Megan Shub ’09 worked hard to climb the ladder of success for a major airline, got right up near the top, looked around, and leapt right off that ladder to the bottom of the production-industry barrel. From account manager to 27-year-old intern. From salary, health benefits and structure to who-knows-what-happens-next.
It was risky and it was courageous and it was such a good decision that she is now a segment producer for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
Megan, who grew up in Central Florida and transferred to UCF after completing her associate degree at Seminole State Community College, majored in humanities. Driven by a curiosity about the world, some of Megan’s fondest childhood memories were stocking up on piles of books on her weekly visits to the library with her mom. She always loved the opportunity to be transported into someone else’s story, and eventually, as a high schooler on the newspaper team, learned to love being a storyteller herself.
She had every intent of majoring in English, but on the day of her UCF orientation, a bold impulse kicked in and she stood up to go with a different group of students. A prolonged study of culture, traditions and beliefs across the world had begun and Megan spent the next two years immersed in the study of multicultural humanities.
“I think one of the most important things about UCF is the diversity of the student body,” Megan says. “Especially when studying humanities, it’s an environment where you have to be respectful of people’s opinions. It gave me a greater understanding of how the world works and what people can do together.”
Unfortunately, Megan’s transition out of college and into the workforce was during the 2009 recession. She was able to get a handful of freelance writing jobs, but it wasn’t enough to help her with rent. She knew she needed a consistent job, even if it meant moving away from what she imagined her career would be.
She ended up at British Airways as a customer service agent. The job sounded interesting enough, plus she’d get to travel some and that would probably be exciting. And, most importantly for Megan, she’d get to meet interesting people every day.
Eventually that customer service agent role led Megan to the management track of British Airways and she landed a job as the airport duty manager stationed out of the Newark airport. She had, in one fell swoop, moved out of her home state and made a huge career move with a major airline.
“It was a lot of responsibility for a 23-year-old,” Megan says. “And coming up without any friends or family, being in my early twenties and working at the airport, it was just very isolating for me.”
Megan began to look into getting a job in the corporate offices for British Airways, which would allow for her to move into New York City and continue her upward momentum within the company. She transitioned to a job on the sales team supporting account managers with marketing materials.
“There were a lot of good things about that job,” Megan says. “But I knew pretty early on that I wasn’t a good fit for it. That’s when I started really thinking, ‘OK, maybe I should make a serious change.’”
It was four years and three job titles with British Airways later and Megan felt that she had mostly given up on some of her original ambitions. What she wanted next was something creative. She wanted to tell people’s stories.
Megan’s wheels began turning — what would it look like for her to enter the entertainment industry and actually get paid to work in television. She found an ad on Craigslist for a Brooklyn production company that was willing to hire people with no prior television experience. At 27 years old, Megan became an intern on a TV series called “Finding Your Roots.”
“I knew that my role, which was mostly research, would help me learn about how to make a TV show,” Megan says. “And it drew on a lot of my interests. I didn’t know where it would lead, but, at the time, it felt like a good change and a step in the right direction.”
“Finding Your Roots” is a show specifically designed for that cousin you have who is really into sharing his ancestry.com results. In each episode, celebrities view their ancestral histories and learn more about their bloodlines and family’s experiences. Megan joined the team in season three, starting out as an intern and eventually becoming an archival researcher. She would help with historical information, fact-checking and finding specific footage. Let’s say an episode required a shot of Maya Rudolph on the red carpet, pictures of her great-relatives and some footage of soldiers from World War II in a particular location – Megan is the one to track it all down and get it ready for an editor to piece together.
Megan started out on “Finding Your Roots” as an intern in January of 2015, was hired as a researcher in March of that year and by December was an associate producer. In September of 2016, Megan took time off from work to have a baby, and when she returned to work, she started on a true-crime show as an associate producer. The research skills Megan had learned from “Finding Your Roots” transferred over as she had to be relentless in seeking information. Her customer-service experience from British Airways transferred over as well, as she was navigating difficult conversations with either families of murder victims or families of perpetrators. Megan also credits her background in humanities.
“There’s this perception that studying the humanities is some sort of kumbaya, useless, or maybe even indulgent thing,” she says. “But I learned a lot of hard skills in those classes. Research skills, analysis skills, people skills. I use those every day in my job.”
Megan was with the true-crime show for a few months before heading back to “Finding Your Roots” as a coproducer, and then in January 2018 (three years after her initial jump into the entertainment industry, for those keeping track) she transitioned to her current job as a segment producer on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. In general, TV producers create and execute individual stories for the air. There’s brainstorming and delegating ideas, researching topics, booking guests, writing scripts, interviewing sources — a whole myriad of things that come together to set up the segment, coordinate it, and execute it on camera.
“I feel like storytelling is a basic human need, right? There were cave paintings. People want to be entertained; they connect emotionally with stories. I think in some ways, stories tell themselves, it’s just my job to pull out a narrative.”
In a lot of ways, Megan’s story tells itself. Wasn’t the girl who loved going to the library always going to end up a storyteller? Wasn’t the freshman at UCF who impulsively switched her desired major always going to be the kind of adult who was brave enough to switch careers? Wasn’t the college graduate who picked airlines so she could meet interesting people always going to be the producer who gets to experience an array of stories?
“Any time you step into the unknown, it can be scary,” Megan says. “But I think that one of my better qualities is that I like change and I’m open to it. It was scary stepping out of a situation where I had accumulated respect and had to start all over again somewhere else. But I was prepared for a challenge and it was worth it.”