Name: Ashley Sapp
College & Majors/Minors: B.A. in English Language and Literature, cognate in Linguistics from University of South Carolina
Current Location: Columbia, SC
Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer/Editor and Administrative Coordinator
Where do you work and what is your current position?
My current position is as an administrative coordinator within the Cardiovascular Translational Research Center at USC School of Medicine. I handle a variety of tasks depending on what our team’s Director needs that day, but a large portion of my job involves manuscript management, as he is on the editorial board of numerous peer-review journals. Further, he is quite the writer himself with many publications under his belt, so I help with the proofreading, editing, and formatting of those before the submission process. This particular task set extends into the writing of his grants, as well. Thankfully, there are calculators for the number portion of that because words are about as skilled as I get. Outside of USC, I do freelance work as a writer, blogger, and occasional editor.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first job after college was at a small medical practice of orthopedic surgeons. A friend of mine was working with a physician there, and when she learned that the Research Director needed someone to help with manuscript writing and editing, she passed along my name. It was a part-time gig, but I learned quickly that I enjoyed medical editing. I had always figured my life would contain words, but it was not until my first job that I realized I quite enjoyed reading other people’s work and providing insight where I could. It then becomes a team effort in creating something worthwhile, and that was a rewarding experience for me.
Later, I found myself in a retail position since I needed something that paid more while recovering from a spinal surgery. In the process, I eventually lost sight of what I truly wanted my career to look like. Getting back on my feet both metaphorically and literally meant taking strides in changing where I was. It was slow going for a while because I felt I was chasing a pipe dream—I was questioning my choices, and I found myself believing that I was facing a dead-end before the age of 25. I was on disability from my retail job while recovering from the surgery, paying student loans for a degree I was not using, and spending my sudden plethora of free time in bed thinking about how I haven’t written anything in ages but still feeling too afraid to pick up a pen. I was in pain, physically and mentally, and thus felt drained and defeated.
Towards the end of my disability leave, I dreaded returning to a job I knew was not truly for me. It was a bit of a wake-up call, a moment of clarity after having spent so much time alone with my thoughts and self-doubt. If I wanted my life to change, I had to start somewhere, and I alone had to make it happen. Thus, I began looking into jobs at my university and within my town for anything to do with publishing or writing. I began applying for internships as well because I figured I could continue with a retail position if I was at least building experience in something I enjoyed and went to school for. Many resumes and applications later, I accepted the position I have now. The search began with me asking myself, “What do I want?” and “How am I going to get it?”
How do you find your freelance gigs?
I recently filled out profiles on sites like Elance and really started to apply for offered jobs through them. I have done a lot of guest blogging and guest articles for various online sites as well, which has helped in getting my name out there as a credible source. Sometimes I am asked to proofread or write for others and thus the opportunity comes to me on its own, but most of the time, at least at the stage I am currently in, I have to reach out whether by submitting a proposal for a job or showcasing my portfolio.
Particularly for my writing, blogging has become a major part of networking with other companies and writers. In fact, through blogging is how I met the ladies who run The Indie Chicks; thus, I had my first print article published in the second issue of their magazine, Indie Chick. I have gotten the chance to collaborate with many talented and inspiring people because I started blogging, reading, and commenting on other people’s work. Eventually, they began to do the same for me and suddenly it started to feel as though I had something worthwhile to say (who knew?). So we write, discuss, and share our love for the craft while simultaneously building our expertise. Without really realizing it, blogging and guest blogging became an experience-building way of writing for me. I have to lend credit to the blogosphere quite a bit for aiding me in taking myself seriously as a writer and also providing so many opportunities I never knew had existed before I created my first Wordpress site.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
In some ways, there is not a complete way to prepare for post-grad life as the experience can vary from one individual to the next. But we all have to start somewhere, and very often, that somewhere involves a bit of flailing in the beginning. What proved to be helpful for me was getting to know what opportunities existed in my town and what I could do to better prepare myself for them.
Post-grads often get stuck in this limbo of being a novice with a degree whereas employers are seeking people with a degree but with experience. I worked on my university’s literary magazine in order to help build towards a better understanding of the way publications work, as one example. Though it was not actual job experience, it was experience nonetheless–something the employers I interviewed with seemed to take notice of. My current boss commented, “You’re green but dedicated.” Taking the time to research your interests, to teach yourself the things you're unfamiliar with, and to put in the effort for both your life and career not only demonstrates passion within your interviews with potential employers, but it also helps to ease your way into post-grad life in general.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
There are a lot of people out there who believe an English degree is useless for a number of reasons. I suppose it is because there is this stereotype that all we do is cuddle with said degree, comforting ourselves while clutching it tightly, repeating to ourselves lines of Jane Austen or Shakespeare or a Bronte sister, while sitting alone in our parents’ basement with no job offer in sight. Sure, a love of literature is often involved in our choice of degree, but anyone who truly thinks an English degree is impractical has not really thought about language itself: any set or system of symbols used in a more or less uniform fashion by a number of people, who are thus enabled to communicate intelligibly with one another. Without that, where would any of us be? So my advice to those of you facing naysayers (including yourself at times) is to continue believing in your path and your abilities because without you, without someone who has a love and understanding of words, communication would begin to break down. Whether you decide to teach and pass along how we use this beautiful thing called language, or you dive into publishing, or you help others write, or perhaps you write yourself, or you understand how to deploy words into advertising, into journalism, into whatever the case may be – you are making a statement and an impact on how the rest of the world, through time or space, will understand us. I’d say that is worthwhile.
My last piece of advice would be to not give up, which sounds easy but usually is not. Post-grad life can be pretty grim, regardless of the degree you end up with, but some of that has nothing to do with what you spent your time in college studying. What you can do in the meantime, however, is hone your skills, remind yourself why you chose this path, and create work for yourself. When I initially worked retail, I would come home and journal because it kept the fire going in the pit of my stomach, the burn to wake up each day with the belief I would get to do what I love. Because sometimes it did not feel that way—sometimes life and employment and choices were all disheartening—but as long as I kept writing, kept reading, kept exploring, I was also giving myself another chance at another day.
Even after college is over, you can continue learning. A friend of mine sent me a quote that resonated with me by T.H. White:
“You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
I think it says quite a bit about us when we refuse to let fear or apathy or failure stop us from moving forward. We are naturally reluctant at times, fear the unknown, and yet once the change occurs – once we are falling and seem as though we are meeting our demise – we adapt rather quickly, develop wings, and rise again.