M.A. in English, 2014
Any other degrees:
B.A. in English from Carson-Newman University, 2012
MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina
Favorite memories of being a graduate English major:
There was a group in Mike Kardos’s fiction class that went out to dinner at Zorba’s every Wednesday night after workshop. We had such a great group of writers and friends in that class, across both undergrad/grad levels, and I am still in touch with most of them. Those were some of my favorite nights!
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
During my time as a TA in the program, I decided I wanted to pursue a teaching career, believing (very naively!) this would also give me time to work on my fiction writing. (Reader, it did not.) My first job after graduation was teaching First and Third Year Writing at Belmont University in Nashville. I then taught in the English and Creative Writing departments at the University of North Carolina Wilmington for 4.5 years before returning to teach at MSU for a year and a half. During my time at UNCW, I worked in several editorial positions for Ecotone magazine and developed a deeper love for editing and an interest in the publishing industry. My hope was to eventually find a university teaching position that also managed a literary magazine publication. The market for these positions is so competitive without a published book, and the volume of classes I was teaching made finishing my creative projects difficult. A former student shared with me an opening at the fintech company she’d just joined, and I started there first as a technical writer, then moved into my current position of Communication Specialist.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
I work for a banking software company called nCino as their Communication Specialist. I’m responsible for all internal company communications, curating articles for our Newsroom, executive bylines, and editing for several other departments within the company. Currently, workdays primarily consist of creating external customer-facing content and communications, working with other departments on internal company communications, researching industry trends, and creating employer branding content. My team does a lot of proofreading and editing for other departments: signage and Powerpoint presentations for conferences, emails sent out from other teams, customer spotlight stories, website content, recruiting materials—basically, if a department needs something proofread or line-edited, it goes through my team. I also support some of our social media, conferences, and events. My position is housed in our marketing department under our Content and Communications team.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
Everyone on my team was an English and/or Creative Writing major, and the skills acquired through those degrees are so important for our jobs. I think a lot about the Basic Composition class I first taught at State: while I knew how to catch and correct errors, I couldn’t explain the actual rules very well until I had to to teach that class. That understanding of language on a line level has been crucial to this position, as I sometimes have to explain to a writer why I’m making certain corrections and the proper use case. Close reading skills have been essential as I consider elements of a communication, the implications of word choices, the tone, the audience, and so forth. A lot of the questions we probe our students to answer in Comp classes or were asked to consider in our own classes are the same questions I ask myself now before approaching a written communication. Tutoring in the Writing Center at State also helped inform how I give feedback and help writers emphasize their points. There are cases where my job is simply to fix grammar and punctuation without further comment, but there are also scenarios where my team works with other employees on their own writing, and I sometimes call back some of those tutoring questions and spin them with a marketing goal. My manager often says the root of our job is telling stories—and while they aren’t fiction (like the novels we’re both working on!), we can apply so many techniques we learned in fiction workshops to marketing strategies. We’re telling customers stories about our product and why their bank would benefit from our solutions. We frame things in creative writing contexts often, and our backgrounds in language and stories is why I believe our communications team is so successful.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
A large part of my portfolio I submitted for my current position consisted of work I completed for literary magazines, namely Ecotone magazine. During my time with Ecotone, I worked with writers on both fiction and nonfiction pieces at the developmental level, proofread entire issues for correctness, ran social media accounts, assisted in marketing efforts, and represented the magazine at conferences. These skills supplemented the writing and language skills I gained in my MA at MSU, as I was able to demonstrate the editing training I’d received there and my ability to edit at various levels, depending on the needs of the work.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
I am an English and Creative Writing major who works for a fintech company selling banking software, and I don’t know that much about technology or finances. I’m learning a lot about banking and the solutions we offer, but the truth is I don’t have to know that much about banking or software to be successful in my position. What I do have to know is how to fix sentences and communicate effectively. For years, I thought all I could do was teach. I was convinced that my skills only fit into this one box. When I looked at the job description for my current employer, I thought, “Well I can’t do that. I don’t know anything about software or banking.” But when I broke down the requirements and the skills they wanted, I realized I did have all of those skills, and I gained them being an English major and teaching English classes. So many of my coworkers who ask for my help with something they’re writing say they struggle with writing and making it sound “pretty.” Our skills as writers and as lovers of the English language translate across so many industries and career paths, and they’re skills not everyone has. No matter what the company is or what they do, they need someone to edit, to communicate effectively, and to tell their stories.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
I love getting to spend my days fixing sentences and correcting capitalization and lamenting with my team that while we love the Oxford comma, we can’t use it with our AP style requirement! I spent years pouring over students’ stories, and while I loved teaching those creative writing classes, it sometimes drained my creative energy, too—like I spent so much time thinking about their stories, I didn’t have room in my head for my own. Getting to think about the things I love (language, writing, stories, editing) in a context that isn’t reading literature or writing short stories has actually improved my personal writing and reading life. For me, there was a lot of pressure on publishing because it was part of moving up the academic ladder, and while that works well for some, it didn’t for me. A career in editing through marketing and communications has helped me approach my own work with a different clarity and mental space. I work with so many different people who have so many different skill sets, and I think that’s actually helped improve my writing and creativity.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
I loved every year I spent teaching, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. If teaching is where your heart is, do that—but also be aware of how brutal the adjunct world is, how long many stay in those positions without promotion, and how hard full-time positions can be to find. I stayed in academia for as long as I did because I was convinced my skills didn’t translate and that I couldn’t do anything else even if I wanted to. Be creative in how you spin your skills and translate those experiences in a job interview or on a resume/CV. The skills we learn in this program are invaluable, and they can open so many doors if you’re also open. If you’re a creative writer, learn what works best for your work—maybe that’s being immersed in an environment with other writers, and maybe it’s not having craft consume your profession as well as your personal writing hours. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and there are so many ways to apply reading and writing skills than you might think—you mind find yourself in an odd, unexpected, wonderful place, like a marketing department selling banking software!
Updated August 2022