May 25, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Burgess, BA'05 (English)

Arts alumni are an accomplished crew. They have great advice for students and fellow graduates, and know that arts degrees teach skills that are sought-after in the professional environment.
Alumna Jennifer Burgess stands in front of the Alberta legislature building
Alumna Jennifer Burgess stands in front of the Alberta legislature building

Jennifer Burgess BA'05 from the Department of English works as the Ministerial Assistant with the Government of Alberta. She supports the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and MLAs with with policy development, issue management, research, and stakeholder engagement.

What is your favourite University of Calgary memory?

The years I spent at the University of Calgary were formative for me in so many ways. There were amazing courses and also some pretty amazing parties. But when I look back at my degree I often think about the Honours seminar I completed in my final year. I made connections with students in that class that become decade-long friendships. I also had the opportunity to be supervised by Dr Srebrnik who patiently challenged and encouraged me to develop strong critical thinking skills and a love of research I've carried with me throughout my career.

What was your favourite campus hang out spot?

The English Literature Students' Society had a tiny office full of books in the Social Sciences building tower. Most importantly, it has a old cushy couch where you could always join another student napping, getting lost in a novel, or occasionally enjoying a late night beer. I remember especially in the first year of my degree when university life was overwhelming and the campus seemed intimidating, having that small comfortable space to hide in was invaluable. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a student completing the same degree that you did, what would it be?

Push yourself to think about how all the knowledge and skills you're gaining can contribute and help the world. Academia can become insular and inward-focused, which can create that special incubator-like environment for learning, but can also be a detriment. In this new “post-truth” era I think those of us lucky enough to experience post-secondary education have the responsibility to contribute to discourse outside of the university. Look for your place in this critical time to analyze and communicate new ideas and research-based information- English majors, this is your moment!

How has your career evolved?

Unpredictably! After my Master's degree at the University of Sussex, I worked in book publishing for a few years and then started my own consulting business for corporate communications. It was an exciting time to be in Calgary and I had the opportunity to work with all kinds of companies and industries- energy, technology, theatre, not for profit- and grow a super diverse network. After a few years I decided to move my career in-house with CH2M, an international engineering firm. I worked with technical experts to communicate their projects and reporting to our clients, which involved travelling all around the world communicating the great work CH2M was doing. At the same time, I worked as a consultant on several political campaigns and ran for office myself in 2014. When the chance to work for Premier Notley and Minister Mason presented itself last year I couldn't say no, it was the perfect combination of two professional skills I really enjoyed: working in a technical and policy-related environment and politics.

What is the best thing about your job?

Anyone who's been a political staffer can tell you there's nothing like working in the Legislature. Every day I walk into the building I feel privileged to contribute to our democracy and help our government make life better for Albertans. The Transportation Ministry particularity is exciting to work in. The infrastructure projects I work on will help shape the province and affect people's lives for generations. With the challenging economy in Alberta right now, infrastructure creates much-needed jobs and also prepares us for when the economy picks up again and we will need world-class roads and transit systems.

How did your arts degree help you get to where you are now/your current career?

It's hard to imagine where I would be without my English degrees. I started my career in an era that was increasingly information-driven and I had in my back pocket the skills to research, analyze, and communicate complex ideas and text. I had also inherited from my professors and fellow students a love of new ideas and unconventional perspectives that motivates me to bring a critical, productive mindset to everything I do.