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“A Year of Firsts: Insights for APIDA Graduate Students & New Professionals”


There’s a Chinese proverb that goes something like this…

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”

As graduate students and new professionals within our field of Student Affairs, we will inevitably go through periods of transition during our educational and professional careers. In a matter of two years (for some), one can go from being an undergraduate student to a graduate student to a new professional. The path we each take to get to where we are now and where we would like to be is reflective of challenges endured and successes achieved. The intent of this article is to offer some valuable insight about these transitions and shared experiences from a few of our colleagues.

From time to time, we plan to feature fantastic individuals, who fall into the category of graduate student or new professional, as a way to create outlets for knowledge-sharing, community-building, and mutual empowerment. For this particular piece, we’d like to introduce Vinika Porwal, a recent graduate in her first Student Affairs position, and Justin Gomez, a new Student Affairs professional going into his second year. We’ve asked both of them to briefly describe their current roles and identify the three things they wish they knew.

From Graduate Student to New Professional: “Making the Switch”

Current Position: Organizational Development Specialist, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Graduate Education: M.Ed. in College Student Affairs, The Pennsylvania State University, 2013

My transition between graduate school and my first job in Student Affairs is an ongoing adventure. In the past few months, I completed my graduate school coursework, relocated to a new town, and entered the working world. As I learn the ins-and-outs of a new institution and a new home, here are three things I wish I had paid attention to from the start:

1. The Negotiation Process: It would have been helpful to practice negotiating the terms of an offer in advance of receiving one. In retrospect, I spent ample time editing my resume and practicing interview responses and hardly any time considering what might happen if I did indeed receive an offer. I know I would have felt more confident negotiating with my supervisor had I practiced doing so beforehand with a mentor or classmate.

2. The Importance of Networking: I wish I had been proactive about using my network to meet people in the area. I’m quickly learning that everyone knows someone. My friends and colleagues have been more than happy to introduce me to the people they know in Madison – I only wish I had started reaching out sooner.

3. The Housing Search: When choosing an apartment, I wish I had thoroughly researched what my commute might look like after-hours or on weekends, particularly because I’ll be staying late on campus to work with student organizations during the academic year. I realized that although the bus runs to-and-from my apartment frequently during rush hours, it only runs hourly in the evenings and on weekends. I hope you find these reflections helpful as you make the switch from student to professional!

From Year 1 to Year 2: “Hindsight”

Current Position: Student Government Coordinator, Associated Students of Sonoma State University
Graduate Education: M.A. in Educational Administration and Leadership, Student Affairs, University of the Pacific, 2012

After putting my first year under my belt as a new professional this summer, I found it very rewarding to look back on what I had accomplished in one short year. Being a new professional is as exciting as it is challenging. With just two extra letters after my name and a couple years worth of assistantships, I was now supervising dozens of student staffers, managing a budget with quite a few extra zeros and managing not one, but five different large scale programs. In hindsight, there a few things that I wish that I had learned in grad school prior to jumping head first into the world of a full time professional.

1. Bringing Theory into Practice: Not everyone uses theory to guide practice. In your time as a new professional, you will encounter people who have been in the field longer than some more recent theories have been in existence and you will be challenged to make them change their old ways for the betterment of the student experience.

2. The Art of Assessment: Assessment cultures are not common place and can be very hard to start. With that said, laying down the foundation for your department or office can be new and exciting to people who have never been exposed to the whole concept and you are suddenly the resident expert being straight out of grad school!

3. The Beauty of Free Time: New professionals who aren’t pursuing their Ed.D or Ph.D after their masters have no coursework waiting for them after a long day at the office! It’s incredible to have so much free time so take it as an incredible opportunity to find a new hobby, start a garden, read for fun, or maybe get involved in a professional organization of your choice! As they say, hindsight it always 20/20, but it’s when we look back on where we have been, it gives us a much better idea of how ready we are for what may be ahead.
Looking at the excerpts from Vinika and Justin, it is clear that going from a graduate student to your first few years as a new professional is a transition. Everyone’s experience is going to be a little different. As Justin mentioned, hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back at our job searches for our first full-time positions, there were questions we should have asked that we did not even know to ask. From the time you are in graduate school, make the most of your networking opportunities. Take the chance of submitting a program proposal and meet the people who come to your session. Think intentionally about what you are looking for in your first professional job. Remember, this is your first job, not your last. This position you end up in won’t be your last, so while it is important to find things about your job that you love, it does not need to be perfect.

Figure out what you can be flexible on and what are your non-negotiables in the position such as location, compensation, etc. Keep in mind that taking on a new job is not just a new position but potentially also a new set of colleagues, a new city to adjust to, a new set of weather patterns, etc. Once you get to that job, remember that being a new professional is different than being a graduate student. Don’t forget the great things you did and learned in graduate school, but also recognize that very rarely are people expecting or wanting the new professional to try to change the department within her/his first month. Learn the culture of your department and figure out how to best leverage your skills, knowledge, and voice. We hope some of this is helpful as some of you begin looking for that first full-time position or are entering a second or third year in the field. As Vinika touched upon the power of networking, we encourage you to talk to others about their experiences and apply the little nuggets of wisdom you gather from here and there to your own personal and professional transitions, perspectives, and hopes.


THIS SERIES IS DEVELOPED AND CREATED BY THE NASPA APIKC New Professionals and Graduate Student Liaisons Sue Ann Huang & Kristen Wong

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