Alumna Profile: Stacey Mikelbart

Hi, I’m Stacey Mickelbart, and I’ve taken a circuitous path from graduating with my English degree in 1995 to my current position as editor of Envision, the Purdue College of Agriculture magazine—but I’ve never been unemployed!

I’ve worked in tech publishing, editing books in the “for Dummies” series, edited scientific journal papers and grants in a number of fields, worked in managing and communication in the performing arts, created and edited university magazines, and have written arts criticism for outlets including NUVO in Indianapolis and newyorker.com.

While I know a lot of people don’t automatically associate Purdue with the liberal arts, my training here was solid. When I attended NYU for my master’s in journalism, two people in my program were chosen as assistants to the director, and it always made me smile that one was a New Yorker who attended Michigan and the other was me. I think the Big 10’s reputation for graduating smart students who know how to get things done is often true—and includes our liberal arts graduates.

While in New York, I interned at The New Yorker and wrote for the book blog. Every day was an exercise in, “Can I write well enough to meet the standards here?” I highly recommend working places where you feel that challenge. Being in a room full of people smarter than you is a great way to grow and expand your skills.

The range of work you can take on with a degree in English is wide, and while that’s a selling point, it can also be a bit intimidating as you seek your first couple of jobs, when you really want to pin down the “what” instead of being told you can do anything! If you’re unsure, I recommend that instead of looking for specific categories of jobs, you think about your skills—the ones you think are your best and that you enjoy the most—and apply for jobs that require those skills. That makes selling yourself for the job easier, as you’ve already thought about why you’re a good match for what the employer needs.

Who is/was your favorite English professor at Purdue?

I was fortunate to take class with so many great faculty members, but David Miller, who died a few years ago, was one of my favorites. I finagled my way into three of his classes (at least two of them on Shakespeare), and he was supremely skilled at leading a smart and interesting class discussion, regardless of the material. Barbara Dixon has also influenced my career as a student and professional. She was my academic advisor for a short period, taught a great survey course I took, suggested I attend the graduate seminar that launched my editing career, and later became my supervisor when I edited the College of Liberal Arts magazine, THiNK, for a few years. She’s been a fantastic mentor and friend.

What is an interesting Heavilon Hall memory (or just one from campus generally)?

One semester I had FOUR classes in Heavilon 120, so I felt like I never left that room! I sat in a different corner of the class for each of the four to help me distinguish them from one another.

How has your English major helped you in your professional career?

It seems so obvious, and it’s true: reading and dissecting great works, as well as writing about them for challenging assignments, really does help you become a better writer, editor, and communicator in general. Learning how to interpret a difficult poem is great practice for learning how to read a molecular biology paper. Each requires patience, the curiosity to look up information you don’t understand, and the recognition of a new type of language and its conventions. (Some background on the scientific method, logic, and statistics help, too—so don’t neglect those!) My English degree also gave me the skills to organize and structure information about any topic when I’m writing, as well as the confidence to be stylistically creative when that’s appropriate.

Who is your favorite author and/or what are you currently reading?

I’m never sorry to pick up a book by Hilary Mantel or Ian McEwan or an essay by Zadie Smith or George Orwell. Right now I’m reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, since Wilson visited campus, thanks to the English department’s Big Read. I’m also reading some modern takes on these classic tales. I just finished Madeleine Miller’s Circe, and I’ve got Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad lined up next. After that, it feels urgent to read Chanel Miller’s Know My Name.