BA in English –> Assistant Editor for Online Music Gear Marketplace

“Editing” can mean a lot of things — not just working on books or magazines.

We recently spoke to Carly Smith, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in English, and who currently works as an assistant editor at Here are some of the great things she had to say about how she decided on her career path and how her training in English helped her.

This is what editing looks like for Carly: is the world’s largest online marketplace for musicians. We facilitate the buying and selling of music gear online between all kinds of musicians. Our users include everyone from larger brick and mortar shops down to individual private sellers to famous artists like Jimmy Chamberlain, Rick Nielsen, Ray LaMontagne, and more.

In tandem with the marketplace, we also produce written and video content on the Reverb News side of the site. Those features include interviews and performances with musicians, tips and how–tos as related to music and gear, product demos, and much more.

… I first started as part of the Listings Team, which is responsible for making sure that the thousands of listings uploaded to the site daily are in accordance with our guidelines and that the products listed are matched with our Price Guide.

Three months after starting at Reverb, I was promoted to an editorial position. I now work on the News side of Reverb full–time with two other editors. In this station, I write original content, interview artists, edit, work with freelancers to formulate and actualize pitches into pieces.

The study of English literature might seem a long way away from cataloging rare Rickenbackers or curating online tutorials for playing James Brown riffs, but for Carly it’s all of a piece:

My English degree has been beneficial in all of the obvious ways. Spending years studying grammar and syntax has certainly had an immensely positive influence on my career, considering how much editing I’m responsible for every day.

The exercise in writing papers was also tremendously helpful in getting me to this point. My own writing for Reverb is both creative and informative and all of it is rather heavily researched, so the process of writing research papers about a creative work — such as a novel or a film — definitely helped me to develop an assertive editorial voice that isn’t totally stale or devoid of personality.

Although Carly credits writing for buzz magazine and Smile Politely as helpful in pointing her in a career direction, her work in the classroom was central to the college experience that got her where she is. Not only was Carly one of the co-authors of “A Lecture from the Lectured,” a Chronicle of Higher Education piece co-authored by students in Prof. Catherine Prendergast’s course on writing for publication, Carly says

…the best parts of my college experience were directly related to some of the teachers I was able to take classes with. Whether or not I was initially interested in the subject material when I first signed up, it was often the professor who determined how much I ended up enjoying the class.

I took classes in which already killer subject material was enhanced by an even more passionate professor, as was the case when I took Modern Fantasy Lit and Comics & Graphic Narratives with Rob Barrett and Jim Hansen’s Fincher/Nolan and Hitchcock film classes.

I was also able to take ENGL 301 with Hansen — a mandatory class with a less than stellar reputation — and it turned out to be one of my favorite courses at U of I because of how great of a professor Hansen is.

Similarly, I decided to take a class that I wasn’t looking forward to at all about John Milton in the last semester of my senior year to satisfy another requirement. It was taught by Catharine Gray, and though I might not have been converted into a massive Milton enthusiast by the end of it, it still turned out to be one of the best classes I took.

These three professors and a handful of others were what made U of I specifically special to me.

You can read the entirety of our interview with Carly here, and you can get in contact with her (and other alumni working in the music business) through our alumni mentoring network.

English BA –> University Admission Counselor

There are a lot of great college and university jobs that don’t involve being a professor. We recently interviewed alumnus Keena Griffin to learn about how he got into the field of higher ed admissions. Keena works as an admissions counselor for Concordia University Chicago. He says,

I started my career after graduation by working for the Illinois College Advising Corps (ICAC), which was a partner organization with the University of Illinois system designed to help underserved high school students navigate the college admission process to choose the right school for them.  The jump to becoming an Admission Counselor was a natural step from there.  With ICAC, I loved seeing the excitement of high school students who realized that college was not only possible for them, but that they had multiple options to choose from.  Now I have the opportunity on the collegiate side to work with incoming students and help make the admission process manageable.

Keena urges students interested in this career path to get involved:

For anyone interested in working in college admissions or a non-teaching higher education role, it’s important to get involved on campus as soon as you can – but it’s never too late either.  Illinois is a great place to start because the campus has every resource you can imagine.  Working in admissions means knowing a little bit of everything about the school, just like an English degree teaches you a little of everything about different people and subject areas.  Supplementing your classroom experience with internships, volunteer experience, and interpersonal experience is critical to any field you explore with an English degree because you have the chance to shape your own path.  If you like working with people and you enjoy seeing young adults start to shape their own life courses – then college admissions work is definitely for you.

Keena credits his studies in English with giving him the skills to advance in this line of work:

Getting a degree in English was the best thing I could have done in college.  Learning to connect with and understand people’s stories and being empathetic with people’s backgrounds is a key to success in any endeavor – professional or otherwise.  At the same time, the courses in UIUC’s English program helped me develop marketable skills such as critical analysis and interpersonal communication (which is somewhat of a dying art). I’m able to focus on the important details of any situation that can present a problem, and help develop solutions.  My classes on critical literary theory (my favorite subject) taught me how to approach and interpret literary texts from multiple perspectives, and I use the same techniques when problem-solving issues that occur in work or life.

You can read the full interview with Keena here. You can contact Keena and other alumni working in a range of fields by getting in touch with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships, to join the Alumni Mentoring Network.

Alumni Profile: Seth Fein, ’02, festival producer and online publisher

Seth Fein’s literary career began with (a) his creative writing professor’s refusal to write him a recommendation for grad school and (b) the alternative that stood ready to hand, being an “analogue troll” for buzz magazine (back when it still existed in print form).

If the word “career” conveys for you a beige cubicle in an office park somewhere, an hour talking to Fein is a welcome corrective. His career is one he created for himself, based on the things he loves doing: booking bands, writing, being a part of the local community. In 2005, he created the Pygmalion music festival, which has since grown to be a literary, tech, craft. and food festival as well, with more than 60 sponsors.

“Pygmalion is the main thing I do,” Fein says, but it is hardly the only thing he does. As Co-President and CEO of the Nicodemus Agency, he also promotes bands, consults, and offers design and photography services. He also runs Smile Politely, an online magazine started in 2007 to fill a gap in the Champaign-Urbana cultural scene.

Fein’s message to students? Spend your twenties doing what you love–or at least, figuring out what that is. Fein shredded the motivational-poster version of that sentiment and spoke frankly about the realities:start-up costs (working multiple paying jobs to support the not-yet-paying gigs), the inevitable cosethfeinmpromises (turning down well-heeled advertisers in order to build a coherent brand), the trade-offs (living with the limitations of the local community while working to make it better).

The bottom line? As Fein put it, “just start writing your own sh*t.”