Alumni Interviews — James English (’03)

With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. Each spring we publish brief “Alumni Updates” where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we post interviews with our alumni. Today we are excited to post an interview with James English (’03). We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.

What year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?

I graduated in 2003 with a BA and 2004 with an MA. My focus in undergrad was on the debate team (so communications department) and geology. BIC was great for the meandering academic interests I had. The BIC core classes counted towards a large chunk of the lower level requirements needed on both the liberal arts side and the science side. This allowed me to try both and get a good foundation in multiple subjects.

What are you doing currently for work/career? What do you enjoy most about your work?

Currently I am working as a Senior International Negotiator-Africa & Asia for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. Career wise I am an attorney working on the commercial side of the business. My focus is on international oil and gas deals and mergers and acquisitions. In terms of what I enjoy the most, I would probably have to say interpreting/drafting contracts and laws. Working on the international side of the business, nothing is ever the same. Every country you work in has a new normal. Every country we work in is typically governed by multiple 200 page plus agreements and we deal with how those agreements are applied on a daily basis. It’s not so much the attention to detail that gets me up in the morning, but the complexity and diversity of interpretations that can arise on one issue. Everything has to be discussed and argued before you can get really comfortable with a decision.

I also enjoy the head to head negotiations with other cultures. My favorite negotiation was in Uzbekistan, a country that is traditionally looked at as corrupt and hard to work with. However, if you are on the ground and you actually get to know the business people/government officials, you realize a lot of that is either overstated or something that can be managed by standing your ground. Getting past those initial preconceived notions is definitely a rewarding part of the job. I have been to the garden spots too (New Zealand, Korea, etc.) and even those countries throw you curve balls frequently.

How has your BIC education influenced your life/career since leaving Baylor?

BIC was just a good environment for me to be in. I tend to be very contrarian (maybe even a tad intellectually rebellious to authority figures) and the professors in the program were very tolerant of the argumentative types. It was a good environment for intellectual experimentation and the relatively smaller classes helped with the discussions a lot. Being in that environment just encouraged me to continue to go toe to toe with everyone and I think that has served me well since leaving Baylor. That is about as profound as I can get!

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in BIC?

The porch in front of Alexander is probably my fondest BIC memory. At the time, all the BIC women were in that dorm and it was next to the cafeteria we all went to. So a whole group of us would always hang outside on the porch sharing ideas, working on homework, messing around and just generally socializing with BIC people. I met my wife there, I think several of my friends who are married today met there and we all did well in school, so the collegial environment definitely rubbed off in a positive way.

My second favorite memory was intellectual sparring on BIC bulletin boards. We were on the front end of using the internet as a classroom tool, so writing on bulletin boards was usually a “new” class requirement. We especially liked to challenge Dr. Allman in Social World. We were testing the limits of pushing arguments and we got extra points for every post, so it was a great formula for success (even if we did act a bit like trolls at times).

Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?

Never write anything until you actually understand what you just read. On at least one occasion, we were given a choice of three articles to write on. I chose the article on economics (maybe by Milton Friedman), even though I had a much better understanding of the other two articles. The grade on that essay ended up being very mediocre, but it taught me a nice lesson about understanding content.

What are your goals for the future?

Advance in the industry, become a better attorney/negotiator every day and raise good kids. Astros win the World Series.

Is there anything else you would you like to share?

Try to be practical with how you approach a college education. Ultimately, you are building and paying for a toolkit for later application in the workforce. I am a big believer in having multiple majors and thus workforce versatility. There is nothing wrong with having a liberal arts major (especially the writing savvy it gives you), but try to combine it with something that is more of a workforce skill. I went through a long phase where I thought I would be a professor/researcher, but in the end, I did not choose that path. It’s hard to predict your ultimate career, so having a lot of options is a good thing. Also, don’t be afraid to just finish early. I achieved a BA in 3 years, an MA in 1 year and a JD in 2.5 years. I never got that advice from a counselor, but it’s a good way to expedite starting your career and save money.

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