The following article is part one 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 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.
Grad school is the time in which the foundation of our Student Affairs and Higher Education experience will likely be solidified. Here are some tips on how to make the most of the experience and take advantage of opportunities.
Ask questions. Be genuinely inquisitive. Show interest in your field and the people in it.
You’ll have access to administrators and professionals who have years and years of experience. These people have already done what you’re trying to do. They will share their wisdom with you if you let them, formally and informally. Take advantage of that.
Put yourself in the company of intelligent, motivated, forward-thinking individuals.
Watch the person you become. There’s no substitution for the impact your environment and peers have on you.
When you have a class that you feel you’re not getting a whole lot out of, don’t be afraid to do some learning on your own.
You don’t have to wait for an instructor to tell you to do some research. Do it in your own time. There’s a good chance that your instructor is a human, too. Sometimes he or she will not spend enough time on something, or they’ll skip over information that is really important. Make a note of that. Dig for the answers yourself and ask for assistance from your peers, instructors, or mentors along the way.
I recommend doing two (or more) internship/practicum placements during graduate school.
One should be in an area that have an interest in learning about or can see yourself working in later in your career. The other should be one that takes you completely outside of your comfort zone. For example, my graduate assistantship was in residence life and housing programming/activities. My first internship was in the Dean of Students office working mainly on bystander intervention programming. With this, I had the opportunity to grow my co-curricular programming experience while still getting a valuable experience with something new.
My second internship was with Student Conduct and Community Standards. This challenged me to think outside the box, to stretch myself, and to understand an area of Higher Ed that I hadn’t been exposed to yet. Bottom line: you will learn no matter where you’re placed (if you want to). Take advantage of the exposure that you’ll have with the respective areas you work in. There’s so much to learn and so little time.
Some of those development theories you learn about in class? They apply to you, too.
The beautiful thing about Higher Ed is that it’s filled with human beings, many of which are just beginning to understand the many identities they possess. You’re evolving with the students you’re working with and the peers you surround yourself with. It’s okay to struggle with your growth. You are still a student, so remind yourself of this when you’re overwhelmed or feel like an imposter.
Encourage your peers.
There may be times when it feels like there’s not a whole lot of effort coming from their end. Understand that you cannot control the actions of others. Instead of criticizing them, give encouragement. Offer a helping hand. And work your butt off to make sure nobody can criticize your effort. You can control that.
Try not to complain.
It’s such a privilege to be where you’re at, to be doing what you’re doing, to have the responsibility that you do. You’ll need to vent sometimes and that’s okay. But don’t become known for complaining to everyone about every little thing. People won’t want to be around you.
Keep your textbooks and notes.
In theory, you’re spending much of your time and energy studying best practices in higher education so that you can further the field. These books will inform your practice. Notes will give you an opportunity to get back to the same frame of mind that you were in when you initially went over it. Throwing these away will make it hard for you to possess a frame of reference moving forward.
Expect to challenge yourself.
Work diligently to understand how the academe can transform the way you think about higher education (and the world). Put in the time and energy to be excellent. This means actually doing research rather than nonchalantly throwing a citation in a paper. It means spending some of your time on weekends studying theories, how to apply them, how they pertain to different student groups, and so on. This experience will prove to be valuable to you later in your career when you’re able to put theory into practice.
Got more tips? Let us know in the comments!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Stacy Oliver-Sikorski on Professional Development