We recently spoke with Skylar Garland, an alum of the MA in WRD program who currently works at Loyola Medicine in Maywood, IL. Skylar works in Loyola’s marketing department as a content writer. We’re thrilled she took the time to share her experience!
Tell us about your work at Loyola! What’s a typical day on the job like?
I work as a content writer in the marketing department, and I’m responsible for writing web content, e-blasts, event signage, one-sheeters, and brochures. Our project coordinator will assign me duties that come from directors or people in our department. I might have an e-blast to write or some web content, I might need to go learn about osteoarthritis for a few hours and write about it, or I might need to write a brochure for maternity care. It’s all medical, and it’s mostly writing for consumers or referring providers. I feel like this job opens the doors to have a specialized field of writing under my belt.
It’s funny, because sometimes I’ll see things I wrote in doctor’s offices. I’m pregnant, and when I went to my OBGYN, she handed me a pamphlet on breastfeeding that I had written!
Can you tell us about a project you are currently working on?
Right now, I’m working on our preventive cardiology program, which is all about how to assess your risk and stay healthy. The point is to get important information out to people who might not be thinking about their heart health. I’m meeting with a doctor to learn from him, and then it’s my job to disseminate that information to consumers, using language that’s not above an 8th-grade education. I try to make the very technical stuff easy to understand, and I get to learn about it too!
Tell us a little about the job search. How did employers respond to your WRD degree?
I was looking for writing-specific jobs when I graduated. Initially, I was hired as Director of Communications at a private school in Illinois. At that time, my portfolio was all school stuff—it had pieces of writing from my internship and some big projects I completed in the WRD program. When I noticed that I wasn’t writing as much as I’d like to at that job, I started a new job search. I found the Loyola position, and it was the exact opposite of the private school. I had no training in the medical field, and I didn’t know anybody there, but I was able to build a really impressive portfolio because of the work I did in WRD. I think the WRD program gave me opportunities to do so many kinds of writing, and Loyola could see that I was versatile. The variety of the WRD program is really helpful, especially if you know you want to write but don’t know the kind of writing you want to do. I had a couple years of professional writing under my belt, which didn’t hurt either. I think, in both instances, having an advanced degree was helpful.
Describe your career and research interests as you were going through the MA in WRD program. How did you customize the program to meet your needs?
When I started the MA program, I thought, I know I want to write, so throw everything at me, and we’ll see what sticks! The program helped me start that process and whittle down my interests. At first, the program was really broad, but then the curriculum and courses loosened up. If you were alert to what you needed, you could streamline the work you wanted to do. I did an internship with the State of Illinois that was really beneficial, focused on an annual report for environmental initiatives. Prof. Peter Vandenberg (WRD Department Chair) was very helpful in getting that set up and getting me into the program. I also took an Environmental Writing course and did a big project on Storm Water Management in Oak Park, where I live and grew up. I realized that I wanted to do work that would be helpful, so I gravitated toward education or medical or environmental writing. I wanted to write things that make people feel inspired to do something.
What was your academic and professional background prior to entering the MA in WRD?
I went to undergrad in New Mexico at a small liberal arts school, the College of Santa Fe. I really wanted to go into filmmaking, but work behind the scenes as a producer or director. After my first year, I wanted to be more business-oriented, so I started studying Arts and Entertainment Management. I really loved this one class, titled Professional Writing, that I took as an elective. I graduated and worked for a brief time in film and video production, but I never forgot how much I liked that class.
When I wanted to go get my master’s, I was working at DePaul and wanted to take advantage of the incredible opportunity DePaul gives you when you work there—tuition is free! At first, I hoped DePaul had a Library Sciences program. When I heard about the WRD program, I remembered the Professional Writing course that I loved, and decided WRD was a perfect fit.
Any advice for current or prospective MA in WRD students who are interested in a similar career path?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, don’t worry. The program is set up for exploration. Your courses start broad, and then once you’re comfortable, you can focus on specific things. Try anything you think you might respond to. A good part of the learning process is learning what you don’t want to do.
Definitely take advantage of any opportunities like internships or extracurricular writing. I learned so much on the job. My internship and the projects I did in class were a big part of my portfolio, and a lot of that came from my last couple of quarters in the program.