Asynith Palmer, ’06, is a former English major who has since graduated with a PhD in English from the University of Michigan and is working for AMP Systems as an interdisciplinary research/writer. Here are Asynith’s reflections on being an English major at UMBC. Below, she reflects on her time with the English Department and how she has used that experience for continued growth:
Last year, I graduated from the 24th grade. I left UMBC with degrees in English and Modern Languages & Linguistics, then spent one year in the Master Amériques program at Université Rennes 2 in France. I concluded my school days with a PhD in English from the University of Michigan. “That’s a lot of schoolin’,” a friend recently remarked. “What’s it like to finally enter the real world?” His question caught me off-guard. I don’t feel like I’ve entered – or been thrust into – the real world, at least not what he meant by it.
According to my business cards, I am an “Information Developer”: a disarmingly technocratic term for an excitingly open and ever-changing job. Whereas most of my “schoolin’” focused on the Humanities, my research and writing range broadly. I work for a technology company called AMP Systems. AMP performs IT services and project management across Baltimore and Washington, D.C. These days, every school, business, and government agency needs solid IT support. Fortunately, they also need strong writers. They need careful readers, critical thinkers, and effective communicators. I’ve found that my English skills are highly sought-after. Instead of being asked, “So what can you do with a Humanities degree?,” I’ve more often heard, “So you can write! Perfect – can you help me write this?”
Yes, I can. That’s my job, and it connects me with diverse fields and disciplines. Last week, I partnered with a forensic investigator to design his company’s website. I’ve interviewed global engineers at NASA, Lockheed Martin, and BP Solar to develop methods for building cultural skills into STEM education. I’ve written project proposals for community leaders and non-profits in Baltimore. This month, I’ll do ride-alongs with BPD officers for a research project on 21st-century policing. Then I’m slated to work with City Hall officials to write a grant for youth diversion programs. This is meaningful work, and the variety of projects keeps me agile. What I learn by immersing myself in one field (and its modes of writing) sharpens my thinking in other fields and genres. It’s invigorating to see how opportunities build on each other.
Looking back, I never experienced the infamous post-graduation disorientation. Instead, the lessons I learned in college helped me earn a Fulbright, which motivated my graduate work, which prepared me to carve out a career with a good bit of freedom. The work I do now is actually a logical extension of my writing experiences – and a few key revelations – at UMBC.
Contrary to my friend’s remark, my “real world” wake-up call did not happen when I joined the workforce. It happened when I started college. I was a freshman Humanities Scholar, but my SAT scores were not high enough to be accepted by the Honors College. Impostor syndrome set in, and I seriously doubted my abilities. I remember thinking, “If I can’t get into the Honors College, how am I going to get into the English Honors program? Or graduate school? Who will hire me?” (Clearly, I was getting ahead of myself.) Instead of feeling anxious, I decided to be proactive.
I aimed to tap all of the resources that the English Department and the Center for the Humanities had to offer. Turns out there were a lot. I attended workshops about publishing and applying for research grants. I signed up to dine and chat with visiting scholars and (eventually) asked questions during the Q&A’s following their presentations. I listened to job-talks and learned about the processes for hiring and tenure. And I got to know my instructors. I discovered that when I got excited about a novel it energized them too. I began to see my favorite professors not as gatekeepers to my success, but as mentors who genuinely wanted me to succeed. They devoted a tremendous amount of energy to helping me explore the questions that fascinated me.
In my junior year, I worked as a research assistant to Dr. Christoph Irmscher (now at Indiana University). During our meetings, we would first discuss his research, then possibilities for my own. He encouraged me to apply for an Undergraduate Research Award while I studied abroad in France. I was nervous about traveling, let alone doing archival work on a challenging American author translated into French. I wanted to pursue the project, but I had my doubts. Dr. Irmscher gave me a piece of advice: “Don’t doubt. Just do. And keep at it. That’s it.” I’m sure he was more eloquent, but that’s what it boils down to. (Dr. Falco gave me similar advice when I was writing my dissertation. It worked.) This mantra still fuels my writing practice.
My English professors encouraged me to take risks instead of following rote paths. They helped me embrace the uncertainty of new projects when compelling questions, thorough research and multiple drafts, fuel the work. I like to think I entered “the real world” through the English Department.
This spotlight was originally published on September 17, 2014.