Encounters in Publishing #1: So You Want to be a Journalist, by Liz Mathews

After six years of working in publishing, and four years before that of securing an English degree, it seems obvious that taking a chemistry class makes the most sense for my life’s path. Ions and stoichiometry are the next logical step after mastering en-dashes and track changes, am I right?

It is because of this totally normal and expected transition to science that I managed to destroy my nineteen year old lab partner’s dream of becoming a journalist.

On our first day of lab, we all walked in with our separate lives, sat down, and waited for instruction to begin. And our first instruction: “Whoever you’re sitting next to is going to be your lab partner this semester, so make sure they seem all right.”

I turned to the woman nearest me. “I’m a nice person,” I said.

“Me too,” she replied. We exchanged names.

After the prof went through the requirements of the lab environment (lab coats and safety goggles all the time prompted my new partner to ponder out loud, “I wonder if they make cute ones…?”), we had some time to chitchat as we went through our lab drawer and figured out the difference between Erlenmeyer flasks and graduated cylinders.

“So, are you a full-time student here?” I asked awkwardly, worried that my advanced age was going to show immediately.

“No, no. I tried that last semester and it was way too much, along with a full-time job,” she told me. “What do you do?” she furthered.

“I work in publishing. For a sci-fi fantasy place.”

“Oh, cool!” she exclaimed.

I shook my head.

She continued, “I’d love to go into journalism. But I’m thinking about transferring to Baruch, and getting a degree in Business.”

“That’s probably a really good idea,” I told her with as much seriousness as I can muster. “Journalism would be interesting, no doubt…but after six years in publishing, well, I’m sorry to say that I think business would be more lucrative.”

“Yeah,” she said and looked away.

We then watched the half-hour safety video wherein actors stabbed themselves in the hand with glass stirring rods, and I felt a little twinge of guilt for steering the young lady toward a more financially sound future. But she’d already mostly figured it out anyway. And as I later learned, since she’s actually twenty-five and raising a son, she’s probably got a lot more things under control at her age than I do on the brink of thirty. I’m the one retaking general chemistry, after all.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.

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