John Carter, a 2018 Ball State grad, earned his Master of Arts in Creative Writing and B.A. in English-Creative Writing to merge together his love for the environment and writing. Now, Carter is the Instructional Consultant for the Division of Online and Strategic Learning at Ball State where he puts his passion for communication to work. (Twitter: @jekcarter)
Note: This interview was published by Grace Duerksen
What did you study at Ball State and why?
As an undergrad, I majored in English-Creative Writing and minored in Professional Writing. When I first started, I was a business minor, because it seemed practical, but I got about one semester into it and realized that the work I was doing didn’t actually feel practical. Ultimately, professional writing felt like something that was more concrete.
I’m a farm kid at heart and having sets of skills I can use, like tools in a toolbox, makes sense to me. I see English and writing as a means for acquiring all sorts of tools that can be used or repurposed in creative and critical ways.
What led you to your current job?
While in the post-graduation “abyss,” I wasn’t quite sure what was going to come next or where to go from there. About two years into that abyss, my wife was accepted into grad school at Ball State to continue studying Anthropology. The semester she started her graduate work, I was able to tag along to her orientation and some of the new student events for her program. I realized just how much I had been missing school and academia.
I met with Cathy Day and Debbie Mix to talk about Ball State’s MA in Creative Writing program. The following year, I was accepted [into the program] and during my time there, one of the things I discovered was that I actually really loved teaching writing, both composition writing as well as creative writing.
After graduating in 2018, I applied for and accepted a position as a contract faculty member teaching English at Ball State. Eventually, the following spring, I was accepted into Iowa State University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Environment program, which was my dream program. As a farm kid and nature poet, the degree offered everything I could want.
The following spring, as I was wrapping up my MFA and graduating from Iowa State, Ball State posted an opening for an Instructional Consultant, allowing me to join a team of amazing professionals and return to my alma mater to do the work I had been itching to do.
I love teaching and education, but the things I love most about it is the ability to support students’ growth into amazing, critical thinking people.
Writers often have two careers—their day job and their writing. Is that how you think about your “career” now? And how are you balancing the two?
Honestly, it’s a little difficult to tell at this point! I started this job about a month ago and my family and I have been working on renovating a house, so I haven’t had a lot of time to navigate or determine what the relationship between my work-work and art-work will be.
As an instructional consultant, the bulk of my job is researching teaching and pedagogy and consulting with faculty at the university to help them learn and apply this knowledge. In a lot of ways, this work is very different from my creative work, where I write Midwestern Gothic and necro-pastoral poetry, but it’s not as if there isn’t overlap.
A lot of my creative work, like a lot of creative work, relies on intersections between ideas, disciplines, and modalities of communication. This means that I spend a lot of my time exploring and thinking about the muddy, grey area that exists between stuff we think of as binaries. This work lends itself to the innovative thinking and ideating I need for my research and consulting, helping to keep my brain limber for playing with new ideas or new ways to use old ideas.
What does a typical week in your position look like?
My “tasks” would be:
Consulting: Faculty members at Ball State come to me with questions about teaching or teaching technology. This most often manifests itself as me helping them problem solve solutions for something they would like to do with Canvas.
Researching: Conducting research often looks as you would expect it to—me reading books and articles about teaching and teaching technology. However, it also involves less “academic” research and more problem-solving research.
Programming/Resources: I use research about teaching and teaching technology to prepare workshops, development sessions, and Canvas resources to help support faculty instructional development. In other words, I research stuff about teaching and present it to faculty in various ways.
Can you describe your work environment?
It’s pretty quiet and chill. I’m up on the fourth floor of Teacher’s College in my own office, so it’s often just me and my music while I work. [I have] a fixed schedule, from 8-5 during the school year, but we rotate between working from home and working in the office.
I have projects I’m working on alone, but those projects are part of larger, team efforts. Additionally, we have a really tight team that is intentionally put together so we can get help from one another when we need it. We have larger strategic goals/plans that dictate the work we do, but our team is really collaborative so there’s a lot of room for input. I spent a lot of time working in retail, so I know what it’s like to have to “toe the company line,” and it definitely isn’t that.
Since we are a part of BSU, we are also committed to Ball State’s efforts for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. In fact, I’ve been in the process of participating in a new program, here at Ball State, called the “Inclusive Excellence Champions” program, where I take workshops to ensure that I provide an inclusive experience for all the stakeholders I interact with.
How did your major and graduate degrees in English (and particular classes) prepare you for your life and for this job?
I think the things that my degrees most helped me with was provide me with a strong skillset rooted in communication, critical thinking, and the ability to give and receive effective feedback. All three of these skillsets are things that we encourage and specialize in in English and the humanities, creative writing especially.
As I was finishing up the training course I had to take on the Quality Matters rubric, the training spent a good amount of time discussing how to give positive, balanced, and detailed feedback, and a lot of that discussion was second-nature to me after three degrees in creative writing.
Honestly, it was these less-easy-to-quantify experiences from my undergraduate and graduate work that most prepared me for my current position, which I think is a good reminder that what we do to prepare for our careers isn’t always the straightforward path that we like to think it is.
What is your best advice to students majoring in the humanities?
Aside from my usual advice to students to get eight hours of sleep, drink water if you’re drinking coffee, and to buy hams when the price dips below $0.99/lb, I would encourage students majoring in the humanities to recognize that your skillsets are not easy to quantify and to see the value in that. We are not welders trained in specific welds and types of metals or microbiologists practiced at particular lab protocols. We are flexible learners trained to find connections between ideas, untangle those connections, and articulate them clearly to others.
Our degrees give us skillsets that are versatile. My ability to communicate, collaborate, and think critically can be applied to my current position as an instructional consultant just as effectively as it could be applied to one of my previous jobs—as an editor and layout designer a magazine, for instance. This is the true value of a degree in the humanities.
Is it sometimes difficult to articulate and make people understand? Yes, for sure. But does it mean we are limited in what career path we choose? Not in the least.
For more information visit the Department of English website.