Throughout my time in graduate school, I’ve heard countless professionals say, “Make sure you get lots of experience outside your functional area.” Great advice, no doubt. In practice, though, how does this work?
Maybe it’s just the stress from the end of my third semester of grad school catching up with me, but I think there’s a big disconnect here. The primary purpose of attending school is to receive an education, so the priority is to academics. I often take issue with this and convince myself that I’m here to get experience, but my supervisor is quick to correct me saying, “If it weren’t for school, you wouldn’t have an assistantship.” Fair enough.
Next, I’m fully committed to that assistantship, which is a 20-hour a week position, but allows for so many more experiences and opportunities. I have no problem whatsoever putting in more hours than that a week, and do so often because I care about my position and the students that I work with. Meetings late in the evening, events on the weekends, these are par for the course.
After that comes the “balance” that so often gets preached in higher ed. Finding time to have a social life, visiting my fiancé, planning a wedding, heck, reading a good book; these are all critical to my well-being.
Where do these outside experiences fit? How critical are they? In a word, very. I’m a much better student and will be a more prepared professional because of the work that I do outside my assistantship in Student Campus Events. I’ve served on committees to select Greek Life’s Pan-Hellenic Organization of the Year and Residential Education’s Program of the Year. I’ve become active in professional organizations that aren’t necessarily my functional area, attending the Association of College Unions Internationals conference when my supervisor invited me to attend NACA. I spent last summer as an orientation intern at Bard College. I took an independent study where I learned practical research skills by comparing the different types of programming done by offices across campus. I lurk on Twitter chats about academic advising and Greek life. All of this I managed to fit in while still holding on to the things I value most about my grad school experience.
It’s not about the big things, about having these career-altering experiences. It’s about finding the ways to make that experience work for you.
Truth be told, I started this post in a bad way. It’s frustrating to think of how much is placed on graduate students. These expectations, combined with how little time is available, take away from doing all the things we want to do to define our own experiences, a key part of the graduate experience. In the end, though, I realized that it’s not that tough. It just takes a little time, encouragement, and strategic planning. Hmm, strategic planning…..sounds like another skill I just incorporated.
Seth Hagler is a Graduate Assistant for Student Campus Events at Vanderbilt University