The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Humanities seniors speak out about next steps

Three humanities majors reflect on their time at the University of Iowa, as well as speak out about their future plans. For some graduates, the path ahead leads to the job market, while for others grad school is the best option.
Shaely Odean
Assistant publisher of Ink Lit Magazine Jenna Mather poses for a portrait at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City on Monday April 29, 2024. (Shaely Odean/The Daily Iowan)

 In each of Jenna Mather’s writing and publishing classes at the University of Iowa, the vast majority of her classmates have been female-identifying.

Similarly, Mather, a third-year English and creative writing major graduating this May, noticed only one male-identifying student in her intern cohort at a New York City publishing press last summer.

The female domination of the authorship and publishing industry is not unique to Mather’s experience at the UI, however. Rather, it is an anecdotal representation of the broader gender breakdown of the publishing industry in the U.S.

A 2019 study conducted by Statista revealed that 74 percent of employees in the publishing industry — including the “Big Five” publishing houses Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan — are cisgender women; cisgender men accounted for 23 percent, while nonbinary individuals accounted for less than 5 percent.

Despite the vast female majority, the same study indicated that cis men are more likely to hold executive positions over other positions in the industry, as 80 percent of the cis women employed are in lower-level marketing or public relations positions.

While Mather attends the last few writing classes of her college career, she is unsure that the predominant female demographic in her classes will translate into leadership roles after she turns the tassel at graduation in just a few weeks.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty because graduation is coming up,” Mather said. “I would love to have a job lined up when I graduate.”

Mather hopes to secure a job in marketing, communications, or writing positions after graduating. She has also applied to some remote positions as well.

Though she has found the hiring process to be taxing, Mather came prepared. This was in part due to her collegiate coursework and the extracurricular activities she engaged in while at the UI.

As a first-year, Mather served as both the social media editor and editor-in-chief of Ink Lit Mag, the UI’s only student literary magazine run by first-years. Then, she worked with the magazine Earthwords before returning to Ink Lit on the upperclassmen management team as an assistant publisher during her third and final year.

In addition to her work with literary magazines, Mather has also gained useful insight into the job market through her courses at the UI.

She cites the class, “Iowa Chapbook Prize: Publishing Practicum,” as one that gave her the most hands-on experience with the publishing process.

“We discussed submissions, and each person selected the one that they liked best. I also had to typeset, so I got experience working with InDesign, Photoshop, and other software like that,” Mather said.

Despite her publishing endeavors, however, Mather’s career goals have shifted as she learned more about the industry.

“I’m certainly interested in publishing — I love books, but I think my perspective on working in publishing has changed a little bit,” Mather said.

One of the major drawbacks Mather sees in the publishing industry is the overlap that would exist between her job and her creative work. She said it would be nice to have some separation of the personal and professional.

“I started seeking out more marketing and communications jobs, because then I’d still be learning skills and contributing my experience, but also kind of be separate,” Mather said.

Reflecting on the job hunting process as a whole, Mather said it wasn’t what she expected. Job opportunities are determined based on the relative job market, and creative markets are not currently in high demand, she said.

“It is not like engineering or business where employers are actively searching for you,” Mather said. “So you have to go out and be actively searching on all of the job sites and going to the career fairs. I feel like I expected it to be difficult, but maybe not as difficult as it is.”

Similarly, UI third-year Abby Bishop has used internship experience to pave her way to graduation. A double major in political science and English and creative writing, Bishop plans to graduate next winter.

Though Bishop doesn’t know exactly what the future has in store, she said, she has a strong background to rely upon. Last summer, she was a writing intern for Eco Stylist, a sustainable clothing company.

While in college, Bishop has been an active part of several creative writing and reading groups, allowing her to learn how to advertise both herself and her writing.

“It was nice to be a part of groups that showed me how I can get people to read my work outside of class,” Bishop said.

Bishop also found that many of her political science and writing workshop classes helped build skills applicable to her career. “Women in Gender Studies” was one particularly influential course.

“I learned about the barriers minorities face in college, it just really helped give me perspective and helped me look beyond school,” Bishop said. “I want to be able to use my skills to make the world a better place.”

Currently, Bishop hopes to learn about online journalism and copywriting to improve her writing skills. Eventually, she hopes to fulfill her dream of receiving a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. However, a graduate program wasn’t originally in the cards for Bishop before she came to the UI.

“I never even considered getting my master’s, but working closely with professors and being so close to the writer’s workshop really changed my perspective,” Bishop said.

UI graduates are continuing their education by studying 357 different fields at 351 universities from 2020 to 2022.

For UI fourth-year student Sabrina Lacy, graduate studies were the most appealing.

“It kind of developed over time — wanting to apply to grad school. From my first year through the first half of my third year, I thought I was going to apply for psychology graduate programs, whether that be an MA or a Ph.D.,” Lacy said.

Lacy will graduate in the spring with a double major in English and creative writing and psychology.

As she progressed through college, Lacy discovered she didn’t want to dedicate five to seven years of her life to studying psychology. She still enjoyed the subject but liked it more as a secondary interest instead of the main focus of her career.

“I realized that I like creative writing. I had an epiphany my junior year and I decided — I’m going to apply to graduate programs for creative writing,” Lacy said.

Lacy ended up applying to several graduate programs between December 2023 and February 2024. Since she was applying mainly to creative writing programs, many of them wanted 40-page-long writing samples. Alongside that, she also needed letters of recommendation, as well as a personal statement that could range anywhere from one to five pages.

Lacy’s biggest advice to those wanting to begin graduate school applications is to start working on them early. She also advises students to have trusted professors, as well as others applying to schools in the same department, who can look over their applications before submission.

Relying on the community around her has been the most helpful part of Lacy’s process, as the information she has learned both from her peers and on different programs’ websites aided her when solidifying which programs to apply to.

In the end, Lacy chose to commit to Ohio University, where she will earn her Master of Arts in fiction writing.

“I wanted to have the opportunity to experience a place different from here, getting involved in the creative writing community in other places,” Lacy said.

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About the Contributors
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.
Shaely Odean
Shaely Odean, Photojournalist
Shaely Odean is a transfer student at the University of Iowa, currently in her third year. She is pursuing double majors in Journalism and Strategic Communications, as well as Sustainability Sciences. Shaely works as a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan, and her passion lies in environmental issues. Before joining the University of Iowa, she attended Kirkwood Community College, where she served as the photo editor for the Kirkwood Communique.