When asked, “What do you do?”

In June of this year, I started working as a graduate assistant at UNT Sustainability and the Office of Spiritual Life and started the Professional and Technical Communication Graduate Program at UNT this August, with some class credits earned prior to this official start to the program.

I have to articulate what it is that I do to a number of people on the daily, with the start of a new job and a new semester. Whether the people who are asking are in my graduate program, people with whom I can network for a job or connections, or people I don’t know whom I happen to converse with at a coffee shop or other type of Denton establishment involving adult beverages, I should be able to tell them what it is that I do day-to-day. Why? Because in theory, it’s already on my in-process resume, and secondly, I should be evaluating what I’m learning and practicing, and identifying what job descriptions those things might match.

When I say that I’m studying technical communication and hoping to find work in the field, many people either ask “What do you do?” or try to offer up their own guess at what it is that I do. If they say, “So you write and edit manuals and that kind of thing?” I respond with, “That’s part of it,” because it is definitely a significant part, but if that’s all technical communicators do, I would not be pursuing a master’s in the field. I need some variety and I need some intrigue, in all parts of my life, but especially when working towards a career.

Technical communicators need to be capable of more than written communication. We have to analyze, coordinate, design, develop, produce, manage, strategize (the list goes on) to create a number of things that you use that delivers a message or makes a product work. Take those verbs, turn them into a noun, for example: analyze = analyst, and those are the job titles you’re looking at if you’re in technical communication.

I gathered the job title list above from “The Evolution of Technical Communication: An Analysis of Industry Job Postings,” by Eva Brumberger and Claire Lauer, and it looks like I might have what it takes to land a job in technical communication fresh out of grad school, with what I’m studying and where I’m currently working, at least.

When I talk about my current job as a graduate assistant, housed in the shiny, new university union, especially because I work for two different offices, many people simply ask “What do you do?” They don’t try to guess, and it’s better that way.

For one office, I’ve been planning how to complete an annual sustainability report, creating email templates, data request forms, and playing around with various ways to save the data that’s about to come rolling in, and then eventually put it into a digestible form. For the other, sometimes I make flyers, social media posts, and work on the newsletter. Other days, I’m crafting a “mandala of identity” with freshmen for First Flight Week. I love both jobs equally, and I’m getting to practice what I study as I work. #gradstudentgoals

Thankfully, the graduate program at UNT accounts for the new tools and technologies in the field that have more recently been added to the traditional “written communication” skills list, such as “facility with additional tools and technologies, particularly CMS, Web scripting technologies, and design and layout software.” One of my personal struggles is coming to terms with what I don’t know, yet. What I like about the piece’s title is that it includes “evolution,” though it is referring specifically to the field of technical communication, it makes me think of one’s personal growth in his or her own technical communication skills.

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