Skye Senterfeit ‘03 fell into publishing more or less by accident.
Majoring in biology and Classics in the Honors College at the College of Charleston, she originally planned on going to medical school. But when a professor suggested she consider the publishing industry, everything changed. Today, she works as an associate photo editor for Travel + Leisure Magazine in New York City.
“I certainly didn’t set out on a career path to be a photo editor for a travel magazine,” says Senterfeit. “But I feel incredibly fortunate that that’s where I’ve landed.”
In the following Q&A, Senterfeit describes her experience at CofC, the value of the Honors College, and what it’s like to work at one of the top travel magazines in the world.
Where did you grow up and how did you end up at the College?
I grew up in West Columbia, South Carolina. My sister’s best friend, who went to CofC and then on to MUSC, inspired me to consider Charleston. I applied to USC, NYU, and CofC, and I was lucky enough to get into all three, but for me it was a no-brainer to go with CofC. It was far enough from home to give me independence, close enough to home to not seem like too daunting a move … and I was offered a very generous scholarship and a place in the Honors College, which pretty much sealed the deal.
Why did you major in biology and Classics? Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do with those degrees?
I came to CofC with a vague idea that I might want to go to med school, and a tentative plan to major in biology. I declared biology freshman year, then added Classics after realizing in the Honors Western Civilization course that that was an actual thing you could major in (I’ve always loved ancient history, particularly where the Romans are concerned). But I actually bounced around through a couple of other majors – communication and Spanish among them – before re-settling on biology and Classics. I have really varied interests, so figuring out what I wanted to do with myself was honestly a bit of a struggle.
What’s a typical day like as the associate photo editor for Travel + Leisure?
My usual day to day involves collaborating with editors and our art department on ideas for photo shoots – and then producing the shoots that will bring the stories to life. The production side of things definitely has a creative side to it, but also involves a little bit of being a travel agent, a schedule planner, a people wrangler, and definitely a problem solver! I, unfortunately, don’t get to travel for the job… but I do get to send others on jealousy-inducing trips. And I get to look at gorgeous photos all day of course, which is a pretty sweet gig.
What is the coolest or most interesting story you’ve worked on?
Last year T+L did a story on the Oslo art scene that I found super interesting. Big, smart personalities, a really interesting approach to art in the city, and wonderful photography by Julian Broad. And I once sent photographer Ambroise Tézenas on a whirlwind tour of Morocco for a story about hitting that country’s deserts, mountains, and coast – it showed me how much there is to Morocco outside of just Marrakech, and I’m itching to go explore. I love being assigned to work on stories in places I’ve never heard of before (see: Aarhus, Seoraksan, Svalbard…)!
How did your experience in the Honors College influence your academic or career path?
The Honors College experience in general was great for me. I found it to be a simultaneously supportive and competitive environment, which suited me. The special topics courses in particular were great; how could anyone resist a class called Myth, Baseball, and the Meaning of Life? But I’d say the most direct impact on my career path actually came via Honors Western Civ. One of my discussion group leaders, [former CofC professor] Darryl Phillips in the Department of Classics, ended up being my incredibly patient advisor and mentor for the rest of my time at CofC. He’s the one who, watching me hem and haw about what I should major in and what I should do with myself, suggested that I’d probably do well in publishing because he knew I loved writing and doing research. Publishing was something I’d never really considered before then.
Why did you choose to attend a graduate program abroad? Would you recommend this to others?
As graduation approached I’d cooled to the idea of med school – at least for the moment. Though, honestly, it was always something I thought I might revisit (and who knows, I still might!). But that left me not exactly sure what I DID want to do. What appealed to me most was some sort of international journalism. University of Melbourne offered a course in just that, and I felt like doing a master’s abroad made sense if I wanted to pursue a career in international anything, so off I went. I felt like I needed a bridge between my majors and my semi-chosen career, and I think grad school’s a great way to do that, whether you choose a program at home or abroad.
What initial post-grad experiences helped you start your career?
Halfway through my first semester at University of Melbourne I switched from the journalism program to the publishing program. I’d taken Intro to Publishing as an elective and loved it; Professor Phillips had been right. Through that program, I got an internship with a major magazine publisher in Australia that published, among many other things, a camping/caravanning title that I was assigned to. While doing that internship, an opening came up for a part-time fact-checker position with Explore Australia, a division of Australian non-fiction publisher Hardie Grant. The job was specifically for Explore’s camping/caravanning book, so a University of Melbourne professor pitched me for the job since I was already doing work on a similar subject for my internship. I ended up getting editorial assistant work with the wonderful team at Explore beyond that first fact-checking assignment and worked with them until I moved back to the U.S. Forging a great relationship with a professor served me as well in Melbourne as it had in Charleston!
Do you have any advice for CofC students looking to break into the publishing and/or the travel writing industry?
I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that publishing is the accidental profession. It definitely used to be, though that’s changing. Any summer job or part-time job that relates in any way to publishing helps – for instance, choosing to work at Barnes & Noble instead of bartending. It helps you learn more about how the business works than you might think. Having another specialty can help too – if you want to write and you have a science background, maybe you get your start as a technical writer or covering a science beat. There are lots of ways into the business besides majoring in publishing or communications or English. And be open to all that publishing entails; there’s more to it than writing. There’s a whole digital world to explore beyond print, a business side that people forget about, and ample opportunities for design and, as I found quite by accident, photo production and research.