Fresh out of graduate school, masters’ degree in hand– I was ecstatic about beginning my first full time position! With a variety of experiences including my undergraduate career, my graduate assistantship, internships, and the knowledge from my academic program, I was going to change the world in no time; or so I thought. I had well thought out plans to implement initiatives and programs that I had previously executed or experienced firsthand– it was going to be phenomenal, and I was going to be a rock star! Much to my surprise, my plan did not go off as I had intended. Inadvertently, I forgot one tiny little thing, (actually more of a really big thing) — I forgot that I needed to switch lenses. You see, I was beginning to build the base for my future success from the framework of my past experiences; talk about setting yourself up for failure.
It wasn’t until a few months into my position that it dawned on me; it was impossible to fully anticipate all the elements of my transition. The transition to a full time position is multifaceted; it is not simply just a new job, but so much more. It is a transition that may involve everything from a new city, state, or region to a different department, institution, or organization. Inevitably though, it is a transition that involves new people, new expectations, new rules, new obstacles, and new roles. My expectation of coming in to be a catalyst of “drastic” change wasn’t realistic, and how could it be? I was yet to consider the fact that I had not taken time to learn the culture of my new environment. I was unaware of what role(s) I would have to take on; I know what you’re thinking, but when I say role(s), I am looking far beyond a mere job description. Upon realizing the gaps in my plan, I had to ask myself some pretty serious questions. The answers may have been quite obvious, but the process of developing and asking myself (and others) the right questions was the toughest and most developmental part of the experience.
Do I Know and Understand the Culture?
As a new professional, it is important to take the time to learn the culture of your institution, division, and department. There is usually a reason why things happen how and when they do, it is your job to know and understand why. Trying to “fix” everything in your first few months on the job is not only hard, it’s impossible. Instead of focusing energy on everything that YOU think is wrong, make an effort to talk to people, delve into the history, and observe where your institution, division, and department have come from and where they are looking to go in the future. This can help you not only with your transition, but with your plans for future initiatives as well.
Are My Goals Realistic?
The importance of goal setting in all aspects of our lives is paramount, but it is also necessary to set goals for yourself and your position that are actually attainable. Don’t set yourself up for failure! Undoubtedly, you may be able to make small changes in your department early on, but is it likely that you will be able to restructure the department overnight as an entry-level professional? Probably Not!
Am I Thinking Big Picture?
So you have an idea for a new initiative, but you are having a hard time getting buy in from those above and around you. Going back to the importance of learning the culture, how does your idea or initiative connect to the larger mission and vision of the department or division? What are the current institutional priorities? Timing is everything! Understanding what tops the list of priorities for those above you can help you navigate the time appropriateness of your suggestions or recommendations; but, do your homework. Be able to justify your plan with data and applicability to moving the organization forward.
How Do I Manage My Supervisor?
Supervision style varies from person to person; this cannot be avoided. It is important to understand that supervision is a two-way street. Learn your supervisor’s style and approach situations with their style in mind. Even as a new professional, try to anticipate what your supervisor will need from you before he or she asks for it. Being proactive will show that you have put a great deal of thought into whatever you are doing and save you additional work in the long run.
Is Mentorship Important to Me?
The role of mentorship in general, has been a topic of much discussion within the profession. Determining what you need and seeking out those relationships is a personal decision. Mentors (within or outside of the field) are often a good source of advice and support. They can provide motivation during tough times, voices of reason during times of uncertainty, points of reference with difficult situations, and ears when you just need someone to listen. It is possible to have more than one mentor and it’s perfectly fine to have a mentor for different aspects of your life.
Who is Responsible for Professional Development?
Professional development is your responsibility; undoubtedly, there are situations where your supervisor, a mentor, or colleague may assist you in this area, but the ultimate responsibility lies with you. Be intentional when seeking out opportunities and think outside of the box— there are other forms of professional development beyond attending a national conference. Look for opportunities on a regional, local, or institutional level; these are often times more specialized and cost effective ways of gaining the information or experience you are looking for. Going back to the big picture, make sure you can connect and articulate how the proposed opportunity has not only personal benefits, but adds value to the department and institution as well.
Am I Doing My Job?
Remember the task at hand! You were hired to do a specific job and everything else is extra. Seek regular feedback from your supervisor to ensure that you are meeting (or exceeding) expectations before you try to put more onto your plate. If your boss is not confident in your ability to manage multiple priorities while doing your job, they will be less likely to support your involvement in other areas.
Do I Love What I’m Doing?
Student Affairs is an exceptional profession that offers the ability to make a difference in the lives of students in a variety of ways. Many times the lives you touch, relationships that are formed, and experiences far outweigh any financial benefits (okay, maybe only a little), but most people do not come to the profession for a large paycheck or to become world-famous; instead, they come seeking to impact students. Student Affairs is not just a job, it is definitely a way of life!
As I embark upon my second year as a full-time professional, I am thankful for the opportunities that I have been afforded through my current and past positions. I have learned a great deal about myself, and the things that are necessary for me to be successful. I have become intentional about maximizing on my strengths and improving in areas of challenge. Most importantly, I have learned to step back and allow time for things to happen. Ultimately, transition is like a puzzle; most often, it won’t be completed quickly, and it takes a number of very important pieces before you get a full picture.
Submitted by Kenrick Roberts, Area Coordinator, The Catholic University of America