It's officially the first day of the academic year, though I've already put in a number of hours over the last few weeks at welcome-back mixers, advising students at office hours, answering emails, and figuring out how to navigate the terrible online course system that we all love to hate. I'll be serving this year as the internship coordinator for an undergraduate program on campus, and I have to admit, it's almost as if the position was designed for my skill set and interests. There are very, very few graduate assistant positions available for masters level students on campus, as evidenced by the fact that 70 (!) people applied for the job I was extremely fortunate to get. (As a perfectionist, my first thought wasn't, "wow, out of 70 people, they picked me!" but, rather, "uh oh, out of 70 people, they picked me…I better not screw this up!")
I'd forgotten how much I love working with students, and how nice it is to work at a University without being universally despised. (In case you're not familiar, faculty tend to realllllly hate the central research administration office, where I ended up working for over three years. It toughened me up, to say the least.)
I'd also forgotten how full of hope - and themselves - high-achieving undergraduates tend to be. After my first few advising sessions, I decided to make a list of what I think are then of the most important lessons I can teach my students this year. What would you add?
1. "Please" and "thank you" go a long way.
2. Don't apply for an opportunity just because it's prestigious. If it doesn't line up with your goals and interests, it's probably not the right position for you. Go for the internship where you'll learn and grow the most. The organization name is less important than the skills and experiences you gain - or don't.
3. These are the years to learn how to roll with the punches, persevere in the face of adversity, be flexible with your plans, laugh and learn from your mistakes.
4. Do your research before you ask a question. Take a few minutes to see if you can get the answer online, or gain enough background to come up with a more informed question. Make this a habit, and it will serve you well.
5. Seek balance. Make space to enjoy your undergraduate years, while still taking the time, energy, and resources to invest in clubs, internships, jobs, study abroad, and other experiences that are only available for a brief window of time. (And they're not available to everyone - see below.)
6. Check your privilege. Most of us enter college without much consideration of how our identities impact our daily lives, as well as the lives of the people around us. Our generation (I think we're still part of the same generation, even though I'm yet not sure how to use my new cell phone) is coming of age in a society that is more diverse than ever before. It's important that we strive to understand, as individuals and communities, how our ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, and other identities affect our reality.
7. You have never heard of most of the job titles available in the world. Keep an open mind as you plan your future.
8. For the most part, everything is fixable. (Credit for this goes to my fabulous former boss and mentor, Wendy.)
9. You are not your resume. ...Although, speaking of your resume, this is not the place to wax poetic. Keep it to one page, and make every word count.
10. Never make assumptions about the age, gender, status, or position of a person to whom you haven't been introduced. For example, that petite woman who you thought was a freshman? She's the new Graduate Assistant/Internship Coordinator in your program, and she has a lot of power. (Ok, she has some power. But seriously, what freshman wears a blazer to the Welcome BBQ??)