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Are There Research-Related Opportunities for English Majors?

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by English majors Brooke Elkjer and Katie DiFrancesco in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered



You might not think of English literature right away when you think about college research projects. It’s not as though English students are performing scientific experiments, after all. But the discipline does do interesting research work. For example, professors are examining and reexamining classic works constantly to figure out how best to analyze them. This article will show you how to get involved in English research and what exactly literature scholars look to study.


Working with Professors


Just like biology professors need assistants for lab work, English professors look for assistants to help with their research. Most often, students interested in English research reach out to their instructors directly to see if they’re working on anything that requires assistance.


The University of Southern California, for example, offers programs called Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) and Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF). You can apply to these and get grant money to assist a professor with their research. You’ll learn as you work and receive an income. 


If you are fond of a professor or class, you can approach that instructor and ask them if they’re looking for student researchers. If they say yes, you can apply for those grants. It’s probably best suited to summer work than during the semester, as it can be quite intensive. It should feel exciting to do that kind of in-depth reading, especially in a subject that you’re passionate about and may not have had the chance to explore fully.



English research isn’t like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research. Instead of working in a laboratory, observing experiments, and recording data, you’ll be doing a deep dive into different literature. You’ll probably end up reading a good deal of literary theory too. 


English professors working on independent research often end up developing their own theories. These can be used to analyze and provide a new lens on works of literature. You can think of these as a type of theme—they’ll look at important texts and try to come up with a new way to think about them or make new points about what they’re saying. 


If you’re just applying to college, it can be difficult to understand exactly what this means. As you move through an English major, your analytical skills will develop and deepen.


A good example would be Judith Butler’s work on gender as performance. A research project may apply that concept to a work like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, where there are many characters who dress up as different genders, and conflicts happen as a result. You would then take Butler’s theories of gender to see how the characters are performing these roles and how those theories contribute to the overall narrative. This kind of research involves shedding a different light on classic literature.


Writing Programs


At the University of Pennsylvania, there are a fair number of scholarships that enable students to do independent research. Many of these scholarships and research grants go toward the Kelly Writers House.


The Kelly Writers House is a physical space on campus (essentially a center) where you can find writing activities and coursework. Most writing classes take place there. There’s also a radio program, poetry readings, and other speaker events. Funding is provided if you would like to create a piece of writing—an article, essay, or work of fiction—that you would then present to some of your peers.


Travel stipends are also given out, so you could travel nationally or internationally to do whatever work your research entails. It’s mostly self-directed, so you’ll have a great deal of freedom in whatever you choose to pursue. If you’re interested in research that would involve creative writing, you might want to look at this program, as it could be a good fit for you.