Name: Angela Nixon
College & Majors/Minors: Clemson University, Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in technical writing (1999); also earned a Master of Arts in Professional Communication from Clemson in 2001
Current Location: Live in Seneca, SC; work in Clemson, SC
Current Form of Employment: Speechwriter
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work at Clemson University as the speechwriter for the university president. I also assist the president’s office with other communication needs, such as correspondence.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first “real” job out of graduate school was at Clemson in the Media Relations office. I was finishing up graduate school and had been applying for jobs for months, mostly looking at technical writing jobs (because that’s what I thought I wanted to do at the time). I was not having any luck at all with it and was getting really discouraged. I saw that the university’s media relations office was hiring someone to do media relations/PR work for the Division of Student Affairs. It wasn’t what I envisioned myself doing forever, and I really never planned to stay at Clemson after graduation, but I decided to apply. I got the job, mostly based on my knowledge and familiarity with the university and the fact that as an undergraduate, I had held two internships at a newspaper as a reporter. They were looking for someone who could write press releases in the style of news stories, so it was really the newspaper internships that got my foot in the door.
My current job as the president’s speechwriter happened fairly recently, in January 2015. Our president came to Clemson in 2014. The speechwriter for the previous president was retiring, so there was an opening to fill, and a need to get it filled quickly, as the president has a LOT of speaking engagements. I expressed an interest in the position and before I knew it, I had been promoted into the job. It was really important to have someone in this position who knows Clemson University backwards and forwards, especially since our president was relatively new. After being a student here and then an employee for nearly 14 years, my institutional knowledge, combined with my abilities as a writer, were what helped me get the job.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I mentioned it in my previous answer, but my internships at my local newspaper were definitely important in my career. I think it is safe to say that I never would have been hired to work in Clemson’s Media Relations office without that experience. The summer of my junior year in college I got an internship with my hometown newspaper, The Index-Journal, in Greenwood, SC. It is a daily paper, but it is a small daily, so the interns are treated like normal staff reporters. I was assigned a beat to cover and I was out there every day finding stories, interviewing people, writing stories, just like the full-time staff. It definitely was not an internship that involved making copies or getting people coffee. I was filing multiple stories a day, as well as taking photos for my stories, as the paper did not have a staff photographer at that time. (I also learned how to develop film, as this was in the dark ages of 1998, before digital photography was common.)
The summer after I graduated, I interned at the same newspaper, but this time I was in the sports department, an experience that allowed me to add skills such as “keeping box scores for baseball” to my resume. Those two internships taught me so much about working under constant deadlines, how to interview people, how to find stories and pitch them to an editor, dealing with confrontational people (because not every news story is positive, of course, and not everyone wants to be interviewed), and lots of other great skills, in addition to developing my writing skills. Just as importantly, those internship experiences taught me that I did NOT want a career in journalism. Sometimes internships are valuable because they help you figure out what you don’t want to do with your career.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
This one is a little difficult for me, simply because I don’t remember doing anything special to prepare for life after college. I did the internships that I mentioned above, I worked hard in my classes, and I also was involved in one student organization at Clemson — Central Spirit, which is like Clemson’s version of a “pep club” to support athletics. I became president of Central Spirit my senior year, which gave me a taste of leadership experience, and it allowed me to interact with university staff members and administrators more than most students probably do. It was a valuable experience for me. But my “post-grad life” consisted of immediately going to graduate school, which was always my plan, so I didn’t feel like I needed to do much to really prepare for it.
I will say this — graduate school was a completely different experience than being an undergraduate. My master’s program is also housed in the English Department at Clemson, so I figured it would be something of an extension of my undergraduate experience. I was so wrong. The level of rigor and sheer amount of work involved in graduate school was so much higher than it was for me as an undergraduate, and that was something I was not prepared for at all. I had a very difficult time adjusting to the workload and having a graduate assistantship at the same time. It was very overwhelming for me. I also did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my master’s degree, so I felt a bit rudderless at times, which didn’t help. I was putting in all of this work, but I wasn’t sure what the end result would be. Looking back, I should have done more research on graduate degrees, both the requirements to earn a degree and which degree I really wanted. I don’t regret going to graduate school, I just wish I had been better prepared for it.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
My number one piece of advice for English majors or recent graduates is this: don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you cannot find a job with an English degree. Don’t get discouraged. The communication and critical thinking skills you are honing right now are so important, and critical thinking is a topic that is sorely lacking in a lot of disciplines right now. That’s what you’re learning, and it is something that employers do value.
My other piece of advice is to keep an open mind about your career path and be willing to try things that may not be exactly in line with what you think you want to do. My original goal when I changed my major to English (I started out as a biology major, if you can believe that) was to become a technical writer. Looking back, I’m not sure why I chose that career path, but that’s what I wanted at the time. I minored in it, and I thought I had chosen a graduate program that would lend itself to a career in technical writing. But when I had an opportunity to intern at the newspaper, I decided to do it, just to try something new and to have some kind of relevant work experience for my resume. It wasn’t my dream job by a long shot, but it gave me the experience I needed to get a job after graduate school. I never envisioned myself in a public relations kind of job, and I certainly NEVER thought I would be writing speeches for the president of a major university, but I have loved my career so far, and now I can’t imagine being happy as a technical writer. Had I not tried those internships in journalism, though, none of it ever would have happened, and who knows where I would have ended up? So my advice is to not limit yourself to one specific career path and to be open to new experiences … because you never know where those other paths might lead.