Catherine Roberts graduated from The University of Tulsa in 2012 with a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in economics. Following her studies, Roberts spent a year working as a news reporter for Public Radio Tulsa. This experience helped to whet Roberts’ appetite for journalism, and in 2014 she enrolled at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. She graduated from there with an MA in journalism in 2015.
Roberts currently lives in Queens, New York, where she is a health journalist at Consumer Reports. For both the magazine and the website, Roberts covers a wide range of health-related topics, such as infectious diseases and environmental health. She is currently working on an article related to pesticides, for which she had to conduct a large amount of research. “I wasn’t convinced at the time,” Roberts noted, “but now I know that writing all those research essays during my undergraduate days at TU has really paid off!”
Roberts recently sat down with us to reflect on her time at TU and offer advice to those who are studying English.
What is your favorite memory from your time studying English at TU?
I have several. I had so many good professors and classes and I had the chance to read a lot of things I wouldn’t have otherwise read.
One of the things I appreciate the most is when, during my sophomore year, I took the first half of the British literature survey course with Professor Lars Engle, where we read Twelfth Night. In class, he would have us act out parts of it, and he assigned me to the group that was doing one of the scenes where Viola is pretending to be a man and telling Orsino what he should say to the girl he is trying to woo. I got to be Viola in that part, which was really fun.
Later, during my senior year, I took Professor Engle’s Shakespeare course, and we read Twelfth Night again. I’m sure he doesn’t remember this and didn’t realize it at the time, but he assigned me the same part, so I got to play Viola twice in the same scene! I remember realizing at the time that I really understood that part more, so I felt like I really had a handle on it.
Do you have any advice for students currently studying or looking to study English?
I would say don’t be afraid of it. I think that people always wonder, “What do you do with an English major?” I would just tell people not to be afraid of the uncertainty, because there are so many things you can do that require writing, the ability to look through and analyze evidence, and the ability synthesize material into original thoughts. I think those are such important skills. And if you really like books, and if you want to spend four years reading books, then you should definitely do it!
What was your favorite book/story you read during your time as an undergraduate at TU?
This is such a hard one. I do appreciate the Shakespeare class I went through with Professor Engle, particularly because it included a number of history plays, which I never would have read on my own. That was interesting.
Another one I really ended up appreciating, not as much at the time but later when I reread it, was At Play in the Fields of the Lord, by Peter Matthiessen. I really love that book and then I ended up reading his magnum opus Shadow Country, which I probably would have never picked up if I hadn’t known about him. I read that with Professor James Watson.
In one of my classes with Professor Diane Burton, which was all about Bohemianism and the Bloomsbury movement in England and the 1960s counterculture in the United States, we read The Hotel in New Hampshire, by John Irving. Professor Burton later said she didn’t know why she added that book to the course. But I really loved that book, and I ended up writing about another John Irving novel in my senior thesis.
Do you have any advice for someone looking for a career after graduating with an English degree?
I always will put in a plug for journalism. I’m not, however, a naturally outgoing person and part of journalism is having the ability to call strangers and talk to them. I think I’m probably not the only English major who is nervous and shy around people!
The great thing about journalism, though, is it gives you a really good excuse to talk to others, whereas if you’re in a casual situation where you’re trying to make friends, it’s really hard to figure out how to strike up a conversation. But if you call someone up and, for example, tell them you need to ask them about a study they wrote about genetic testing, then it’s a super interesting thing to talk about and a natural reason to get to know somebody and listen to all the things they have to say.
I think people who tend to read books are people with a lot of curiosity, and that works really well with journalism. I’ll always recommend that as a possible career.
What was your favorite English class at TU?
It was another class by Professor Burton. She taught a course called “The Twentieth-Century Condition-of-England Novel,” which was based on the idea that people like Charles Dickens were writing condition-of-England novels in the nineteenth century. For example, Dickens wrote about child labor, so she took that idea into the twentieth century.
We read all these books about modern English life. It was fascinating. I recently reread Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay and realized I hadn’t fully appreciated it when I read it in Professor Burton’s course. I feel like I talk about that course more than any other when the topic comes up! I still think about that course a lot and the books we read. Dr. Burton was so great too. She’s just a really fabulous teacher and lovely person.