Isn’t it funny the things that pop into your mind when standing in line waiting for coffee in the mornings? Sometimes it’s the fact that you’d forgotten to call someone or finish a task or write an email, but this week it occurred to me one morning that I was just about to tick over 10 years of service in student affairs. It was a realization I found almost difficult to completely comprehend when it truly felt like only a few years ago I was a fresh faced student commencing my degree, or what seemed like only a few months ago, as a new professional just starting work in the student affairs space. With the reality of a decade in the field slowly sinking in, the extra few minutes waiting in the busy coffee queue provided some time to reflect, and in my first post, I thought I’d share with you some of the key lessons I’ve learned during my time in the field:
1. Embrace every opportunity to learn more
I’ll admit it, I miss studying, I miss the classroom, I miss the essays, and yes, I even miss the exams. I’m going to guess that this isn’t necessarily a common thing for most to feel or even admit, but I’d like to think there’s a part in each and every one of us that still loves to learn. And this is what I love about working in student affairs – we never really stop learning – and if we want to continue to perform our roles well, we certainly never should! So how have I learnt to keep this as part of my daily routine? I read the news, I listen to the radio, I subscribe to higher education sections of online media (in particular the Telegraph, Guardian, the Chronicle, plus many more), I join the higher education groups on Linked In to receive the regular news updates and articles, and I keep on top of the latest research when I can, sharing it with my colleagues when relevant. In fact, as my colleagues can attest, a permanent pile of documents sits on my desk of all the articles, publications and research I want to read. The depth varies but in my quieter moments (which are increasingly few and far between) I make sure I allocate some time to immersing myself in what’s going on around me. Of course, it’s not just the online or paper based learning that’s critical – it’s also the conversations with colleagues (both within my department, university and beyond), the attendance and presentation at conferences and more often than not, it’s the informal chats with students that can help to inform and keep us “in the loop” and our “finger on the pulse.”
2. Students will disappoint and amaze
It goes without saying that we all do stupid things when we’re young, myself included, and there’s certainly been many times in my career where I’ve sat down with students for ‘that chat’ about their behavior. At the same time, it delights me to highlight that there’s been twice as many an occasion where I’ve sat back and watched on in admiration as a student (sometimes the one who made the mistake in the first place) has presented to a group, or chatted with another student or even a parent or another staff member in front of me, and I’ve quite simply been blown away by their maturity, confidence, charisma and the leadership qualities they have demonstrated. In short, I’ve learned over time that we are extremely fortunate to work in an environment in which such mistakes can be made, but lessons can be learnt. So the moral of this story – don’t be disheartened by the students who ‘muck up’ – our greatest mistakes, if we learn from them, can be the best turning points.
3. You’ll always wish you kept better notes
The most practical advice I have learned during my time in student affairs? Take notes, keep records, record those brilliant ideas…… write this stuff down! There will come a day, (in fact many of them, particularly the older you get) where you will scratch your head, and gaze off into the distance thinking – “I recall having an idea about that…. What was it?” – and in more cases than not, you won’t remember it. But you would, if you had written it down. So keep notes, keep a diary, keep a notebook with you and record your thoughts on the meeting you just attended, the event you just ran, the idea you just had at 3am in the morning. Not only will writing it down mean that you’ve got something to refer to instead of gazing longingly into the distance for inspiration, but it also means you may even sleep better at night – and we all know how crucial sleep is in the world of student affairs!
4. Make meaningful connections
It couldn’t be any easier in this technological day and age to connect with others in the field, after all, I’m writing this all the way from ‘down under’ A.K.A. Australia, but what’s essential in this age of information overload and social media saturation is to ensure that when we do ‘link in’ that we are actually making meaningful connections with those around us – both students and staff. So what does that mean? It means remembering names of colleagues or students when you first meet them, it means asking them about their favorite hobbies or if in a more professional setting – their research or the area or topic on which they are most passionate, it means following up after you’ve had a conversation (either via email, phone, Skype or any other form of contact) and it also means keeping the connection going where relevant by touching base every now and then, drawing their attention to research or others in the field with whom they might wish to make contact. Where possible it’s actually formalizing a mentoring relationship with a key person in your professional space who can act as a sounding board and provide the impartial advice that’s always helpful. It’s particularly rewarding if you too can then return the favour to a student or new professional.
These four are just a snapshot of the myriad of ‘life lessons’ learnt as part of my time working in this ever evolving and dynamic space.To my peers and colleagues – what are the key lessons you’ve learnt from working in student affairs?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Ann Marie Klotz on Women in Student Affairs