Reflections on #TPE2016

I currently am sitting in the hotel lounge watching the Michigan State basketball game and thinking about my experience at the Placement Exchange (TPE) the past few days. It was a whirlwind of interviews and networking for three very long days. Heading into TPE I had high expectations of imminent exhaustion and high stress. Yet, as I sit here on Sunday cheering on the Spartans, I cannot help but feel as if the narrative around TPE is a bit overblown.

I began my process at 9am on Thursday. Eight interviews lay in front of me. There were schools that I was excited to talk with and schools that I needed to learn more about. It was a full day of talking and networking. I was nervous, as this was my first real foray into the job search, which made the ‘realness’ of the job search all too tangible. I sat in the waiting area while the other individuals waiting to be picked up by their institution anxiously waited. I talked with a few candidates that I sat next to throughout the process and the anxiousness permeated all the conversations. It was good to know that others going through the same process were just as anxious as I was.

Throughout the three days, I could not help but notice how similar this process was to dating. Schools would offer candidates information packets, trinkets, and candies expressing how excited they were to meet with the candidates. If the first interview went well, the institution may invite the candidate to a social, offer a second round (think middle school ‘do you like me?’ notes), or a piece of chocolate. Again, it was a strange process with how much candidates and institutions focused on the incentives to continue the dating process that is interviews.

Overall, my process at TPE was a positive one. I left feeling excited about where I stand in a few schools processes and need to reflect more on what I want out of my first job and what is important to me. Wherever my process takes me, it is exciting to know that this process at TPE helped me clarify what is important to me and how I should continue to navigate the job search process. Best of luck to everyone searching; hopefully we land at institution that we feel truly excited about!


Graduate Care

The floorboards groan under my shoes as I walk into the Highland Coffee House. Backpack over my shoulder and winter jacket zipped up tight to block out the cold, I am out of my element. Oxford is some fifty-minutes away, yet it feels like I am across the country. The worries of the work day, of the residents and students I work with, are gone from my mind. I order a cup of jasmine tea and sit down at a rickety old table and a well worn chair. A night of writing is about to begin.

My comprehensive exam has been out almost a week (six days as of this writing) and I have worked on it each day. This writing project is my final test to pass my graduate program and finally earn my Masters of Science; it has been a long two years and now it is very much in the forefront of my minds eye.

Yet, even in these high stress times (the Placement Exchange is next week, in the middle of my comps writing period) it is so vital for student affairs graduate students to take time away from campus, to get out and refresh the mind. Coming down to Cincinnati for a few hours to work on coursework is a way for me to refresh and recharge. It may be inconvenient and a hassle to get in a car and drive an hour just to set up a writing location, yet I am not worried about work. I am separate from work and truly focused on my writing.

Student affairs graduate students in their final semesters are incredibly busy and stressed. Final projects and finishing up coursework are overwhelming. The realization that, in just a few months, the start of a full-time career is just a few weeks away can be daunting. The never-ending commitments from work and other involvements keep piling up, even as the graduate student begins to transition out of their institution and role as a graduate student. Thus, in this time of tumultuous transition, graduate students need to take time away from the bustle of campus life.

Getting away from campus keeps me calm. It centers me and allows me to have clarity in my thoughts. I can think about what’s next for me and how I envision getting there. I can think about vacations with friends and family. I get a time to sit and truly enjoy a meal, rather than rushing through it. I can laugh with friends and devote my full attention to them.

If you work with student affairs graduate students in their final semester, encourage them to find their space away from campus to reset and recharge. They may not realize it, but they will eventually thank you for giving them permission to leave for a few hours.


Graduate Learning

Tomorrow I start my comprehensive exam (comps). 30 pages for two questions over 23 days. Needless to say anxious levels in the program are high currently and my cohort and I are all fixated on comps. Yet, as I have been talking with folks throughout both my program and the department where my assistantship is (the Office of Residence Life), I cannot help but appreciate how much I have grown (and how much I have learned) during my time in graduate school.

Two years are a quick time; especially in graduate school when your days and nights are full. The fast paced environment that is graduate school rarely allows for reflection, even though my program integrates quite a bit of reflection. For example, it was not until the summer between my first and second year of graduate work that I realized how much I had learned during my first year. I was confident in my supervision style and knew I was a quality worker. Yet, I was still timid during my ACUHO-i internship at the University of Washington. I knew I knew student development theory, had a good understanding of organizational theory, and knew a bit about assessment. My time at the UW was good and only continued to emphasize what I was good at (e.g. supervision, assessment, administrative tasks).

Yet, it was not until I returned to Oxford and sat through ORL training that I truly found my passion. It was not until a training on Living Learning Communities (LLCs) that I realized that these academic programs were where my passion lied. LLCs offer a giant potential for students to truly integrate their classroom learning with their co-curricular involvements. The potential that LLCs have for supporting student learning was made clear to me during that session, and my passion for LLCs was realized.

So now, as I prepare for my comps in conjunction with the job search, I have that confidence that I know what I am good at. I know I still have learning to do (learning never ends!) but I have a core set of skills that I am good at. I have a passion area that allows me to integrate my desire to support student learning with my passions of working with students, collaboration with faculty and campus partners, and residential living experiences. While the next 23 days are sure to be filled with long days and short nights due to writing comps, the Placement Exchange, a day of the NASPA Annual Conference, and other phone interviews, I know I have a core set of skills that will serve me well as I enter student affairs as a full time student affairs educator.

These are exciting times to be in. I am glad I now realize the amount of learning (and growth) that has occurred during my time in Oxford. I am a fundamentally different person than when I started this program in August 2014. So, I am ready for this new wave of challenges; bring it on!