Each week, we give you a “star to steer by.” What’s that? An alum whose story might give you some idea about what comes next. Here is an archive of all our “Life after BSU” posts.

This week, our star is Brianne Nickel, who graduated from Ball State in 2007 with a degree in Creative Writing. Currently, she’s a residency coordinator at IUPUI. Brianne has followed her dreams of working in higher education, using skills she developed as an English major

Want to know how the English major worked for her? Keep reading.

How did your English major lead you to graduate school?

My English major lead me to my graduate degree by landing me my first job in higher education. I interviewed to be a secretary for a department at the University of Louisville’s (U of L) School of Medicine. I applied to hundreds of jobs all over the city, and they were the first to call. When I went in, I remember being about as nervous as I’d ever been, and I babbled and rambled about all sorts of things that I knew how to do–most of them pertaining to writing in the workplace. They actually didn’t hire me to be their secretary, but instead to be a coordinator for several programs pertaining to their Family Medicine residency program. I realized early in the job that I loved working in higher education, and it’s where I wanted to stay.

U of L had great tuition remission benefits for employees, so after a year at my job, I went ahead and applied for their Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration. My higher education degree took 18 months to complete, and I finished as the top student in my program.

This degree also led me to a residency coordinator job with the Department of Neurosurgery after about two years with Family Medicine, and when my degree was finished in December 2011, a job closer to home opened up at IUPUI and so I jumped at the chance to return back home.

What did you do while you were an undergrad that prepared you for success?

I remember signing up for the writing in the workplace class at BSU to fill an elective English spot not thinking much of it – but I use SO MUCH of that class in my everyday life. That class book was one of the very few books I never sold back, and I have on my office bookshelf. I use that book every time one of my surgery residents needs to write up a new CV to apply for fellowship programs, or when I need to draft an important departmental memo. The majority of our communication in the office at the Department of Surgery is electronic, so it is imperative that the information given is correct, written in an easy to comprehend manner, and most importantly: succinct. Doctors don’t want the details. They just want to know where to go, what to do, and when it’s due.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I would tell you that I have a typical day, but it really depends on the day. Residency programs work in cycles. My career –much to most people’s dismay –is not like Grey’s Anatomy

Here’s what I do:

  • I council residents when they need advice –a sounding board for when life gets chaotic.
  • I manage the documentation of 60+ surgery residents. I coordinate their schedules.
  • I create annual handbooks and update policies and procedures.
  • My email calendar basically controls their academic life. If it isn’t surgical – I schedule them and they know to go.
  • I organize conferences, eight recruitment days, run various reports from various databases, staff faculty, and I’m always the note taker at important meetings.
  • My job as a coordinator allows me to go to annual conferences, where I can meet peers in my role at other universities. Last year I gave my first national meeting presentation to a group of new coordinators and it was an amazing experience.


It sounds like it’s crazy sometimes but it really isn’t.  There is very little monotony to my job, which is ideal for the type of person I am.  I have created predictability in my role, which allows for me to plan ahead now as I start my third year with the Surgery program. My job requires organization, confidentiality, flexibility, and a good sense of humor.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

There isn’t much we can’t do as English majors. 

I always get giddy when I see a new HuffPo article appear on someone’s Facebook feed talking about liberal arts majors, and more specifically English majors.  They talk about how English majors are the people the job seekers are searching to find.

I remember back in May 2007, finding my dad on the Worthen Arena concourse and the first thing he said was, “Congratulations- I’m so proud.  Now what are you going to do with a creative writing degree?”

I want to say hey, English majors, you just spent the bulk of your career reading and writing in an arena where you are taught to read beyond what’s printed on the page.  We process the world differently, and it’s because we were trained to do so.  Those are the skills that employers are looking for – regardless of what career you find for yourself.  We verbally communicate as well as we write, and verbal communication is becoming a lost art.  My advice for anyone trying to figure out what comes next is apply everywhere.  Don’t let that stigma of “what do you do with an English degree,” hold you back because in reality – we will eventually be the ones that take over the world!  I never in a million years would have told you that after college, I would work in graduate medical education. I didn’t even know what graduate medical education was. But we somehow found each other, and is now a career that I love.

Our students really need to hear this.

I cannot express enough gratitude to the Department of English at Ball State University for my successes after graduation. I struggled in college for a period of time, and the professors of my English classes were the ones that pulled me up – personally and scholastically.  I found a home in the English department, and the opportunities given to me while I was there were truly life changing.  You will carry what you learn at BSU forever, and it’s a gift that will show you its value in the most unexpected ways.

Thanks, Brianne.

You, reading this, here’s an article that will help you think about your thinking. In other words, how to articulate to an employer the skills you learned as an English major.