As many students are looking ahead to their first year as an #SAgrad, there are so many emotions floating around. Excitement at the thought of starting this new adventure. Proud to have gotten into and be attending your dream school. And maybe some jitters when thinking about what life as an #SAgrad is all about. Unfortunately, there isn’t a class that teaches you about what it means to be an #SAgrad. Here I present to you all of the wisdom I have acquired in my first year of graduate school in what I will call #SAGrad 101.
1. There is a fine line between undergraduate student and SA professional.
The first thing many people struggle with in graduate school is where they fit in. Many of you will have just finished your undergraduate degrees and are jumping right into graduate school. Sometimes, it is hard to walk the line of being a graduate student. You are just above undergrad, but you’re not quite a professional yet. Many times, you will be working with students who are very close in age to you. How do you distinguish yourself from undergraduate students? Always err towards the side of professional. Which brings me to…
2. You live in a glass bowl
As strange as it may sound, people are watching your every move. Your supervisors and professors are trying to help you develop into the best professional you can be. They look at the way you dress, how you interact with students and peers, and what you are doing in your free time. Again, err on the side of professional. Just because your office lets you wear jeans to work every day doesn’t mean that you should. Evaluate what those around you are doing. Do they dress professionally? Or is it a truly casual environment?
Walking the fine line between undergraduate and graduate student, your interactions with students and your peers are extremely important. Remember that you are there to mentor students, not to be their friend. It is okay to develop close working relationships with students, but make sure you set your boundaries. You shouldn’t be talking about your favorite drink at the bar or a party coming up. And as fun as it is to sit in the student section at a sporting event, remember that you are on display.
3. Never eat lunch alone
Within my first few weeks in my assistantship, we had a guest speaker at our staff meeting who said the most important thing she has learned as a SA professional is never eat lunch alone. You have a unique advantage as a graduate student. The professionals on campus want you to learn all that you can about the profession. They are happy to meet with you to talk about anything. While this may not always happen over lunch, that is usually a good time for many people to meet. Reach out to other professionals on campus as well as your peers and make sure that you are using your time in graduate school to the best of your ability.
4. You are a student first
This one is tough. You hit the end of that 20 hour work week in your graduate assistantship and are constantly thinking, there is so much more I could do! You are rushing between meetings all day and forget to read for class or do that assignment. We’ve all been there. They always tell us we are students first and everything else is extra. This is especially true in graduate school. Your classes are designed to prepare you for life as a SA professional. It might be more fun to plan an event than read about transition theory, but remember to soak up all of the wisdom your professors can give you while you can.
Also remember that you are a student outside of the classroom as well. Learn everything you can from your assistantship and your supervisors. Also, take time to read. There are so many assigned readings in graduate school, but find a topic that really interests you. Interested in student leaders? First-generation students? Resident Assistants? Ask your professors or supervisors for some suggestions on the best books on the topics. You won’t regret it.
5. You CAN do it all, but that doesn’t mean you SHOULD
This is the one I still struggle with. Sometimes, ok most of the time, I have a hard time saying no. Make the most of your graduate school experience, but remember to take time for yourself. My cohort goes out for a weekly breakfast at Denny’s just to relax and have a good time.
Be intentional about your experiences and what projects or things you take on. You have the rest of your life to serve on committees. As a graduate student, which ones will benefit you the most in your quest to become the greatest SA Professional of all time?
Well that’s it. My top 5 lessons learned in my first year as an #SAgrad. Everyone has a different experience, but these lessons seem, to me, to be universal. Did I miss something big? Leave it in a comment! I would love to hear about other #SAgrad’s experiences.