JLH: Has anything surprised you about UW or your courses?
HC: Regarding English, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn about the different “specializations,” if you will, that one can choose from when declaring a major – things like Digital Media Studies or Professional Writing and Rhetoric. I love the fast pace of university courses in general. With my psychology courses, I’ve been very impressed with the integrative approach to course material. Because there’s so much going on research-wise at UW, the studies in which you’re required to participate for course credit often correlate with content covered in class. It’s incredibly interesting.
JLH: Are you already thinking ahead to career options?
HC: Definitely! As I said, English and psychology are my two loves, so I hope to work in both of those fields at various points in my life. Within the next couple of years, thinking in the realm of co-op jobs, I’d love to do some editing or technical writing. However, my eventual goal is to go into therapy work, which will require me to pursue further education in psychology at the graduate level (I’ll have to decide between sticking with just a Master’s, or going for my Ph. D. as well). Mental Health is an area I’ve been really passionate about for a while now, and the amazing things I’m learning in my classes right now reassure me that I made the right decision where majors are concerned.
JLH: Finally, did you read anything for fun over the December break?
HC: This winter break, I was lucky enough to be able to read Wally Lamb’s beautifully written I Know This Much Is True. It’s a whopping 800-something pager with a lot to say about forgiveness and connecting with an inner sort of “spirituality”, whatever that means to you. Lamb is a really nuanced writer, and he handles heavy subjects with humour and admirable frankness. When I have some time for pleasure reading this semester, I also plan to read Lamb’s debut novel, She’s Come Undone. If the reviews are any hint of what’s to come, I’ll end up loving that one as well!