Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this monthly series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: "Where are they now?".
Heather Salus graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Poetry) in 2010. She works as a permissions researcher at The Permissions Group in Glenview, Illinois where she helps writers connect with the permissions they need to include third-party work in their own writing.
What are some of your main responsibilities, and what does a normal day or week look like for you?
Say you’re writing a biography of Alice Walker and want to reprint some of her fiction in your book. You would need to reach out to her agent or publisher for permission to include her writing. The same is potentially true for any project that incorporates third-party work.
Clients bring us projects that include outside texts, photographs, and music. It is my responsibility to evaluate this material (is it public domain? is it fair use?), research who owns the rights, and finally negotiate an agreement for its use.
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?
The best part of my job is the variety of projects that wind up on my desk. In a single day, I might locate the descendants of old Hollywood actors, find the contemporary translators of ancient texts, and determine the first publication dates of folk songs. I enjoy getting to perform so many different types of research.
(Some of the third-party material is also a catalyst for writing when I leave work. Especially the more arcane photographs. Bonus.)
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
Outside of the familiarity with literary texts/authors/publishers that came with studying creative writing, my most valuable skill from graduate school is the ability to write clearly. I’m communicating with countless clients and rightsholders throughout the day, so it’s necessary to be able to efficiently correspond with them.
What experiences made an impact on your career choice?
As a graduate student, I worked on the editorial board of the literary magazine, Ninth Letter, and became interested in publishing. Right after graduation, I was looking for a part time job in a bookstore, and met a store manager who knew my current boss. While he told me that he couldn't offer me a position, he knew that she was hiring and encouraged me to submit my resume to her. That’s how I found my way to this fairly obscure corner of the publishing world.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
Try to avoid limiting yourself to a tiny corner of your field. I know there’s a ton of pressure to specialize, but there’s so much to be learned through casting a wider net—in your own field and other disciplines. This is especially true if you don’t intend to make your life in academia and will be looking for outside work when you graduate.
(Also, CU has a unique and fantastic art and music scene. Set aside your work/ teaching for a few minutes and go experience it. I didn’t do that as much as I should have, and I’m still kicking myself over some performances and exhibitions that I missed.)
This interview is part of the monthly Grad Life series called "Where Are They Now?" which chronicles the career paths of recent Univeristy of Illinois Graduate College alumni. Interviews are conducted by Laura Spradlin. Laura contributed to Grad Life throughout its first year (and she will be missed as she takes up her new position in Colorado!). She is an alumna of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois and studied English and French at Illinois Wesleyan University.