How She Got There: Danielle Bainbridge, Host & Writer of 'Origin of Everything'

Name: Danielle Bainbridge
Age: 27
Job Title and Description: Host and Writer of the web series Origin of Everything with PBS Digital Studios
College Major: BA University of Pennsylvania English and Theater Arts. MA and MPhil from Yale in American Studies and African American Studies. Ph.D. candidate in African American Studies and American Studies at Yale University.
Website: You can find Origin of Everything on Facebook and YouTube
Instagram Handle@pbsoriginofeverything

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day? 

DB: My current job with PBS entails researching, writing and hosting the episodes of the weekly web series Origin of Everything. I can’t say there’s really such a thing as a typical day since every episode is a little different. Usually, for each episode I work with my producers at Kornhaber Brown to brainstorm ideas and pitch topics. We’ll usually agree on a few ideas or general questions and then I start my preliminary research. If I find something that’s interesting or makes me want to dig deeper then I start diving into the topic. This is probably the best and most frustrating part of the job since I never know what I’m going to get in that initial search. I’m often confused or surprised by the things I uncover. Sometimes my research changes what I thought I was looking for and I end up shifting directions or subtly reworking my original claims. Then I write the script and share it with my producers and the team at PBS Digital Studios for a final review. People get a chance to ask me questions, offer critique, or point out places for greater clarity. Depending on what happens at that point I go back to the script and do even more writing and digging until I have a final draft. Then I go in to shoot the episodes and the production team works on putting together the video, including Noelle Smith who does all of our awesome graphics. 

What is the best part of your job? 

DB: Talking to people, is hands down the best part of my job. I was a pretty reserved kid but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become a real chatterbox, especially if I’m passionate about a subject. I love talking to our audience members on Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook because I’m really passionate about providing fun, entertaining, and educational content to everyone who tunes in every week. I get a lot of great messages from teachers who use our episodes in classrooms across the country and that always makes me happy. I also know that critical thinking is a vital part of deepening our understanding of the world around us. History isn’t just a boring set of dates and facts. It’s an ongoing argument and I think it’s awesome that our audience members are really active on our social media pages. I also moderate the pages and try to answer as many of the questions as I can personally. 

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it? 

DB: I think the first 40 hour a week job I ever had was as an intern for Morgan Stanley when I was 18 years old. A friend of mine was working there and recommended me for that job. I learned a lot from having to be in a professional environment every day. I ultimately didn’t end up pursuing that field after the internship, but it was valuable in a lot of ways. But in academia, my first teaching job was working as a teaching fellow for an art history course at Yale. The professor teaching the class asked if I would be interested in working for her course and since I needed a teaching assignment that semester, I agreed. At the time I was 24 and some of the students in the class were older than me so I remember sitting down at the front of my first lecture with my hands shaking. My voice cracked twice while introducing myself since I didn’t really see myself as an authoritative person. But I powered through and the rest is history (pun intended). 

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable? 

DB: I usually think of three key things when I’m working or whenever I start new jobs:

  1. Just because someone has power doesn’t mean he or she has absolute power over you. Especially when you’re first starting a career it’s easy to think that people who are more senior than you have all of the power and you’re just dependent on their kindness to get ahead. But that’s not true. No matter what stage of [the] career you’re in you have to think of yourself as someone with value, intelligence and agency. Even if someone is in a powerful position, you still have the potential to go a different route without him or her. They don’t own your talent or your time. Those gifts belong to you so it’s important to command respect instead of waiting for outside affirmation all of the time.
  2. It gets harder, but you’ll get better. Usually, each new phase of a career is incrementally harder than the one before. I used to hear ‘the reward for doing good work is more work’ and that’s usually true. But it’s like training for a marathon. Even though the amount of running you do each week is getting longer and longer, your body is also in better shape as time goes on so you’re able to tackle bigger challenges. Your mind and your talents are like big muscles. They need a lot of exercise to get in shape. So your circumstances may be getting more challenging, but you are becoming better every day.
  3. Develop an instinct for your own work. That usually means a lot of trial and error (with a heavy emphasis on the error side of things), but your instincts will become your best tool for the rest of your life. Take advice from reliable sources and loved ones, but remember that ultimately you’re in control of your choices. Advice is usually anecdotal and prescriptive because it’s essentially someone telling you “this is exactly what worked for me so you have to do things my way.” But what worked for someone else might not work for you. Figure out the things you need to get things done. Define for yourself what being successful should look like. Try lots of things and screw up a bunch of them. Take notes and learn. Listen to your instincts once you figure out what they’re trying to say and how they communicate with you. 

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

DB: I make lots of lists of goals, future plans and tasks to accomplish. But I found over time that sometimes the lists would make me depressed rather than motivate me to work harder. That was because in many cases I was setting these really hard to reach artificial deadlines and then feeling bad when I didn’t finish them exactly on time. Now I still make the lists of goals, future plans, and things to do, but I’ve also added another category called a “reverse to-do list”. I’ll take time to look back over my day and say “OK, I didn’t finish these six things I set out to do, but I did complete four of those tasks and also unexpectedly finished these three other things that weren’t on the list.” I do the same with my long-term goal lists by looking back over the past several months or year and listing everything I achieved. It helps me to measure my progress in a way that focuses on all of the things I have done, rather than the things I didn’t. Staying positive is a great motivator. 

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far? 

DB: Getting a call from my producers on my 27 birthday saying that they wanted to hire me for PBS Digital Studios. I’m a slightly superstitious person, so it felt like a great omen! 

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations? 

DB: Find a way to tell yourself that you’re capable at least once a day. Being confident can make a huge difference since you’re going to get a lot of rejection before you reach where you want to be in your career. Also, teach yourself the difference between a genuine opportunity and someone who’s just looking to waste your time or not pay for your labor. Everything I do centers on my writing. I write plays, published creative nonfiction & fiction, and do academic writing both for the show and in my role as an academic. I think when I first left college I had the mentality that every opportunity was better than nothing. I learned the hard way that this definitely isn’t true. You will definitely have to do projects you don’t love at the beginning of your career because you’re trying to build your resume. But later on, you will also have to become more discerning about the kinds of work you accept. The things you make have value because your labor is valuable. Make sure you get paid fairly and only work with people who treat your work with respect. 

What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most in a resume?

DB: I don’t have to hire people in my job, but I used to write resumes for clients at a nonprofit in West Philadelphia and the Bronx. After writing hundreds of resumes I have to say that a nice clean format is still the first thing I notice. I want it to be simply formatted and clearly legible at first glance, which is much harder than most people think. If I can’t read it, I can’t figure out what’s important. Picking the simplest and clearest format is usually the way to go. It may not be the most exciting, but it actually helps highlight all of the great things you’ve done. Also: arrange the sections by order of importance based on the type of job your applying for. If you want a writing job then make sure the section listing all of your publication credits is right at the top. If you’re looking for a teaching position, move your section on educational credentials and teaching experience right to the top. Don’t bury the lede!

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About The Author

Claire Biggerstaff is a junior at Davidson College where she's pursuing a major in English. Since her sophomore year, she's been heavily involved with Her Campus and has written for her school's chapter, interned with Her Campus Media, and eventually became the Editor in Chief of her home chapter. When she's not researching news stories or holding editing workshops with her writers, you can find her enjoying an episode of The X-Files with a piping hot cup of peppermint tea.

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