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Q & A with Former English Majors
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John Gray is an associate producer on Deadliest Catch, a Discovery Channel documentary series.
Lilith Marcus is an editorial assistant for Beliefnet.com.
Maryelien Goodman is a manager at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a facility for abused and neglected children.
Richard Strattner runs the advising program for postsecondary students at a major educational services firm.
Stephanie Durrell is the director of Mad Science, an international franchise specializing in science "edu–tainment" for elementary–aged children.
What skills or information learned in college do you make the most use of?
John: Whether it's an e–mail, a screenplay, or a note to a colleague, I utilize the written word each and every day. College is where I learned how to write clearly and directly and where I learned how to tell stories.
Lilith: All those papers I had to write helped me to argue points in the "real world." I'm very confident when pitching a story idea because I can provide good arguments for why it would make a good piece.
Maryelien: The ability to communicate is probably the most useful thing I learned from college. Of course, most of the population can speak, and some majority can write. However, there is a difference between that and effective communication, in which every word is measured and chosen for the effect it will have.
Richard: The ability to think critically and the ability to act despite a measure of uncertainty.
How did you decide which field to go into?
John: I tried the journalism route for a while, but I found it a little too creatively stifling. I decided to make a go at screenwriting because: a) I love movies; b) I love television; c) I love stories; and d) after living in Los Angeles for six years, I had enough connections to help me get started.
Lilith: I always knew that I wanted to write. Writing about religion and spirituality, something I care a lot about, is ideal for me.
Maryelien: I did a year of volunteer work after graduation, partly because I wanted to "give back" and partly because I didn't know what else to do. I realized that it was actually a field that I was genuinely passionate about and wanted to pursue.
Richard: I spoke with as many people as would speak to me about their jobs. And then I took a look around and determined where I could actually get a job.
Stephanie: My current job managed to find me. It started out as a fun weekend gig to pick up some spare cash, but it pointed out to me how much I did not enjoy my day job. None of the jobs I was applying for held a candle to my "filler" job, and when the opportunity to join full-time arose, I was thrilled.
What is the number-one piece of advice you wish you were given before you entered the job market?
John: I wish someone had told me that you should only take the job that's in the field you truly want to be involved in. The money will come, the position will come, but the longer you put off following your dreams, the longer it will take to fulfill them.
Lilith: Send out resumes everywhere. Apply for jobs you don't think you're qualified for. Apply for jobs that are only loosely connected to what you want to do. You should never rule out a possibility.
Maryelien: Nobody graduates from college and immediately knows how to be an adult. It's okay to still ask questions and it's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.
Richard: Relax. The vast majority of people will hold more than one job for more than one company before they retire. Knowing that, take the opportunity to enjoy each job for what it is and for what it may be able to teach you.
Stephanie: Be aggressive. Brag about yourself and be yourself. The more enthusiastic you are about getting the job, the more enthusiastic you will be when it comes to doing it!
What was your first job out of college?
John: My first paying job out of college was working behind the deli counter at a supermarket in Santa Monica, California. I learned how to cut prosciutto very, very thin. I found the job by eating at the deli; the "help wanted" sign was hanging in the window.
Lilith: I did French/English translation for an artist who needed help putting together his portfolio. I found it on Craigslist.
Maryelien: My first job was a volunteer year working at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a residential treatment facility for teenagers in Chicago.
Richard: My first job out of college was working in public relations for a small firm. I found that job by going through the phone book, calling every PR agency listed, and agreeing to work for peanuts.
Stephanie: I worked in a customer call center for the Coca Cola Company. I had a friend who worked there.
If you went straight into the workforce after college, do you wish you had attended graduate school first? If you went to grad school, do you wish you had worked first?
John: I don't have plans to attend graduate school anytime soon. In a field like English, in my opinion, the only reason to go to grad school is if you want to be a teacher, and I'm not ready to be a teacher. Yet.
Lilith: I went into the workforce immediately after graduating. I often wished that I had gone to graduate school, because I missed the lifestyle of college. Now though, I feel like going back to school would kill the momentum I've started to pick up in my career.
Maryelien: I am planning to go back to get my master's in social work after finishing my third year at Mercy Home. I can't imagine going to school without the experience and knowledge that I have gained from spending some time in the field.
Richard: I worked for 7 years before attending graduate school and if I were to do it again, I would do it exactly the same way. The range of professional experience, as well as the opportunity to work outside the U.S. for several years, helped me apply a real-world perspective to the academic subjects being covered.
Stephanie: I am glad I went directly to grad school because I knew what degree I wanted to pursue.
What do you like most about your current role?
John: I love that I get to immerse myself inside someone else's life and imbed myself inside an entirely foreign environment.
Lilith: I like getting to write on a regular basis. In the past few weeks alone I have worked on stories about prominent atheists in America, a reality show about gay Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jon Stewart. My job is never boring.
Maryelien:: I am outside of my comfort zone and always learning something new. I am also in constant interaction with different people and always hearing their stories, which I find fascinating.
Richard: The knowledge that my job creates opportunities for high school students makes even the most mundane activities worthwhile.
Stephanie: I love making an impact on the children we work with. Getting them interested in science keeps them involved and interested in school.
What suggestions do you have for English majors still in college?
John: My biggest suggestion is to figure out what it is that makes you the happiest, whether that be writing, baseball, economics, engineering, playing the guitar–just go for it. Don't get into something because you think it's what you should be doing. Get into something because you love it and because without it life feels a little empty.
Lilith: Even if you only work ten hours a week, having a job is a way to remind yourself that a world exists apart from your university. I think too many college students are isolated from non–academic life.
Richard: If at all possible, study abroad and take courses unrelated to what you think you will do when you grow up. Everything you do after undergrad will be targeted.
Stephanie: Get to know your professors and keep in touch with them–they are people too, not just authority figures.
Do you have any tips for those entering the workforce/graduate school now?
John: Start networking early. Meet some people, make some phone calls, shoot off some e–mails, and get your network going early, because the people you meet are going to help you somewhere down the line, without a doubt.
Lilith: Learn to write a really great resume. Figure out a way to get health insurance while you're looking for a job.
Maryelien: Be open to going outside of your comfort zone and trying something different, because you never know what career path and passion you may inadvertently stumble upon.
Richard: Know why you are going to graduate school. Many people take a graduate degree as a function of not knowing what to do next. It is an expensive and time–consuming endeavor, and you should not undertake it frivolously.
Stephanie: Get to know the people you are looking to work with, not just the job.