Name: James M. Van Wyck
College & Majors/Minors: William Paterson (BA); SUNY Buffalo (MA); Fordham University (PhD)
Current Location: New York, New York
Current Form of Employment: Postdoctoral Fellow
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I'm a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Fordham University. I teach at the Lincoln Center campus in the heart of Manhattan.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Every single job I've ever had has been writing-related. And that's not because most of them have been in the academy. I've worked in a corporate environment, and currently serve on several non-profit boards. I'm often called upon to craft the documents that make these institutions what they are (mission statements and the like) and the advancement letters that help bring in money to support these missions.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
At each stage of my professional life I have tried to look ahead at the accomplishments of others, and then figure out the steps they took to get where they are. I mimicked the behaviors of peers/recent graduates whose work I respected. I looked at the CVs and resumes of scholars I looked up to, and reverse engineered the processes that led to their success. Then I broke those steps into manageable tasks and plotted them on my Google calendar. I also became a shameless networker, which has led to a lot of opportunities.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Own it. Don't ever apologize for your major. And forget the white noise about employability: the kinds of employers for whom you want to work value humanities education. I had dinner last month with a Raleigh-based CEO in NYC to secure funding for upcoming projects. He told me in no uncertain terms that the college major of an applicant to his company was almost always besides the point. What matters, he said, are communications skills and the ability to learn new processes. He used keywords like flexibility, adaptability, and teachability. His major? Religious studies. (It would have been the perfect anecdote had he been an English major!)
Another key point: make sure you take on an internship or some experience that allows you to acquire and demonstrate that you can work as part of a team, that you can communicate with a wide variety of audiences, and so on.