Corporate Strategist: A Career for English Majors

BA alum Martin Cech, who works for a healthcare tech company, finds there's lots of demand for curious people with excellent communication skills
Martin Cech

Martin Cech (BA 2012) is in charge of strategic planning for healthcare technology company Synapse Medicine, a job he calls "a literature major's dream." Says Cech: "I spend lots of time reading and synthesizing what's going on in the world of healthcare and structuring that information into insights and plans for the business. I like that the work is multi-faceted, open-ended, and often ambiguous—like writing a paper and starting with a blank white page." Cech graciously agreed to be interviewed over email.

What was your path to this job? What do you enjoy most about your work?

Thanks to the guidance of English Senior Lecturer Eric Daigre, I ended up volunteering at the Southside Family School my junior year. This led to my first post-grad job teaching middle school in Denver Public Schools. In my third year of teaching, there was a whooping cough outbreak in the school district; and due to budget cuts, my fellow teachers and I were deputized to help collect medical record release forms and coordinate a vaccination drive. Since then, I've become increasingly passionate about healthcare.

I've hopped around trying a little bit of everything: sales for a population health startup; process improvement at primary care clinics in the American Southwest; coordinating clinical research trials on diabetes; researching and writing policy for a state Medicaid agency; and running strategic planning for two healthcare technology companies. There hasn't been much of a plan behind these moves. I've just been in the very fortunate position to take interesting opportunities as they come up, and each one has led me to the next.

My biggest lessons have been: (1) there's no shortage of interesting things to do in the world; and (2) there's lots of demand from the organizations doing these interesting things for fast learners, quick readers, critical thinkers, and good writers—and I got lots of practice in all of those as an English literature major.

Advice for current majors interested in careers like yours?

The path for an English major into business isn't as defined as it is for other majors, so I recommend: (1) dedicating time to professional networking—organizations won't seek you out, so you need to put in some work building relationships and selling your skill set; (2) seeking out opportunities with organizations and missions that resonate with you even if the job title isn't all that appealing—my first non-teaching job was sales, which I hated, but it was a foot in the door to the business world; and (3) considering post-graduate public service programs like Teach For America, AmeriCorps, or reading/math fellows as well jobs at smaller organizations like start-ups and non-profits who are more willing to take a risk on smart, curious people with great communication skills.

What do you most appreciate about your time at the University of Minnesota?

I nurtured lifelong passions for art and literature while getting the chance to develop skills and gain experiences that have helped professionally. Obviously, you can't stay at college forever, but at least once a week I think about how nice it would be to have my biggest priority be writing a paper on a piece of literature or discussing theory with my classmates. It's a terrible cliche, but I do feel like my experience at the U taught me "how to think" and informs how I approach problems in the business world today.

What book are you recommending these days?

I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. I just finished the novel A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, which I've been recommending to anyone who will listen. Now I'm scrambling to finish American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer before Christopher Nolan's movie is released; it's a real page turner.

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