Our Alumnae

Our graduates have entered a variety of professions since the program was founded in 1996.  Many of them have pursued or are currently pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in a range of disciplines.  According to the most recent information from the Office of Alumnae Relations, careers of alumnae in comparative literature include medicine, law, finance, public relations and marketing, publishing, education, journalism (print, television, and online), arts administration, politics, and social work.  Our alumnae have embarked on careers in the U.S. and internationally as gallery director, television anchor/executive producer, novelist, poet, translator, editor, literary agent, reporter, publisher, private school administrator, college professor, nurse practitioner, health policy researcher, market analyst, among others.  We reached out to them with questions about their experience majoring in comparative literature and share with you some of their answers here. 
 
We’d love to hear from more alumnae and encourage you to share your contributions by writing to Sondra Phifer at sphifer@barnard.edu.

How has the study of comparative literature informed your life after Barnard?

“In so many ways!  My ability to connect the dots, quickly see parallels between writing and art, journalism and business.  My writing skills were honed in comp lit classes at Barnard and Columbia.  I learned to pay close attention to words, their meaning, the style of writing, and how it reflects the context.  My senior thesis–on the relationship between poetry and painting in Russian Futurism and other modernist movements–has come in handy numerous times in my writing about art and the art market.”
–Katya Kazakina, ’96, art reporter at Bloomberg News in New York, NY
 
“Tremendously.  It led me to Chile, where I met my husband and translated various Chilean writers, and then to Brazil, where I began translating from Portuguese and ultimately wrote a novel that is a love letter to the art of translation.”
–Idra Novey, ’00, author of the novel Ways to Disappear in Brooklyn, NY
 
“Studying comparative literature didn’t lead to my current work directly, but in my opinion it has helped me in all sorts of tangible and intangible ways.  I always liked reading stories and finding meaning and structure in narrative–that’s what drew me to study literature in the first place.  Learning to think critically about characters in a novel and their motivations, concerns, and aspirations helped build a foundation of empathy which would become so important in my work as a nurse, where much of my time is spent bearing witness to people and hearing their stories–physical, emotional, spiritual, and familial–and their efforts to make sense of these multiple histories.  It seems to me that much of literature and literary criticism is concerned with the same existential projects.”
–Sarah D’Ambruoso, ’00, nurse practitioner in palliative care for cancer patients in Los Angeles, CA
 
“I use my degree every single day in my job.  The reading and writing skills I developed as an undergraduate at Barnard, and then continuing on in my master’s, have been invaluable.  I work with students and colleagues all over the U.S. and all over the world.  Being able to code-switch based on my audience is hugely helpful in my work and has led to some exciting opportunities.  Right now I’m working on how to better engage with our international students and get them to think more critically about the cultural exchange elements of their experience with us.  In order to tackle this, I need to have a deep understanding of where the students are coming from, and what they are hoping to gain.”
–Erica Carley Harris, ’06, External Relations Manager at Council on International Educational Exchange in Portland, ME
 
“The language skills I developed as a comp lit major continue to be absolutely essential to my life and career.  I could not be a journalist in Mexico, covering Latin America, without Spanish fluency.  And I wouldn’t be fluent in Spanish without having studied it at Barnard and during my semester abroad.  Comp lit also gave me the skills to recognize and analyze different systems of knowledge, which gives me a critical eye as a science journalist.  In large part, I see my work writing about science as a kind of translation, which is one of the main areas of comp lit and theory that first interested me.”
–Lizzie Wade, ’08, Latin America correspondent for Science magazine in Mexico City
 
“Comparative literature is a specifically critical way of looking at the world and the culture it produces.  It engenders the ability to see intersectionality where others may not.  But, you have to be careful of the scope of your thought.  It is a template for many different multidisciplinary fields.”
–Mary Elizabeth Borkowski, ’08, writer and co-founder of The New Inquiry, an electronic journal of critical thought
 
“Comparative literature taught me to look at the world in a different way, to quite literally compare and contrast literary traditions in a way I had never done before.  It’s a hugely valuable skill, as I’ve used the same principles I was taught as an undergraduate in the classroom not only in my postgraduate degree, but in a professional capacity.  I think having studied comparative literature, a person’s mind challenges concepts in a different way.  The rigorous training I had at Barnard to analyze and compare has certainly been useful!”
–Jessica Whitlum-Cooper, ’10, literary agent assistant at Curtis Brown in London, UK
 
“My degree in comparative literature—especially the translation studies courses I took—have allowed me to pursue a side career as a translator of mostly art-related texts (from Spanish to English).  Studying comparative literature also gave me a good background for understanding the fundamental theoretical concepts that I would encounter in graduate school in a cultural studies department.  It gave me the critical tools to take apart texts and actively participate in discussions.  My professors also set a great example for how I approach the classroom and pedagogy.”
–­Anavelyse Allen-Mossman, ’13, Ph.D. student at Columbia University
 

Do you have any advice for comparative literature students now at Barnard?

“Take as many classes across the Columbia campus, including at graduate schools and in varied disciplines.  They will open your mind and sharpen your pen.  The main thing: Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!”
– Katya Kazakina, ’96, art reporter at Bloomberg News in New York, NY
 
“Get good at your additional languages!  Study abroad as independently as you can to be immersed in the language and in another culture.  The fact that the comp lit major gives you that opportunity is its great value when compared to an English degree.  Do not miss it!”
–Lizzie Wade, ’08, Latin America correspondent for Science magazine in Mexico City
 
“Take advantage of the small department and the close attention/availability of the faculty.  This is a gift!”
–Liz Chase, ’00, assistant professor of education at St. John’s University
 
“Think creatively about what your degree can offer.  You have all the strengths of an English major (which are in demand–think communication skills, writing skills, analysis background) plus multiple languages, plus a fair amount of history and cultural studies tacked on.  There are a lot of people that don’t know what a comp lit major is, so play up those strengths.  I got my first job writing about international politics by explaining to the newspaper that I could read articles in multiple languages, not just write well in English.  Capitalize on that!”
–Melanie Jones, ’11, Ph.D. student at UCLA
 
“Take the hard classes and do the reading.  It’s all worth it!”
­­–Anavelyse Allen-Mossman, ’13, Ph.D. student at Columbia University