“So, what’s next?”
Everyone in my life right now seems to have gotten a memo that they need to ask me that when they see me; “So, what’s next?”
As I enter my last semester as a student affairs graduate student at Miami University, my thoughts are focused on two things: 1) the job search; and 2) completing my graduate studies. Nothing else comes close. When my mind wanders, those two topics are what my mind wanders to. I have already begun applying to positions across the country and am nervously thinking about what my final semester will entail (it will include a 23 day examination, three courses, and a “20-hour/week” assistantship).
But why the fixation of my friends, family, and colleagues on the job search? Yes, this may be hypocritical of me, but the minute I get asked “So, what’s next?” I get a pit in my stomach. The individual who asked me that question had no bad intentions when they asked me that; they weren’t trying to cause me harm. They were just curious as to what I will be doing after I complete my graduate studies.
I’m aware of this fact, yet I still get uncomfortable when asked the question. Do I get uncomfortable out of fear of failure? The unknown? Or is it something else? Do I just not enjoy being pressured and constantly reminded of the big life decisions that I am facing in the coming months? Most likely it is a unknowable combination of all of those things.
A saving grace, though, when I get uncomfortable from non-student affairs folk asking me the question, I can turn to my peers in my cohort. We are all, whether we want to or not, going through the same process. Sure, some may search in another functional area or outside of higher education all together, but we are all going through the same process with only one result certain: we will not be able to return to our current positions.
My supervisor has reminded me a few times that this job search, this initial job search, will be unlike any other. With the end of graduate school quickly approaching, I do not have a ‘safety’ option to fall back on; the contract for my assistantship ends mid-May and there is no option for renewal. Any future job search I will always have a safety option, to stay at my current institution. There will be no frantic search and fear of the unknown when I can always stay content in my current role for another few months.
So maybe that is where the uncomfortableness comes from when I am asked “So, what’s next?” by a friend or relative. I’m afraid of the unknown in the sense that I have no other employment options at the moment. I cannot stay in school for another semester, I can’t continue working as the Graduate Resident Director of Hillcrest Hall. I have to leave and start new. I have to start a new chapter, no matter how much kicking and screaming I do.
Yes, I get nervous when asked the question. I get uncomfortable; I squirm in my seat. It’s because I’m not sure what is next. I have a vague, ghostly idea. I know I’ll be working! Where? In what part of the country? What will I be doing? Will I enjoy it? Public or private? How much will you make? When do you start? I can’t answer any of those questions; I have no idea how to even begin! That’s why I, along with thousands of other student affairs graduate students, are uncomfortably beginning the job search.
I’m not sure how these next six months are going to go. I know I’m going to apply to a lot of jobs and (hopefully) get a few interviews. I’m going to be stressed and I am going to be irritable. Yet, here is what I’m going to do to keep some sanity through this process. Hopefully those of you going through the same process find some usefulness to the tips:
- Stay focused. For the entire length of the masters program we have been prepared for this moment: the job search. We know our theory, we can talk about issues of social justice and diversity, and we (hopefully) are aware of what we bring to a team. The job search will happen, so just keep your eyes on the end goal.
- Keep grounded. Much to our chagrin, work and courses do not stop for the job search. We will be applying to jobs, interviewing, working with students, and staying up late working on papers. If graduate school has taught me anything, it is that it is incredibly easy to forgo the things that keep me grounded. Thus, this semester, more than ever, it is vital I make time for me. Whether that is running, reading, writing, or listening to a podcast, I need to do it.
- Talk about the job search. Find a few people, whether they are in your cohort or not, that you can talk to about the job search. I know a few people, both at Miami and outside of it, that are going to be getting the late night call and the early morning text as I have a stressful moment or need to run a thought by someone. Rarely can we do something alone, and the job search is something that you need a lot of helpful hands to get you through it.
- Reflect on what is important to you. And no, I don’t mean whether the job has the ability to teach a course or not. Think about what you need to live. Do you need to be close to family and friends? How close do you need to be to an airport? What about city life? Mountains or lakes? Think about what you need to thrive in your life outside the workplace.
- Finish strong. Whether or not you get a job before you graduate does not matter. What does matter is finishing this chapter of your life strong. Make sure the folks you work with, the people who will be able to speak to others about you, remember you in a way you want to be remembered. Sure, the going is going to be tough this semester, but leaving Miami with a positive impression of me is something that I value, if only because I want others to know that I do quality work.