I have always been young for my age in school. I went to kindergarten at 4, graduated high school and went to college at 17, graduated undergrad and trucked off to grad school at 21, and began my current internship in the Tufts University Office for Campus Life at 22. At Tufts, I directly supervise 13 student employees who set up and manage university events.
Though I’m a second-year master’s student, I still have less than five years age difference between myself and the entirety of my staff, including the first-years. It wasn’t long ago that I was in their shoes, reporting to a supervisor as a student employee and bonding with fellow co-workers. Truthfully, at times I feel like one of them rather than a professional responsible for discipline, scheduling, and “the rules.” Perhaps that has to do with still self-identifying as a student, but perhaps there is a larger issue at hand, one that I will have to deal with the for the certain foreseeable future.
Something I’ve struggled with over the last month and a half is identifying the line between friend and supervisor. When is it okay to cross into the “friend zone” with student employees, and when isn’t it? I found there are three main tactics I employ to help me recognize, remember, and carefully tread the line.
1. Be comfortable talking with your students about academics, extracurriculars, and other topics they bring up, but try to stray from personal details if you can. I found that if I began talking to students about their weekends, I often began hearing details that I really wasn’t interested in or needed to know. I tend to stick to university-related topics
2. You have the power to share as much or as little about yourself as you feel comfortable. YOU are the boss. You are the comptroller of information. If you want to tell your students about your family, go ahead. But also remember that it is okay if you leave your personal life out of your work life, specifically with your students. Your co-workers are not college-aged anymore. This was the hardest transition for me, because when I relate to people, I tend to use personal examples. I’ve come to learn that this is not always the best way to relate to a student.
3. Understand that you are not going to be best friends with every student, and that will have to be okay. If you are a people-pleaser like me, you will attempt to cross any bridge in an effort to form relationships with your students. If you don’t, it is okay. Some students will think of you as their supervisor and nothing more. When I think about some of my former jobs, I remember my supervisors as just that and attempt to understand that not everyone is going to be my best friend.
Forming my professional identity has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated, but I am slowly starting to establish who I want to be as a supervisor.
What is your management style? For young professionals, how do you deal with the age gap (or lack thereof)? Comment below with your thoughts and feedback!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Sinclair Ceasar on Successful Supervision