William Boles, professor of English
Interview by Emily Beardsley '10
Williams Boles began as an undergraduate with a major in math. In the second semester of his freshman year, however, he was asked to “prove” something in a math class, and decided the major wasn’t for him. Torn between a more conventional major in English and pursuing theater, he chose the English major with a minor in math, in no small part because his parents wouldn’t pay for a degree in drama. Ultimately, Boles was able to combine each of these three passions in his academic career: exploring the London theater scene as both an undergraduate and now with students as a professor, earning a master’s degree in dramatic literature, and publishing and teaching on drama in an English department.
Nothing is Easy
After earning his master’s degree, Boles moved to Washington, DC where he worked for a year in an advertising firm. At this point, Boles faced a professional crossroads: he could continue with a secure position in advertising or go back to graduate school. Boles recognized that if he didn’t make the decision to pursue the Ph.D. right then, he wouldn’t go at all. He made the hard choice—he left his job and got his doctoral degree.
In his advice to graduating students, Boles stressed the importance of building a resume while still an undergraduate, particularly through internships and work experience. He went on to give an example of two former students—one who has a lot of work experience and will most likely excel, and another who has recently graduated without much depth in her resume. The latter is currently having a difficult time finding work.
In a down economic market, graduate school is often seen as a safe haven for unsuccessful job seekers. Under these circumstances, distinguishing your application from the seemingly endless pool is particularly important. Boles reminded students that a letter of recommendation can mean very little and that most GRE scores are comparable. He asked, “What else does a graduate school have to look at?” pointing to the importance of the writing sample.