Name: Erik Shepard
College & Majors/Minors: University of North Carolina at Greensboro, B.A. English/Education
Current Location: Research Triangle Park, NC
Current Form of Employment: Full-time at a non-profit.
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I am a Project Management Specialist at RTI International’s Center for Forensic Sciences.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
I found my first job through the path of least resistance at a position I would not have minded being my “rock bottom” (with the assumption that every position that followed could have been a stepping stone to something better). I found my current job networking with contacts I made from previous positions.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Intelligence Analysis was a writing-intensive position that drew on all aspects of the writing process.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I learned about myself and what I liked (reflected on what I could be happy doing for the next 40 years) by experimenting with clubs, sports, discussions, exhibits, workshops, and other events outside of my typical comfort zone parameters; I met like-minded individuals (networked) in order to ensure mutually beneficial exchanges/transactions took place at future dates; I created a paper trail of successes (awards and organizations) in an effort to stack my resume to stand out from my competition. Those are three things that I did that I knew would benefit me no matter the direction my career or degree meandered.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Don’t look at your English Degree as restricting (to only certain occupations); look at it as a wildcard that qualifies you to bring value to any occupation/industry.
“But Erik, how can I bring value to an Electrical Engineer?”
“As a technical writer, of course. Who better to distill complex scientific ideas for the consumer market in the form of an instruction manual than an English major, who’s used to taking complex texts/concepts/ideas and reducing them to pertinence?”
Additionally, once you have identified an acceptable career path, take advantage of the ample opportunities for upward mobility. As you advance down your career path from entry-level positions you can supplement your English degree with additional credentials (journalists could supplement theirs with a photography/videography certification, project managers could supplement their degrees with CAPM/PMP certifications) and that will ensure you continue to grow as a professional and your career will not stagnate.