Hi readers! Today I am starting a new series on my blog that will feature a variety of inspiring women in digital media and beyond, whose innovative thinking and #bossbabe attitudes make these millennial multi-hyphenates experts in their designated fields. Today's post features a conversation about the post-grad world, and I had the opportunity to chat with Rosemarie Alejandrino, the co-founder and editor of Flash Thrive Zine and a graduate of the University of California Berkeley and University of Southern California. I was particularly interested in chatting with Rosie about all the things that happen after you graduate university—from the application process, to freelancing, and ultimately, how to find your pathway after you graduate. Read our conversation to learn more about Rosie and her journey to graduate school and beyond:
photography by Jason Mai
Hi Rosie, thanks for chatting with me today! To start off, can you give the readers a brief glimpse into who you are + what you do?
Rosemarie Alejandrino: Hi Giselle! I’m so excited to be chatting with you for your blog. My name is Rosemarie Alejandrino and I’m a freelance arts and culture journalist currently based out of the Bay Area. I’m also the editor-in-chief of FLASH THRIVE zine and art collective, and my main project right now is FLASH THRIVE’s bi-weekly PLAYLIST DIARIES newsletter, where we send out a curated, highly-themed playlist every other week.
You graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in English and American studies, what made you want to pursue further education/graduate school after finishing your undergrad?
RA: I’ve always really enjoyed school, and education is really important to me and my family. I was a first-generation college student: My family is from the Philippines, but I was born in the U.S. My family always emphasized the importance and the privilege that comes with being able to pursue higher education, and that always stuck with me during my college years. I think that pushed me to go want to continue my education while I still felt motivated to.
I didn’t always know that I wanted to get a master’s degree. But once I fell in love with arts journalism while working at the Daily Californian, I decided that I wanted to pursue that as a career.
What made you want to pursue a masters in specialized journalism? What was the process like of deciding on a grad program and applying?
RA: I started looking into ways that people broke into the journalism industry by studying the lives of writers I looked up to, but I noticed that the landscape was changing. The truth of the matter is: if you don’t come from a place where you have connections in the entertainment industry, it’s almost a hundred times harder to catch a break.
I’m lucky enough to have had the option to go to graduate school, a privilege I know isn’t afforded to a lot of people. I looked specifically for graduate programs in arts journalism—which is kind of niche, to be fair—because I knew that taking that next step would not only elevate my work as a writer and cultural critic, but also expose me to the kind of people and connections I didn’t have where I grew up.
There’s only a few schools in the country that offer a master’s in arts journalism, so that made my decision of where to apply pretty simple. I applied to Columbia, NYU, and USC for arts journalism, and Berkeley as my backup school even though they didn’t offer arts specifically.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone applying to grad school—especially in a field that having a master’s degree isn’t necessarily required—is to really think through what it is you want to pursue in the future. Applying to graduate school while in school is almost like taking a whole other 4-unit class. It took a lot out of me, and while a lot of my professors were understanding and gave me some leeway when deadlines crept closer, the process of traveling to visit schools, fielding phone calls, and writing essays took up a lot of time during my senior year of college.
I didn’t take any time off between undergrad and graduate school, and while I don’t regret that, I don’t recommend it to other people who ask me for advice. I think the time in-between in invaluable, and it never hurts to either take that time off if you can afford to, or get some work experience in the meantime.
@yesrosemarie for FLASH THIRVE at SF Zine Fest 2017
For those wanting to apply to graduate school, what’s your biggest piece of advice for standing out as an applicant? What experience is important to have before applying to/attending graduate school?
RA: For the application process, I think the most important thing is to be extremely yourself. If you try to fit into a preconceived mold that you think the schools may have for you, throw that out the window. I think schools can often tell when someone is being disingenuous, and your best content often comes out of being honest. (That’s a tip for anything you do, not just grad school applications!)
As for experience, most if not all of the arts journalism programs I applied to were geared towards mid-career journalists, meaning people who have previous experience in the field of journalism and want to hone their crafts by concentrating on a certain topic or field. If that’s something you want to do, then you have to have previous experience, which is why it ends up being very niche. (My cohort was only 11 people, and that’s generally the size of each arts journalism cohort at USC).
While I was in college, I worked as the arts & entertainment editor for the Daily Californian, freelanced for various publications, and established FLASH THRIVE, all of which helped prepare me for a mid-career graduate program. There are, however, a number of journalism graduate programs that do not require much (or any) previous experience, and you just have to seek those out by looking at the specific requirements.
