Courtney Conley graduated from Ashland University in 2015 with a BA in English and Creative Writing. She earned an MA in English from Ball State University in 2017. Courtney works remotely as a Curriculum Writer and teaches first-year composition as an adjunct at UIndy.
What was your first job after graduation, and how did that lead you to your current position?
My first job after graduation was as an administrative assistant at a law firm in downtown Indianapolis. At first, it was a lot of busywork (stapling legal documents, grabbing lunch for my boss, making dinner reservations), but soon the attorneys started to trust me with editing and drafting legal documents. After a few months, HR asked me to help out in the legal library on top of my other responsibilities. I completed research projects for attorneys across the firm, filled in for our librarian when she was out of the office, and even got to take seminars on legal research. After a year at the firm, I applied to be an adjunct at UIndy and started teaching composition classes at night.
I started to feel like I’d hit a plateau at the law firm after about a year. I liked some parts of my job, but I wasn’t happy there. After six months of applying to any job post I found even vaguely interesting, I was called for one interview. Luckily, that interview was with a company I was really excited about. After sending them a writing sample and completing a phone interview, I was offered the job and accepted. My current position is as a curriculum writer for an online traffic school, where I research driving laws and statistics and update our curriculum as new laws are passed and new statistics are available. I also write and design new driver education courses, website content, and weekly blog posts. This position is fully remote, and my team communicates through email and phone calls.
My first job at the law firm gave me experience working in a professional setting and gave me a foundation of skills that are useful for me daily in my curriculum writing position (especially when it comes to legal research). There were many days as an admin assistant where I felt stuck and bored (mostly when I had to file documents!), but I’m lucky I was able to work there for those first 18 months out of school. Teaching at UIndy has been a real delight. I love teaching, but it’s not something I want to pursue full-time at this point, so my adjunct position is perfect for me. These two job experiences gave me the perfect foundation for my current position writing driver education curriculum. I’m using my background as a teacher as well as my writing, editing, and research skills. It’s really a perfect job for me!
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
Critical reading, creative writing, and communication are valuable skills I use every day as both an adjunct instructor and as a curriculum writer. In every job I’ve had, writing has been particularly valuable and has helped me move forward. Employers need strong writers. Even when I was working retail in college, my managers would ask me what to write on the store signs. At the law firm, I was hired to do basic administrative tasks but was soon trusted with important writing projects. As an English major, I learned how to write for different audiences and circumstances, and that’s a skill that not everyone has.
Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?
I was a first-generation college student, and my family (while very supportive and proud of me!) couldn’t help me financially. My undergraduate experience at Ashland University involved long commutes between campus my hometown, and writing essays on my phone behind the registers at the pharmacy where I worked full time. I didn’t spend time on campus outside of class and didn’t really feel like I part of a community there.
That’s why I am so grateful for my time at Ball State. I was fully immersed in my education for the first time. As a TA, I was able to take classes, teach courses, and tutor with a group of amazing people who could relate to what I was going through. One experience I’m especially grateful for was getting to go to DC for AWP 2016 with a group of fellow creative writers. Spending a few days surrounded by writers, publishers, and readers were really validating for me as a student, teacher, and writer. Being a BSU English major made me feel like I was part of a community for the first time, and like I belonged there, which was really had a huge impact on me, especially as the only college student in my family.
What advice do you have for English majors?
English majors have more skills than employers seem to realize, and you can apply for positions even if they don’t mention your specific degree or years of experience. I applied for literally hundreds of jobs in my city and it took over six months for me to find my curriculum writer position. You’ll probably start off in a job where you know you won’t work long-term, and that’s okay! Even though I knew (or hoped) I wasn’t going to be an administrative assistant forever, I jumped at every opportunity to gain more responsibility and learn new parts of the job. Learn everything you can and make sure your employers know the skills you bring to the table, even if they aren’t in your specific job description.