Kevin O'Brien '12GS Combined Teaching and Writing In His English Program

March 31, 2017


Now focused on educational content and programming, Kevin embraced the opportunity to customize his program of study.

What motivated you to make the move to go to graduate school at Simmons?

The driving factor was that of all the graduate schools I considered, Simmons was the best fit. My ambition has always run in three directions simultaneously — toward literary scholarship, teaching, and writing — and before arriving at Simmons, I was seven or eight years into a career as a full-time teacher and part-time writer. During that stretch I tried to take my academic and artistic game to the next level in what you might call the old-fashioned way, which is to say with a library card and a can-do attitude. At some point, though, I found that I couldn’t go much further without the propulsion and support that comes with being in a scholarly community. Simmons promised what I thought was just the right blend of propulsion and support — along with two invaluable ingredients: a broad range of courses and the flexibility to create my own program of study according to my interests and ambitions. There were ample opportunities to study literature and teaching, and ample opportunities to hone my skills as a writer. It was the perfect mix.

What was your favorite part of your English graduate program?

Hands down, working with Professor Lowry Pei. He’s a writer with a capital W and a teacher with a capital T, and a great and true friend besides. The value of his guidance in matters academic and artistic pretty much defies calculation, except to say that should I ever be fortunate enough to win an award for teaching or writing, he’ll be the first person I mention in the acceptance speech. 

What kind of research did you do while in the MA in English program at Simmons?

A lot of the research I did had to do with how people acquire writing skills. Some of that involved truckloads of reading and late nights at the library, and some involved interviewing teachers and students. 
Additionally, in one of my last semesters I developed a theory about Emily Dickinson’s evolution as a poet that required me to dig through her past like a faintly obsessed private detective. Now that I think of it, that research project is actually one of my favorite Simmons memories.

What was your favorite class at Simmons?

My favorite class was Advanced Creative Writing: Non-Fiction, which I took with Lowry Pei. Among other things, that course helped me get out of my rhetorical comfort zone and pushed me to better articulate my artistic goals and values.  

If you could come back and take one class at Simmons what would it be?

American Ghosts: the Cultural Politics of Haunting with Professor Renee Bergland. Given the subject and the professor, I have no doubt that that’s a dynamite course. 

What are you doing now? 

After I left Simmons, I took a job as an in-house writer and subject matter expert for Cengage Learning, an educational content and technology company. That’s what I was doing until I recently took on a new role at Cengage that basically involves overseeing content development for a variety of humanities products. 

What is your dream job?

I don’t know that I have a solid answer to this question. Is there a job that involves teaching, writing, and solving Agatha Christie-type mysteries?