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Center for Professional Development
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Dartmouth College
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Alumni Stories: Kimberly Barry '95

Generalist Extraordinaire Merges Skills and Passions

by Julia M. Plevin '09

Kim Barry '95 describes herself as a generalist - a person with a wide array of interests and talents.  Barry has had an impressive career path; her story is not a straight path to success, but it is the false starts that make her wiser and are reassuring to Dartmouth students uncertain of what they want to do in the future.

After years of reading the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine and feeling less successful than her peers who were presidents of this or heads of that, she has finally become comfortable with where she is and what she has done. She should be more than comfortable because she has had a lot of successes and interesting stories, and has exciting plans for the years to come.

Barry has traveled around the world and pursued many different interests, from journalism to economics. At Dartmouth, she majored in Sociology because she found it to be interesting and good for generalists. Sociology provided her with a framework for looking at the world and taught her that everything is not as it seems. While Sociology was a broad subject, her minor in Environmental Studies was more specific. While her career has shifted and she no longer works with environmental issues, her passion for the environment has remained a constant.

It was towards the end of her time at Dartmouth that Barry discovered that she loved economics and journalism. While she did not do as much as she wished she had in these subject areas while at Dartmouth, she has made up for this by working as a journalist and economist in her career.

In typical generalist fashion, Barry participated in many different types of extracurricular activities while at Dartmouth. She rowed for two years and played rugby for one year. She was involved with the DOC and Students Fighting Hunger and played in the band. While her definition of career success has changed many times, her work with the Tucker Foundation continues to inspire her to want to help others.

Upon graduating, Barry had no idea what she wanted to do and was not even stressed about it. She was naive and carefree. She decided to go teach in Japan because it was something so different. Her time in Japan sparked her interest in travel and politics. Next, she held a temporary position at a newspaper in New York City, writing about local political issues, but she wanted to broaden her range. On a whim, she took a writing internship in San Jose, Costa Rica that led to a staff position at The Tico Times, an English-language newspaper.  As a staff writer, Barry was able to choose what she wanted to write about. She enjoyed being in a new country. Everyday was interesting and challenging, and she was not yet concerned with her career. However, the honeymoon period ended when it seemed like all her Dartmouth friends were going to graduate school and she felt pressure to get a graduate degree as well.

Barry then got a Master's degree in Foreign Affairs from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. While she found the program enlightening, she still did not know what she wanted to do and strongly advises other generalists against getting specific graduate degrees unless they have figured out what exactly they want to do with the masters. Law school or business school are better options for people with many interests.  She recommends against doing an International Affairs program unless it is a joint degree or a person has a specific interest within international affairs since the subject is intangible and the degree hard for many people to understand.

Before graduate school, Barry seemed to be on a carefree adventure but afterward, she became more focused. Barry wanted to do something with media, carrying over her love of journalism from her stint at The Tico Times, but decided she needed experience in the private sector.

She next worked as a senior business analyst at a company in New York City for a year, but after losing her job in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, she became worried because the economy was not in great shape. She wanted to break into media but was not sure how to get there. She worked at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in Washington, DC as an economist for three years. Looking back, she thinks she kept this job for too long but  does not regret the time she spent there.  Barry worked with some really smart and driven people, but became frustrated with the bureaucracy and inefficiency of government. Her next career move brought her to her current job as a research supervisor for National Geographic Channels International.

National Geographic seems like a glamorous place to work but most of the people who travel around the globe are freelance writers or explorers. Barry says she gets to "armchair travel" because she researches and watches fascinating shows. In her job, she gets to think critically, is surrounded by smart people, and can further pursue her interests in the environment and politics.  Barry works with producers to make sure the shows are balanced, accurate, and have the right content for National Geographic. While she enjoys working with producers, she now knows that if she could do it all again she would have become a producer from the start. Yes, hindsight is 20-20, but the process of figuring everything out is so much more interesting.

Barry has switched career paths, tried lots of different things, and also eliminated a lot of things. Along the way she picked up transferable skills - little nuggets like analytical skills and writing skills that have allowed her to leverage herself from one career to another. Living abroad gave her language skills and a different perspective. Working as an economist allowed her to develop financial skills and business smarts. She no longer gets overwhelmed by new topics and knows how to ask the right questions. Every job has made her a more complete and well-rounded person. Bouncing around from different jobs is hard both emotionally and financially, but it makes for great stories and many life experiences.

Barry has been able to stay true to herself as she has switched careers and pursued different interests and passions.  She has sage advice for Dartmouth students who would describe themselves as generalists and have no clear idea of what type of career they wish to pursue.

Barry emphasizes the importance of networking. She always thought that if she did a good job and her bosses liked her, she would automatically be successful, but has learned that the world does not work like that. Asking people for jobs is uncomfortable and takes Barry out of her comfort zone  but she has learned it is absolutely necessary.

She also strongly recommends working with a career counselor early on. While she believes people should be able to spend a few years exploring after graduating college, whether that is working overseas or as a journalist, she thinks it's important to figure out a path that works from the beginning. There are so many careers for generalists  but it is key to figure out what type of work fits your interests, skills, and personality, from crunching numbers, to communications, to traveling and working with people. After years of trying out different careers, Barry understands that to be successful, a person must love what he/she is doing and be good at it. 

With all of her transferable skills, insights, and experience, Barry plans to find a job with a real path where she gets to travel and talk to all sorts of different people. She now knows what she wants and is really happy. She concludes, "After taking a really long time, I like myself." She knows everything will work out and feels quite fortunate for the experiences she has had.


Last Updated: 6/21/12