As we start October, most, if not all, schools have started the new year. This means that first year #SAGrads across the country have started their assistantships. Many are in positions they dreamed about, but there are always some that ended up in an area they never imagined working in.
When I began the grad school search, I was convinced that I needed to have an assistantship in Greek Life or Student Organizations. I knew that those were the areas I was most interested in and had the most experience in. I ended up applying and interviewing for a position with Career Services. I never set foot in the Career Services office at my undergrad, so I honestly had no idea what they even did. This is not an area I ever would have envisioned myself working in. I decided to go for it, and after two interviews, I was offered the position. I was shocked.
So how do you make the most of an assistantship you’re not crazy about? Thankfully, I have fallen in love with my work at Career Services, but that doesn’t always happen. A lot of it has been things I have sought out to work on other than the usual one-on-one appointments with students. I have really transformed the assistantship into something I love.
1. Find a project you’re passionate about: For me, this has been assessment. I started out last year doing the same thing as all the other grad assistants and career coordinators: one-on-one appointments with students, classroom presentations, the usual. Then one day, my supervisor asked me if I would be interested in doing a little research for her. I absolutely love doing research, so I jumped on the opportunity. She was impressed with my work and continued giving me research to do. This eventually led to me taking on the task of assessment for our department, which I love. Find a project you’re passionate about and go for it.
2. Don’t be afraid to take initiative: I had no idea how important this was until I went through interviews for summer internships. Almost every school asked me to tell them about a time I took initiative and I had a dozen examples from this year alone. Along with finding a project you’re passionate about, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Our institutions grow when we make changes for the better. If you have a great idea or something you want to try out in your assistantship, don’t be afraid to reach out to your supervisor and let them know. Your assistantship is part of your learning experience. Make the most of it. This is a time where a failed program is ok. You will learn from it, make improvements, or scratch the idea entirely.
3. Never eat lunch alone: Ok, maybe this isn’t totally true, but this was advice I received from another professional on campus at my first staff meeting of the year. The point behind this message was to network and get to know others, both in your office and out. We have a unique position as graduate students. Professionals on campus are excited to speak to us and be a part of our educational experience. Is there someone in another department you want to meet with and learn more about them or their position? Reach out to them. Ask if you can get together sometime for lunch or just for a quick meeting.
4. Think about those transferable skills!: Maybe this is just because I talk about resumes all day every day, but really, think about the skills you will gain from an assistantship. Think about how the position will help you get to your end goal, even if your end goal is working in a totally different department.
5. New experiences are good!: I wanted an assistantship in Greek Life or Student Orgs because that is what I was comfortable with and the areas I had the most experience in. Looking forward to the job search this year, I realize there are so many different areas of student affairs that I would love to work in. I am glad I have this new experience to add to my portfolio and my understanding of Student Affairs as a whole. New experiences are good! Don’t be afraid to try something new. Who knows, you might love it!
Even if you aren’t crazy about the work you might be doing in an assistantship, there are ways to make it the best possible educational experience. I am not saying you should accept an assistantship that will make your life miserable. But if it is something you have never tried or never thought about, I encourage you to give it a shot. You never know where this field will lead you.