Name: Ashley Hennefer Warren
College & Majors/Minors: University of Nevada, Reno B.A in English Literature with a minor in French, M.A in Literacy Studies, emphasis on Research/Information Science
Current Location: Reno, Nevada
Current Form of Employment: Full-time researcher and writer
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I’m the founder/lead researcher at Ashley Warren Research, where I research in a variety of ways. This includes doing research for novelists, helping beginner genealogists with their family history, writing reports for non-profits, and so on. I also create e-courses to help others learn how to research.
I'm also the researcher/technical writer for ShortStack.com, where I write white papers, conduct studies, facilitate usability tests, and create documentation. I’m kind of a researcher/writer-of-all-trades.
And when I have time, I’m a contributing writer to publications including the Reno News & Review, GOOD, and The Mary Sue. I absolutely love all of the work I do and feel lucky every day to be where I am.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first job was writing a column for a newspaper at 13 years old. I lived in a small town after growing up in the Bay Area, and I asked the local newspaper if I could write a teen column, and they said yes! Soon after that, they hired me on as a paid intern and staff writer, and I worked there until college (along with other odd jobs). My mom had always encouraged me to participate in writing and reading contests growing up, so I think by the time I was a teen, I was ready to start writing for the public. Being in a small town certainly helped get my foot in the door.
I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life so far; I think I always felt that if I were going to pursue something English-related long term, that I needed to be scrappy and get as much job experience as I could. Luckily, that has paid off.
I got my current job at ShortStack through a friend who knew I loved to write about and research social media-related topics (my Master’s thesis was about social media and activism). At the time, I was the director of curriculum for the Reno Collective, a coworking space.
Funny enough, the same day I got offered my job at ShortStack, I also got offered a job teaching English 101 at a local community college. So I did both for a while; I don’t think I’ve ever just had one job at a time in my whole life! But I love ShortStack and I’ve been here for more than two years. I also love teaching and try to do it whenever it fits into my schedule.
My research company, Ashley Warren Research, arose out of my desire to balance my technology-based research with literary-focused research. I feel like I now have the perfect balance of science and literature in my life.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
It’s so hard to pick just one! I’ve been fortunate that all of my major career jobs have been relevant to my degree. Aside from my current roles, which I love, I was the Special Projects Editor at the Reno News & Review and I was awarded Journalist of Merit in 2012. That was a great opportunity to be active in the Northern Nevada community.
Truthfully, though, research is my main passion (but writing is closely linked with that, so both are very important to me). Working at the campus libraries at my university was life-changing for me. I set my sights on becoming a librarian, which was my graduate school emphasis. I started the Northern Nevada Tool Library in graduate school to get experience running my own library.
While in graduate school, I was a graduate writing consultant for the University Writing Center, and that was an amazing experience. I got to work with scholars from around the world, and I got to do my own research about literacy. My boss, Maureen McBride, was amazing, and gave me opportunities to lead and teach. Having a mentor is priceless (my graduate advisor, Dr. Dianna Townsend, also deserves a heartfelt shoutout!). That really helped me hone my own research, teaching, and writing skills. At the same time, I was a fellow for the Northern Nevada Writing Project and did research on local literacy (my project was about using video games in classrooms).
And while this isn’t paid work, I do a lot of community service, most recently assisting with refugee resettlement in Northern Nevada. I provide literacy and ESL tutoring to refugees from the Congo and from Syria. Volunteer work is some of the most fulfilling work I do. It also proves how fundamental writing, research and language are to the world.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I studied English Literature in college with the goal of being a researcher in the future. But I volunteered and took any job I could that was related to English, writing and research. I was the editor of the University of Nevada-Reno literary journal, The Brushfire. I worked at the main campus libraries as a circulation and research assistant. I interned for the Nevada Historical Society. I was also a Resident Assistance in the dormitories. Before graduating, I started my own literary and arts magazine for women, called Wildflower. That is what got me my job at the RN&R, actually; they interviewed me about my magazine, and then offered me a job a few weeks after that. After that, I started another web magazine called The New Artemis, about travel and recreation, which helped me get some more writing and editing work.
I also traveled whenever I could. Travel is incredibly important to me. I went on an English department trip to London, England and a sociology department trip to Istanbul, Turkey, and a couple of smaller trips in between. I am a full supporter of studying abroad but many students, like me, can’t afford to go for a whole semester, so shorter trips can still be just as informative and life-changing!
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
In graduate school, I learned how important it was to collaborate across disciplines. Although I had a background in humanities, my graduate work was largely STEM-related. Now, I have a passion for all of it: science and math and writing and art, because they are all related. And I don’t believe that there are “art people” and “science people.” It’s OK to have a preference, but I think the majority of people enjoy both. I know many highly analytic writers, and many creative engineers, and they all benefit from not being stuck into perceived notions of the STEM vs. humanities debate. Being an English major is an amazing foundation for so many careers. I know English majors who went on to medical school. My point is, academic silos are damaging to all students. My husband is a very talented engineer, but he had similar hardship finding employment after college, whereas my skills made me qualified for a variety of jobs. (We are both happily employed now, and very grateful!)
My most ardent advice is this: Be a self-starter and be open to doing anything related to your field, even if it’s not exactly what you want to do. Be interdisciplinary. Be active in your community. Understand the value of your skills. Pick a niche and carve a space out for yourself. Think outside of your goals; sometimes, goals and dreams can cause tunnel vision when there are a ton of opportunities out there. You may find that you have new goals!
If you want to be a novelist, write novels and self-publish them. If you want to write for a magazine or newspaper, start your own. Create an English student club if there isn’t one already, and partner with students from another department. Join literary groups and be open to feedback. Be a citizen journalist or scientist. I truly believe every English major should have a blog that they regularly update, even if writing isn’t their career goal. There are so many great ways to offer your skills to the world, and you may find career opportunities because of it.
It’s important not to wait for opportunities or for your dream job. It’s easy for us English majors to get discouraged when we feel like we have to sacrifice our values or passions for money. All of my best jobs and opportunities have come from me putting myself out there; I don’t think I’ve ever actually gotten a job by applying for it. (By that I mean: I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs in my life, but the ones I’ve gotten came from networking and collaborating!) You have to fight for your career and for a good life.