The following article is part three of a three-part series focused on how to take advantage of different aspects of your graduate school experience. Upon graduation from The University of Akron (Ohio), the author sought out to put into words his learning experiences in the classroom, in his assistantship, and professionally. These may or may not apply to you. Take what you need. See the last post here.
Mind the gap.
Take the first 3-6 months at your new job to fully experience the environment, culture, and people. Don’t come in expecting things to change immediately because you believe there are better ways to do things. You have to be willing to first understand the mission of the area you’re working in and the way in which that mission comes to life every single day. Change doesn’t normally happen overnight. Build up to it. Let it happen in increments.
Sleep will elude you right when you need it most.
There will be early mornings and late nights. And also late mornings and early nights. Just when you think you have a good sleep schedule, life will happen. You will be tired. Accept the fact that you’re not going to be able to sleep as you’d like, but know that it’s for such great reasoning. You won’t regret having the opportunity to interact with students at 3AM when some not-so-great decisions have been made. There are so many learning moments. Take note of these.
The small moments spent with your cohort or the students you work with end up having the most impact.
Think about one-on-ones when a student is opening up to you for the first time; all the times studying or working on a project with someone in your class. Think of the small moments when you don’t think people are paying attention to what you’re putting out into the world. Think of that vulnerability and courage and humanness that goes into that. Savor these moments. It’s all gone before you know it.
You will have mentors who aren’t your direct supervisor.
Sometimes they’ll be your peers. Sometimes they’ll be campus leaders in other departments or your boss’s boss. That’s okay. Whoever those people are for you, don’t be afraid to tap into their wealth of knowledge and experience so that your experience can be fruitful. A good mentor can propel you to places you never thought you’d reach in your professional development.
Develop great relationships.
Whether it’s people across campus, students you work with, administrative assistants, clerical workers, or custodians, always take the time to get to know them. Do it with the right intentions; you shouldn’t want to get to know someone just to push your own agenda. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. And do it in person. Emails and phone calls are great, but the in-person experience can’t really be replaced.
Invest in business professional attire.
In order to be a professional, you have to look the part. It’s all or nothing. People will remember how you make them feel and how you present yourself, especially as a graduate student. The old mantra “look good, feel good” holds much honesty in it.
Go to conferences.
Present at those conferences. Network with people. Have genuine conversations with people who are passionate about the field of higher education (or whatever you’re going into). Collect some business cards and follow up with these people. Student affairs is large in the sense that there are so many institutions across the United States. But is so, so small in that you can’t afford not to invest in building a foundation of professionalism, trust, and leadership that you can’t exclusively get from your home campus.
Some students will want recognition for recognizing others.
Use this as a learning moment to help them understand what the point of recognition is. The point of writing a bid is not about being awarded for writing a bid. There’s a difference between wanting to be recognized and wanting to feel appreciated. Know the difference.
There will be times when people ask you to build something and then weeks later, you’ll have to dismantle it.
No questions asked. That’s a part of leadership that nobody really talks about. You can spend so much time and energy creating something and only spend a couple of minutes tearing it down. It’s a process that is frustrating and will drain you. But it will also show you what you’re made of.
These two years go by entirely too fast.
If you do nothing else:
- Learn how to develop your voice
- Put yourself in the presence of great leaders on your campus
- Ask questions
- Dedicate some time to learn about who you are so that you can help students learn
how to do the same for themselves
- Fight the good fight because you never know when a student will need a good
example to do the same
More than anything, love the students you work with.
There will be days when this is really, really difficult. There will be days when they may let you down, days when your heart will break over and over again because they just don’t understand something. But believe in them. Choose them. Love them. They will surprise you more often than not. And at the end of the day, you’ll be amazed at how much they may love you back.
Got more professional development tips? Let us know in the comments!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kevin Kruger on Avoiding Burnout in Student Affairs