You attended USC for your master’s program in arts journalism, could you give us a brief breakdown of what the program entailed? What was the most valuable thing you learned from your master’s program?
RA: I chose the USC Annenberg’s master’s in Specialized Journalism (the Arts) program because we had to take half of our classes in journalism skills and the other half at the other art schools on campus. This is designed to give you freedom to dive deeper into the art forms you want to write about while also giving you access to the classes and equipment that the journalism school has to offer. For example, one of my favorite classes I got to take was actually in the Fine Arts master’s program, where we learned about the history of museum curation. I had never taken an art history class, but learning about art from the perspective of how museums and galleries are organized was so interesting to me. I also got to work alongside the Master of Fine Art students, and seeing how visual artists work up close was such an invaluable experience that I’ll always take with me.
The most valuable thing I learned, however, is that it’s important to have a sense of who you are when you go into a creative field. Obviously, you will find yourself through your work and what you create, but having a strong sense of self assures that you won’t get swept up in other people’s expectations or ideas of who you are. I went into my program knowing that I wanted to use the connections I make to help elevate the voices of people who don’t get the privilege to speak for themselves, and reminding myself of that every single day is what kept me going, even when things got challenging.
You were also able to work as a fellow for Rotten Tomatoes and wrote an amazing thesis on the changing world of film criticism, could you tell us a bit about how you chose this exploration and what the research process was like?
RA: Well, thank you for saying my thesis was amazing! I genuinely appreciate that so much. For context, though, I will say that my fellowship with Rotten Tomatoes is the reason I choose USC over the other schools I was accepted to. I want to be transparent, because I would’ve loved to have this insight when I was applying to school. My tuition was covered by my fellowship, and I 100% would not have been able to afford graduate school had it not been for scholarships, gift aid, and additional loans. The same goes for my undergrad degree as well. I want to bust the myth that money should not be a factor in your decision to pursue higher education, especially for first-generation students. Utilizing your financial resources has been such a key part of my higher education experience, and it’s something that isn’t talked about. So I just wanted to put that out there.
I was extremely lucky to be the first recipient of the Rotten Tomatoes Fellowship in Digital Innovation and Entertainment Criticism. Because I was the first, that meant I got to design the fellowship around what I wanted to learn more about. One of my specializations is internet culture, and I wanted to focus on the ways video creators and podcasts were expanding the discourse about film and television in ways that go beyond the written word. I spent nine months collecting data, conducting surveys, researching and interviewing content creators, and ultimately compiling the article that became my published thesis on RottenTomatoes.com. I pitched the project independently and got help from the RT team whenever I needed, but for the most part, I used RT for the resources they were able to give me, like contacts and of course, a platform to publish my story. I learned so much from having a seat at the table, and I never take that opportunity for granted.
"I want to bust the myth that money should
not be a factor in your decision to pursue higher education, especially for first-generation students.
Utilizing your financial resources has been such a key part of my higher education experience, and it’s something that isn’t talked about."
Of course attending grad school at USC meant moving from the bay to Los Angeles. What was your personal experience like living in Los Angeles for the past year? Did you find the culture between the bay area and Los Angeles to be particularly different?
RA: I’m laughing because this is definitely the #1 thing you and I bonded over when we both moved to LA! To be honest, my first year living in LA was really hard, but only ¼ of that was because I had moved to a brand new city. I was born and raised in the Bay Area, and although I lived away from my hometown of Vallejo for college, Berkeley is only about 45 minutes away, so I was never too far from home. I’ve always loved LA growing up and dreamed of moving there—USC was my first dream college, but I didn’t get accepted as an undergrad—so I wouldn’t say I got culture shock from moving there. I think I just didn’t realize how much Bay Area culture was ingrained in my everyday life. My first journalism gigs were for local papers, and I was really involved in the art and music scene in the East Bay. I kept wanting to recreate that in LA, but realized that every city has its own heartbeat that you can’t really compare with any other place.
I went from walking everywhere to driving everywhere, and parking made it hard to be spontaneous. I was used to taking BART and the bus (shoutout to AC Transit), but now I had to get used to being in my car for a majority of the day.
Can I just say, as someone who used to walk everywhere, I did not realize how much water I was drinking on a daily basis, and how much of a luxury it is to be walking around and have the ability to stop somewhere to pee. I know this sounds so stupid but my first few weeks driving in LA, I would drink so much water in my car and realize that I couldn’t just stop on the side of the road and go to the bathroom! I was hydrating like a person who walks, but I was driving! It sounds ridiculous but it’s totally something I had to adjust to. Like, I don’t suggest that you become less hydrated, but just be mindful of where the bathrooms are, I guess.
