Deacon Spotlight: Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson (BA 2019 in Sociology with minors in Interdisciplinary Writing and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies )headshot of Natalie Wilson, she has short brown hair and is wearing fun earrings, a bright coral shirt and a big smile

Marketing Strategist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.

I work as a strategist in the marketing and public relations department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I work closely with my team, as well many others across the 70+ person department, including art directors, email and web developers, and more.

In my role, I’m responsible for internal and external communication strategies to share the really incredible research coming out of the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s, one of the top NIH-funded pediatric research institutes in the country — which means I get to interview a lot of amazing people, read a lot of exciting manuscripts and articles, and learn a lot of interesting things! I work with researchers to promote their grant awards, publications, presentations, and more and help them keep their pages on the hospital’s website up-to-date.

As I work to build relationships with faculty members and the staff within their labs, learn about their work, and connect with them for updates, I can help ensure their findings and accomplishments are showcased in all of the appropriate places — in email newsletters and print publications distributed to employees at the organization; in our blog for parents and families, 700 Children’s, and our peer publications, Pediatrics Nationwide and PediatricsOnline; on digital signs displayed throughout campus; on our website, NationwideChildrens.org, and our SharePoint intranet pages; on the Twitter channel that highlights the work of our faculty, @NCHforDocs; in the news; and more. I write and produce content for these channels, have written executive communications, and manage and produce a biweekly newsletter for research staff.

I really enjoy the amount of writing and editing I get to do in my role, how diverse my projects and responsibilities are, and how much I get to learn about science, medicine, technology development, and research. I’ve also been involved with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives both in my department and within the larger organization, which is really important to me. And I serve on the department’s Culture Core, so I get to coordinate volunteering opportunities and fun events like our holiday parties!

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

I graduated in 2019, then worked as a Wake Forest Fellow in the Office of Personal and Career Development before moving to Columbus, Ohio, and joining Nationwide Children’s in 2020.

As an undergrad, I grew and developed my passions — for storytelling, for relationship-building, for journalism and critical media literacy, for identifying inequities and working to achieve social justice and equity — and developed the skills I could use to advance those passions — writing, research, photography, journalism, and more — through the courses I took (both within my major and minors and outside of them), the activities I was involved in, the and the professional experiences I gained. I was a writer and editor for the Old Gold & Black and gained marketing experience as an intern for a nonprofit entrepreneurial incubator downtown, Winston Starts, and working for the law school’s Office of Communication and Public Relations. I love working with kids, so I served as a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters and worked or volunteered at several other camps and programs for young students. I attended and volunteered at the BRANCHES Social Justice Retreat, and I was involved in the Winston Salem Foundation’s Women’s Fund and Winston-Salem Innovation Literacy Project.

Until my current role, all of these experiences seemed more connected by the kinds of work I was doing than the topics I was working on or the “why.” But now I’m working in a role and for a place that seems to pull everything together. I read and write about research. My work supports children, health equity and social justice. Even my experience with startups is relevant through my work telling the stories of technologies developed at Nationwide Children’s.

In undergrad, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that my first job experience after moving away from Winston Salem would be working in medical or scientific writing — the only science course I took at Wake was astronomy! — but it’s a really great fit and challenges me in new and exciting ways. Plus, as a kid, I was always a science nerd. I feel like this role has given me the opportunity to connect with long-held curiosities and interests that had fallen to the backburner.

What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?

I think one of the biggest challenges has been not being on the set academic calendar I’ve been on my whole life — there are short and long term projects, and there are certainly benchmarks throughout the year, but I don’t have certain courses each semester and there are no summer and winter breaks — and there aren’t really “grades” on assignments or at the end of a set period, at least in the same way there were in college. So the “Work Forest” work ethic doesn’t automatically transfer to your professional work. College keeps you busy for weeks at a time, but then you’re given the space to pause, get a grade, and take a break. It can be so easy to fall into that fast-paced, middle of the semester work mode — keep your head down and grind, let projects and deadlines and weeks come and go, push onto the next one and the next one — without really slowing down or looking up to seek feedback or fully process all you’ve accomplished and how to improve the way you organize and approach your work.

I’m still working on this — and open to learning more every day! — but I think that it’s important to develop opportunities for reflection and feedback outside of formal performance reviews and build space and time on a regular basis for organizing the tasks you need to do and reviewing the work you’ve done.

It’s also important to really try to set some boundaries, take time off, and give yourself breaks, since they aren’t built in to your schedule in the same way. And having a resume dump kind of document where you jot down your responsibilities and projects as you complete them can be helpful for professional development and just helping you see and process and bask in all you’ve done. I also have a “kudos” folder in my Inbox where I save copies of emails where I’ve received compliments or notes that have made me feel proud of my work — it’s great to click through when you feel overwhelmed or sidled by imposter syndrome.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?

Give yourself grace — about personal life, professional life — everything! You might want a meticulous budget, amazing sleep hygiene, perfect morning and night routine, three nutritious and delicious meals a day, daily connections with friends new and old… but you’re probably never going to have any one of those things “perfect,” let alone all of them, immediately and all at once. It may take years to figure out what matters the most to you and which strategies work the best for you.

