North American Studies (M.A.)

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Samira Franzel, Communications Department at the Sarah Wiener Stiftung

Please describe shortly your current profession. How does your typical day at work look like?

In the Communications Department at the Sarah Wiener Stiftung, I organize events for the local and national press and for stakeholders. Day-to-day tasks include conceptualizing and planning these events – in my case related to nutritional knowledge, children and healthy eating habits and sustainable agriculture – writing press releases, content creation for different social media channels, the website.

I usually work 40 hours a week, spread across five days. I am free to work from home if I need to but there are usually several meetings during the day so I prefer to work at the office. My work also includes overtime and national business trips once every two months but I can take time off to compensate for extra hours worked.

When and how did you choose your current profession? Did you realize your plans from the time of your studies?

I started with internships and jobs very early during my B.A. in American Studies and Political Science in order to gain working experience in communications. My first internship was with a big chemical company. Later I interned and worked for news agencies, at a university within the field of scientific communication and events, as well as at the Goethe Institut in Washington D.C. Soon, I realized that it is important to me to fully support the ideas and values of the institutions I work for, so I started looking into jobs at NGOs and Non-profit organisations.

My tasks are varied. Most involve office work, but many require cooperation across teams, which I really enjoy. Additionally, events are a nice change and a great opportunity to network.

What in your opinion is the most important thing for your work that you learned during your studies? What do you still profit from?

I believe that one of the most important lessons during my time as a student has been how to work independently, that is: how to organize and conceptualize my work and how to quickly understand key issues within new thematic fields. I also learned how to scrutinize or constructively criticize ideas my peers have, as well as questioning academic output. In my current position it is useful to be able to think ideas through and question already established concepts in order to constantly improve upon them.

Which additional qualifications should one gain as a student that are crucial or useful for your current profession?

While good grades are nice to have, I would focus on working experience and a network within the respective field – By actually being on the job as an intern or assistant, you will find out what kind of tasks motivate you and what might not be your strong suit. It will help you to eventually find out what exactly you would like to do after finishing your studies.

A network is essential because – whether you think it’s fair or not – networks help you to get the jobs you want. They also help you to see more sharply what kind of additional training might be useful for certain areas or jobs. Your boss or a former colleague will often be happy to guide you and act as a source of inspiration for you.

Is there anything from the Master's program of North American Studies that evokes especially strong memories?

I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary of my studies. While the humanities and social sciences are often ill-reputed for retreating to their ivory tower, I found that understanding political, social and cultural structures and constructs empowered me in the 'real world' and helped me to questions a variety of things.

What advice would you give the students who would like to pursue a similar career?

Networking is key! Network from the beginning with other students, with professors but also during internships and jobs. By that I don’t mean to always figure out how people can be of use to you while you are just getting to know them. Help each other out during your studies but also when someone is in need of a job or an internship. If you know of someone who is looking for an intern: forward it to someone you think might be a good fit.

Choose your classes according to your interests but try to have some topics for papers that might be interesting for a future employer. If you think about applying to a labour union, maybe there is a way to write a paper about it in one of your classes. If you have an NGO in mind and a project you like, maybe you are able to establish a connection with them while you are writing your paper about their project.

Final advice, especially if you are a woman: engage in class, don’t be shy to ask questions and challenge ideas – the people around you are not smarter than you.