Anyway, the other ¾ of the reason why living in LA was hard is because I think I tried to use grad school as a way to run away from the “post-grad blues” everyone always warns you about. But let me tell you—picking up and moving away doesn’t make the post-grad blues go away! You just end up feeling them while having to take new classes and make friends. This is why I recommend that people take some time off in between undergrad and grad school if that’s an option, because I definitely underestimated the emotional toll being away from home would take on me. That’s also a huge reason why I’m currently taking time off between grad school and finding work, which is a huge privilege as well. I can see myself moving back to LA in the near future, though, because I ended up loving that I was surrounded by art and cool creative opportunities. But I only started to enjoy it once I stopped comparing it to where I grew up, and acknowledged that one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They’re just different places to experience different parts of my life.
As a journalist and freelancer, it can be difficult to navigate a world where many publications ask for unpaid work or contributions. How do you stay true to your values or combat the notion that written work should be contributed for free?
RA: This is a really important topic but sometimes a contentious one. And like most issues, I don’t think it’s at all black and white, but I will say that personally, I don’t write for free.
The only exception to that rule is if I’m collaborating or working on a project with someone I know personally whose publication or platform doesn’t have the means to pay contributors, let alone monetize their own projects. FLASH THRIVE is an independent, DIY collective and we don’t have the financial means to pay our contributors, so I totally understand being on that side of it. In those cases, it’s more about supporting the project and elevating each other’s work, rather than financial gain.
But let me say this: if the publication is big enough to pay their writers and they aren’t paying, that is not okay. I know for people who are starting out, it’s tempting to get your name out there and get paid in “exposure,” but in the long run, that devalues the work of all writers because it suggests that publications can and should pass on people who are demanding fair wages in favor of people who are willing to work for free. At the end of the day, creative labor is labor. The idea that you should be able to afford doing your job is the systematic problem that prevents from elevating the voices of marginalized and minority groups.
I was working for a student paper that paid a stipend rather than an hourly rate, which is technically legal because you are contracted as an “intern.” But no one there was getting paid nearly enough for the type of work we were doing. I personally was working three extra jobs on top of that to make money for rent and other expenses, but I know some students who were able to afford to work there without an additional income source. So unfortunately, no matter where you go, the barrier of entry is kind of unreasonable financially. I wouldn’t trade my experience at that paper for the world, but before I left, I made it very clear that in order to make jobs in journalism accessible, we have to take into account the financial barriers that prevent people from pursuing this career at all.
If you’re just starting out, I really suggest seeking out independent presses, zines, and local collectives who need contributors. If you absolutely have to write for free (which is the unfortunate reality for a lot of people in this profession), try to do it for places that will build with you and not just use you for free labor. Issa Rae says that her biggest advice is to network horizontally, and not vertically, and I always take that advice to heart. Find people who are coming up and bring them up with you.
"Issa Rae says that her biggest advice
is to network horizontally, and not vertically,
and I always take that advice to heart.
Find people who are coming up and
bring them up with you."
After successfully finishing your graduate program, what would you say is your next move?
RA: I’m currently taking a little time off to work on independent projects, help with some family stuff, and frankly, to rest after five nonstop years of work and school. I’m incredibly lucky to have the privilege of taking time off, and I’m definitely not taking this time for granted.
I want to continue working in arts and entertainment reporting, and hope to do that in either LA or in the Bay Area. But for now, I’m concentrating on FLASH THRIVE and managing our biweekly PLAYLIST DIARIES newsletter, and organizing our future zine fest appearances.
photography by Brit Wigintton
What is the best advice you could give a college student who is still trying to find their pathway?
RA: It’s important to keep an open mind, especially if you don’t exactly know what you want to do as a career. I think trying different things and having new experiences is what helps you figure out what it is you want to do and what things you’d never want to do. I changed my major a couple of times while I was in college, and didn’t even settle on declaring American Studies until my junior spring! So try to take classes that may surprise you, and join clubs and groups to find people who may share your similar interests. Because those connections are the ones that actually matter the most at the end of the day, in my opinion.
Also, everyone around you is just pretending to have it all put together. But the truth is, nobody knows what they’re doing. Life’s a lot more fun when you realize we’re all just winging it.
And invest in packing cubes. That’s my forever life advice.
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