Exploration Stories + Advice

From Psych to Econ to Director of Marketing: Q&A With a Liberal Arts Alum

Jessica Cohen MCAS ’09
Major: Economics

What is your current job?: I am the Senior Director of Marketing at Atom Tickets, which is a digital ticketing company. I’m in charge of overall marketing and brand direction as well as partnerships. I help to maintain and strengthen relationships with our biggest partners, like T-Mobile and Amazon.  We are constantly brainstorming on different ways to collaborate that drive both our businesses forward.

Coming into college, how did you decide on a major? I was originally a psychology major and ended up switching to economics. I chose psychology because I’ve always been interested in how the brain works and how every human sees the world differently. At the time, I thought I was interested in becoming a therapist. After a while, I didn’t know if the traditional therapy route was exactly what I wanted to do–I also didn’t like Psych 101–which is a bad reason to switch out. I should have stuck with it because I ended up taking 10 other psychology courses during my time at BC.

What influenced your decision to switch to economics? I was trying to look for something that was broad enough that would allow me to pursue a wide array of professions after college. I had always been good at math, so I wanted to explore that. My family is more business-oriented, so I thought it would be a good major. What I know now is that you don’t have to major in exactly what you want to do after college. I highly suggest that you don’t necessarily focus on major, but instead take classes that you find interesting which can lead you to a major or to a career path you might be interested in. 

How did you get where you are today? In college I decided not to go the typical finance route because I realized that isn’t really what I wanted to do. Even though I love numbers, I’m a people person and I’m creative and I wanted to find a career that utilized both of those aspects of my personality. So for me, working in a bank wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I started talking to people about their careers, and one of the career paths that seemed interested was advertising. I started talking to a close family friend about her job in advertising, and I started putting together the connection between what I liked about psychology and advertising. A lot of people don’t realize that advertising is really numbers-driven as well, so I’m using a lot of what I learned in my economics classes (and Excel! Love a good formula). My family friend helped me secure an internship during my senior year at Arnold (I highly suggest using connections to help with internships and jobs- most jobs I have gotten have been through relationships- don’t be embarrassed to network!), a full service advertising agency in Boston. During my time there, I learned a lot about the account management side and working with clients.  After graduating in 2009, I applied to as many ad agencies in Boston as I could, and I did a lot of informational interviews. 

How did you find the people with whom you conducted informational interviews? I went on the Alumni Directory and looked for people who were in advertising. I also just asked around. One of my biggest tips–and I know I was embarrassed to use them–but I think connections and understanding what people do is one of the most important things. One of my biggest regrets in switching my major from psychology to economics is that I didn’t realize all the careers I could have gone into with a psych degree. I wish I had talked to more people working in different fields. In college, you don’t realize the possible professional paths you can go down–I know I didn’t– I thought there were five. I know a woman who works as a behavioral therapist now and goes to different schools and works with kids to get them to alter certain behaviors. It’s a nontraditional job, not based in an office, but her daily life is filled with strategic problem solving and I find that really interesting. I had no idea that job existed when I was in college. Talking to people is really important. Even if they’re doing something remotely interesting, talk to them. They may be able to put you in touch with someone else, who is doing something exciting. 

What skills are most important for success in your current job? Communication and collaboration. I’m a liaison between different teams, so I have to be an effective communicator, and I have to work with different personalities. For example, I have to work with the engineering team–I need to talk to them to know how a product works and when the product will be done and then I need to work with the marketing team to figure out how to present that product to consumers in the most easily digestible format. I also have to work with people outside of the company, so I have to learn what is important to them in terms of their business. Interpersonal skills and attention to detail are also extremely important. I’m currently at a startup, so it’s important to have self-drive as there aren’t clearly defined roles–if you see a hole in the model, it’s important for you to step up and fill that hole, so you are constantly improving and learning new skills while also helping the company.

What advice do you have for students who want to explore marketing or advertising? I started at an advertising agency, and I think that was beneficial for a few reasons. First of all, you get to see multiple sides of the marketing and advertising world. You get to see  how an agency works and you usually get to work on a bunch of campaigns because you are working quickly. This means that you have the opportunity to work with different clients who have different objectives. You also learn a lot about ad sales. Seeing these different sides can help you learn what you want to do in the industry. Some people are agency-lifers, but it’s fast-paced work, so a lot of people will start at an agency, learn quickly, and then move to the ad sales side, or the brand side.

If you could go back to BC with the knowledge you have now, is there anything you would do differently? I wish I started thinking about what I wanted to do earlier. I wish I had talked to professors or talked to anybody about it! I focused on finance for a while, but I just really didn’t understand the different career paths. I wish instead of switching out of psychology because I didn’t think I wanted to be a therapist, I had understood the other paths I could have gone down with a psychology degree. I’m not upset about the path I have chosen, but I’m not truly fulfilled by it, and I think there is something else out there for me.  On the other hand, I think it’s extremely hard to know what you want to do when you don’t have any life experience at 20 years old. I think regardless of what you choose, you will probably end up hitting that “mid-20’s crisis” and want to switch careers anyways.

How has your liberal arts education been beneficial for you? It gave me perspective on different things that if I only took classes and focused on business, I think that would have limited my perspective. Because you are made to take a variety of subjects, it helps you to see the world differently- I loved learning about different philosophies and religions. Although I didn’t major in English, I took those classes, and I think I’m now a reader and enjoy literature because of that. I think it just broadened my perspective on things.

Favorite BC dining options: Hillside pickles! Eagle’s Nest PB&J, McElroy’s Blazing Bowls, and Lower’s Buffalo chicken wraps.

Secret dream job: interior design/travel writer for a magazine 

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