After being out of college for almost two years, I feel like I’ve developed some strategies for saving and spending that I feel really good about, but some of the other personal goals I have are total works in progress, and some I’ve let go of completely or haven’t really started working on. You’ll figure it out, but it will take time.

Plus, whether your room is cluttered or organized, your bedtime is consistent or irregular, your budgeting spreadsheet has every purchase logged or you use an app to just keep track of your bills and savings — there’s no moral value to any of it, and you’re not worse or better than anyone else for having any of it together. I guarantee others around you have less together than it looks like — which means that not only should you give yourself grace, but maybe having every single thing Pinterest-perfect isn’t even as necessary or important as it seems. Habits and routines are really, at their core, functional, things to help *you* feel well and happy, manage challenges, live out your own values, and get through each day — you owe those things to yourself, not to anyone else.

And you don’t have to embark on your journey to finding those things alone! Connect with the Alumni Personal & Career Development Center, talk with a counselor, watch tutorials on YouTube, compare notes with friends — there are people who are in your shoes and have been in your shoes and are here to help.

How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?

I moved to a new city and started my new job in late May 2020… so, “COVID times.” I’m so grateful to have been able to be hired and found an apartment I love in an area I love (all virtually, so I really lucked out!) in such a volatile time in the market. I saw the challenges my peers and new grads were having with finding and landing opportunities, so even though I haven’t made the personal and professional connections I would’ve liked as I’ve worked from home and prioritized following CDC recommendations, I am grateful to be employed and healthy and vaccinated. And I’m looking forward to start building more of those relationships next year by going back in to the office, joining clubs and activities or taking classes, volunteering, etc.

Staying in touch with a few friends from undergrad and from my year after graduation I spent as a Fellow before moving to Columbus has been really important to me during this time. During my Fellows year, it was so great to have a built in cohort to hang out with. But living with roommates also gave me new friends, and I got to know people who worked around campus. There were even some new friends I made that I didn’t even meet or become close with until later in the year.

But even in a formal program with a group of my peers and so much support, making friends still requires putting yourself out there — think back to your first weeks on Wake’s campus, and every time you joined a new class or club. You have to ask the group chat if anyone wants to go out for Mexican on Friday after work. Stick your head in the cubicle of that colleague to ask them to walk to lunch with you. Ask your apartment neighbor for their number, or ask that person you volunteer with if they want to come over and watch that TV show you both raved about. A lot of this kind of meeting and going out hasn’t been totally possible or appropriate in the last year, but that means that in the coming one, there will be many people who are in new cities and looking for new friends, just like you and me — we’ve got this! (And I haven’t totally ruled out using Bumble BFF…)

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

I’ve been fortunate to have several fantastic mentors as a student and young professional at Wake Forest. Several professors and colleagues talked me through career decisions and gave me personal and professional advice. These mentors taught me about their lives and paths and helped me reflect on what I enjoyed, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go. A few gave me some tough love — encouraging me to take on my job search more seriously and with more focus, pushing me to take advantage of opportunities when I was nervous, helping me wade through workplace politics and navigate the aftermath of failures and mistakes, asking me to do challenging self reflection, and empowering me to learn to say no and set boundaries.

I think the biggest impact of all of that “tough love” and of these relationships, though, is how they’ve impacted my self confidence. Sometimes you need someone to tell you that, whether you realize it or not, they’re hearing you talk yourself into or out of job opportunities because imposter syndrome is making you weigh your options differently. Sometimes you need someone to tell you you have to go to talk to that dream employer at the career fair, and they’re going to ask you how it went. Sometimes you need someone to tell you that it’s okay to consider what’s important to you when moving to a new city for a new job, even if you’re worried what others think of your decisions. Through my conversations with my mentors, I leaned out of my comfort zone. I did things I’d been too nervous for years to do — successfully! I got better at saying no and asking for help — because I got more confident that I knew my own skills, workload, and worth enough. I got better at reflecting on what I truly want to do — because I felt more confident in affirming my own values and desires for my life, speaking up, and telling my story authentically. I still have so much growing to do in these areas, but mentors can help you recognize your starting point and be accountable.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

I’ll reiterate — give yourself grace. Pressure can seem to come from everywhere — family members, friends, or others on social media. You owe it to yourself to cut yourself some slack.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

I grow through all the ways my role challenges me to learn new things and take on new responsibilities every day, and I keep track of the skills I’ve gained and the new things I’ve accomplished. Through my job, there’s also a formal goal setting process annually that I just went through and found really useful, so that will help frame how I improve in my role and how I grow personally and professionally over the next year.

But I’ve been giving myself a break from thinking about long-term career goals and plans. While I know I’m still growing and learning every day, and I want to lean into that and seek out those opportunities, after spending years of high school, college semesters, summer internships, etc. focused towards the next stepping stone and trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up” and where everything fits in to my dream path, I’m choosing to give *myself* grace. Especially in these strange pandemic times, when a lot of things I looked forward to enjoying in my first years out of college and in a new city and job have felt like they were put on pause, I’m giving myself permission to just enjoy my role and be excited about, proud of, and happy with where I am.

Story published in May 2021. For current updates about Natalie, visit her LinkedIn page.