Researcher, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
Grad Year: 2004
Beyond the cliché
I'm glad I actually opened an alumni newsletter for once and stumbled across this interesting page from the English Department asking a question that has plagued mankind for centuries "What can I do with a degree in English?" Well, for one, you can research game show questions. That's what I do. I'm not kidding.
The most irritating and cliché response you'll get when you tell someone you are an English major is "What are you going to do with that? Be a teacher?". If you want to mess with them a little you can say that you were thinking about speaking English professionally or that you were going to become a professional book-reader. But in all seriousness, that person does not understand or value the merits of a degree in English. What he or she does not understand is the importance of being able to think critically and being able to express oneself clearly and concisely, not to mention the ability to read and process important information.
And what if you do want to be a teacher? So what? The world needs to educate the next young generation of leaders, doctors, business moguls and game show researchers. What most people do not know is how important language skills are to today's world. If you are thinking about going to law school, I cannot think of a better course of study to pursue than English. You will learn how to ask yourself tough questions and how to answer them logically. So, apparently I was learning when I was reading all those books and writing all those papers that I got Cs on.
In my opinion, English is the flagship of the classic liberal arts education. It creates the most versatile and well-rounded graduates because you are exposed to a number of different topics. You will be able to discuss science, politics, history, race relations, pretty much anything and at least sound like you know what you are talking about. And if you ever find yourself at a hoity-toity alumni function with other snobby Michigan alumni, you can regale the guests with anecdotes about the works of Don DeLillo, portrayals of Loki in Norse mythology or details from Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail".
Also, its fun. I took a Masters of American Comedy class my senior year. Every Tuesday we went to the Michigan Theatre to see Mel Brooks movies. During a summer session I took a class on Martin Scorsese. Statistics or Poli-Sci won't give you credit for that.
A different path
I felt compelled to include my story because it is fairly unusual. I just finished working on my first season as a researcher on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (yes, it's still on). I originally got into TV with the hopes of one day reaching the Promised Land that is "The Daily Show" or "The Simpsons". I started working as PA a few years ago for a production company that specializes in game shows. When it was time to move up they put me on as a researcher for one of their productions. I worked on a few other shows before I got the job with "Millionaire".
People always ask how we do it. "Do you guys just sit in a room and think up questions all day?" Well, we do. The writers come up with the ideas write the question then it is up to us to prove it. We have to evaluate each clue and fact in the question and verify that it is correct by backing it up with numerous news sources/articles, online encyclopedias, corporate and government websites and any books and texts we have on hand. Then we go through it to make sure none of the research conflicts and everything is worded and punctuated correctly. We also have to prove that the wrong answers are in fact, wrong. None of the other choices can possibly be construed as right. You would be surprised at how many questions need to be tweaked by re-wording or punctuation to make them 100% correct and playable on the show. Many of my research and critical thinking and reasoning skills can be traced back to my English classes.
The job is interesting because it is so unique in its ridiculousness. On an average day, you will find yourself researching the Muppets, Charles the Bald, Japan's space program, whatever the hell a philodox is and "The Hills". But the job can get a bit tedious when you are calling three different agencies to find out how to pronounce some jibberish in German*. The work is literally trivial so it can eat at your soul after a while.
However, I think I may have researched my last game show question. I want to move into the world of international relations. I'm hoping to get a job at the U.N. as an English language editor but it is really, really, really, really hard. I speak decent Spanish and am currently learning Arabic so hopefully that will come in handy. So, if you have any connections in that field who need a former game show researcher, let me know.
Why choose English?
As an English major you will write a lot and read even more. So if you don't like to write or can't read then it probably isn't a good fit. But, you will learn that you have a deeper appreciation for reading after you graduate. That is something that stays with you. I love to read and I read much more now than I ever did as a student. Also, writing has become one of my favorite hobbies.
Don't be afraid by what the uninformed have to say. The more you look into it and the more you read the various profiles, the more it will sound like a viable option. You can do anything with it. Plus, after you graduate you will learn that majors and GPAs don't really matter and that most people never use their major for anything anyway. So, you might as well choose a major you enjoy. Anyway, I hope this was of help. Good luck and Go Blue!
*Disclaimer: As part of my confidentiality agreement I cannot disclose any of the questions I worked on. These were made up topics designed to give you an idea of the range of questions that are used on the show. Any similarity to questions asked is purely coincidental.
Related Career FieldsTelevision/Entertainment/Media