Studying linguistics was a no-brainer. Growing up I was an avid reader and fascinated by language from a young age – the result, I think, of attending a German immersion elementary school. I wrote both my high school and college senior thesis about foreign language education. From projects I had done in college, I knew that I wanted to pursue research over teaching, so when I started the graduate program in the German Department at Georgetown, I intended to become a professor. I quickly realized, however, that those positions were in short supply and began thinking about a career outside academia. I received my M.A. in German Studies with a concentration in Second Language Acquisition from in January 2014.
Where did it take you?
I now work in marketing at Oxford University Press, handling global communications for a team geared toward promoting & selling academic databases (e.g. the OED) to universities, public libraries, and schools around the world.
What do you do as part of this job?
My role encompasses two major areas: communications (i.e. newsletters and marketing materials) and managing a customer advisory group. A typical day involves keeping both balls in the air. In a single morning I might solicit content for a newsletter, edit a flyer, recruit speakers for an event about scholarly publishing, and participate in planning meetings for any number of marketing activities happening on my team. While the work on newsletters and materials might seem mostly directly related to linguistics, my favorite part of the job is by far the work I do for the customer advisory group, and it does in fact, draw heavily on expertise I developed as a graduate student.
Can you tell us more about that?
Our customer advisors are a group of librarians who provide feedback to the company about sales models, product content & functionality, and industry developments in general. My work with this group is essentially like planning and executing a research project, which has to be conceptualized, pitched to the appropriate managers for funding & approval, designed to solicit the appropriate feedback, participants have to be recruited, surveyed, consulted in person (often in focus group-type settings), and then all of the feedback has to be compiled, analysed and presented to the appropriate parties so that changes can be made to the way the company conducts business. All of these steps will be familiar to someone who has conducted research, but something very cool about doing it professionally is seeing the real and direct impact it has. We are able to go back to our advisors, and to our larger customer base, show them exactly how their input has been incorporated into new business models or products we develop. The cycle for implementing changes as result of research findings is much quicker in this professional setting than I ever experienced as an academic researcher.
How did you get started in this line of work?
I got started in this role when I moved from DC to North Carolina, where my husband was starting law school. As part of my graduate fellowship in DC I had been working as the editorial assistant for The Modern Language Journal. And while I did continue in that position remotely for a few months after I moved, I also began looking for jobs in the area that would allow me to transition into marketing – an interest I developed through several projects for Linguistics & German Studies courses at Georgetown. Because of my experience on the journals side of academic publishing, it was a fairly easy move to marketing and communications for a university press.
What aspects of your previous experience are most applicable now in your current role?
I should emphasize that it wasn’t just my editorial or research experience that qualified me for this job. Proofreading skills and the ability to carry out a research initiative certainly benefit me in my work, but there is something to be said for approaching the nitty-gritty with an understanding of the larger sociocultural implications my work has. For example, a cultural studies course allowed me to delve deeply into the strategies of advertising and their effects on consumers. Several course projects on discourse analysis, intertextuality, and narrative gave me a strong understanding of online communication and media. As important as it is to know what makes a successful marketing campaign, it is equally important to be attuned to the ways in which advertising can problematic – e.g. issues around cultural sensitivity – and how users are expanding on and subverting the prescribed uses of media. Because I spent time studying these issues from outside the industry, I bring a perspective that isn’t necessarily shared by my colleagues who come to marketing from more traditional business backgrounds.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to create opportunities for themselves in your field?
When I think back to when I first started the job search, I have to admit that I was very nervous about being able to find something that matched my graduate work. I had a preconceived notion about what ‘using my degree’ would look like, and it was only once I expanded the scope of my search beyond that that I found the right fit.
Great advice from Mackenzie to think broadly about broad applicability of our skills!
You can find more of her writing on her blog (www.pinkasaur.com) as well as on Thought Catalog, HelloGiggles, and The Siren.
Thank you Mackenzie for sharing your experience!