As of May 9, I have officially completed graduate school! The past two years happened far faster than I anticipated. It is bittersweet, as I am excited to navigate the nest steps, while sad to be leaving the safety of my friends and an institution where I have just now really began to legitimize my credibility. I am now a SA graduate and hopefully going to begin my journey as a student affairs professional this summer as I continue the job search process. I am hopeful for finalizing the next step.
I am less hopeful and excited about the immediate next step of packing up my apartment and moving from California back to Michigan. I always forget about all the small items that populate my living space until I begin placing my life into small boxes. Packing up also is a physical confirmation that this adventure is coming to a close.
These past two years have been full of learning, challenge, growth, and reflection. I have grown both personally and professionally. There were surprises, laughter, tears, and life lessons (or what I wish I knew).
Knowing what you need from a supervisor is essential to personal success. It took me a while to understand how I am best supervised and working to create that relationship with my supervisors. This meant struggling to manage different leadership styles than what I was familiar with and having to reflect on what was needed for my growth as a SA grad. Once I did, I realized I needed to actively work to establish the relationship that would be most beneficial for me that still respected the leadership styles of my supervisors. I am beyond thankful for my supervisors who have been phenomenal support networks for the past two years.
A cohort can be both a blessing and curse. I love my cohort. I am thankful for the 17 people who I have spent the past two years attending class, having random adventures, and journeying together into higher education. And seeing the same people at work, in class, and at every meal can be taxing. It is valuable to build networks outside of a graduate program or work. I value my friends and colleagues in students affairs. I also value friends who are not in higher education. Personally, it is important for me to hold both types of relationships and have a variety of people with whom I can socialize inside and outside of my profession. I wish I would have learned that lesson my first year of graduate schoo- I would have appreciated my cohort more and had better balance in my life. I am glad I have invested in the people in my cohort though, I have relationships I know will last past these two years and people who I am looking forward to visiting in the future (thankfully so many of my peers are conducting national searches for their jobs).
Student affairs is not just about the work developing and building students. There are politics involved in higher education as well. A part of learning your job responsibilities is also “playing the game.” I don’t think playing the game is necessary to do well with your immediate job duties. Playing the game can demonstrate how you buy-in to the culture of the university, fit with the larger department, or what opportunities are presented to you at the institution. So to move forward, I learned to play the game and I participated. I accepted the “voluntold” responsibilities without complaint, attended optional fun events on occasion, and did my best to represent the department well. There are elements of politics in student affairs that are enjoyable and elements that I did because I overall really appreciate my job. I am appreciative I have learned this lesson now; it will help prepare me for when I hold a professional position.
A final lesson I have learned from graduate school is the value of relationships. Student affairs is a small world, particularly once you begin to get into the specific pockets of higher education, like fraternity and sorority life. Everyone knows everyone. Or at least knows someone who knows someone. I recently had an interview for a job and within a few hours the potential employer contacted someone we knew in common. Informal references are common, or as I was once told at a conference “I ask who I want to ask about you.” It is imperative to not burn unnecessary bridges, as you may never know when a contact may hold influence. So as I leave Pacific, I am hoping to leave on a good note with as many colleagues as possible and to continue building relationships with individuals in higher education.
There are more lessons I wish I had known going into higher education. And even more lessons I will learn as I continue my journey as a student affairs professional. Right now, the lesson I am working on is how to pack up an apartment as inexpensively as possible.