Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Quick Guide to Avoiding the “Job Talk”- Holidays Edition

Break will soon be upon us (or is upon you, if you get spring recess as well as Easter) so I thought I’d take a minute to address that topic that is the most annoying for those of us getting advanced liberal arts degrees—dealing with relatives during holidays.

And I’m not talking finding ways to distract your younger cousins from your (admittedly AMAZING) Doctor Who Sonic collection or ducking out of an infuriating conversation about politics with your parents.

Oh no. That’s small potatoes. I’m talking about The Big One. The “what exactly are you studying?… (Puzzled silence) And what are you going to do with that?” conversation.

Even as someone who’s been gainfully employed for two years I still shudder at the thought. It’s the question that never goes away, either, because even if you do get a job it just becomes, “and how are you using that degree again?” So don’t get your hopes up History MA. No amount of law school will ever let them forget that you spent two years researching the implications of medieval chastity on the evolution of the church.

Oh and you PhDs who think that “tenure track professor” is an acceptable answer? Yeah right. Your grandparents don’t even understand what tenure is. Is that a real thing? What do you mean you’ll have a job for life? And your uncle? Well he’s been reading the newspaper and it looks like universities are in the “you know what.” How likely are you to get this thing anyway? Is this really how you want to be contributing to the economy?

And don’t even try to explain. Because if you do… oh boy. You’ll just set yourself off in a panic cycle of self-doubt that will cause you to question every decision you’ve ever made since you first watched Indiana Jones in middle school and you will eventually run into the nearest bathroom and frantically look up advertisements for entry-level copy editor positions… Okay, sorry about that. I might be working through some stuff.

But I digress.

People are going to want to talk about the five-year plan you put off by going to grad school, so here are some strategies to evade the inquisition:

  1. Always be eating. Food in your mouth means they can’t engage—this is where all that insisting you have “manners” turns on them. Getting the food shouldn’t be hard since your family home is likely an embarrassment of food riches. Mom splurged for the brand name cold cuts? Well aren’t we the 1%.
  2. Hide important containers and utensils. Aunt Suzie circling and about to swoop in to ask you about when you’ll finally be done? Oh wait, you just remembered Dad needs the special casserole dish. [Insert holiday of your denomination here] won’t be same without it! And what’s that Grammy? No salad tongs?! Not on your watch!
  3. Bring home a significant other. They’ll be so distracted interrogating you about that development they’ll forget all about your schooling. (This is when social norms and the pressure to be “fulfilled” through marriage is actually helpful. Note: This technique tends to work better for women. Sorry guys, but you do make an extra 22 cents on the dollar so… not that sorry.)
  4. Attach yourself to a needy family member. It can be a kid—hello coloring books, why are you still so fun?—or perhaps a maiden great aunt, but the most important thing to remember is to pick someone who’s going to need your constant supervision and attention. If you’re talking about someone’s rheumatoid arthritis you’re not talking about your dissertation. Bonus, you can go on drink runs if someone tries to corner you—Aunt Bobbi could be dead any minute, so she needs her wine ASAP. Personally, I like to hang with the kids. There tends to be holiday-themed crafts and they always splurge for the good juice during the holiday.

Well there you go—just a few helpful hints to get you through the break. And who knows, maybe you have a unicorn family full of super supportive family members who, like you, see the value in understanding the universe/past/language that influences us all. And if you do, I can only say one thing.

Any more seats for dinner?

  • Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14

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Filed under Family, Graduate Students, GSAS Students

Why Learning Customer Service Is Important and Relevant- Even for Academia

I don’t know how many of you are using LinkedIn (although you should be—see our great post by Emily Schwarz for tips to get started) but I’m a big fan. Particularly of the articles they occasionally promote via email. It’s what I would describe as “procrastination light”—you’re on social media, but its work related so… that’s fine right? I think that still counts as work? Right?…

Anyway… the most recent series was “think back to your first job,” and basically asked those far more successful than most what they wish they had known before their first, first day. Not exactly a groundbreaking topic, but what interested me was that almost everyone on the list mentioned some sort of customer service related story. Whether scooping ice-cream or waiting tables, customer service—and the importance of understanding that dynamic—tended to be what people took from those experiences.

Customer service is about having the person you’re helping leave the encounter a) feeling happy and b) with what they came for. The mix of those two factors will vary (sometime considerably) depending on what you’re doing. For example, no one likes going to the DMV, but if you walk out with a driver’s license you generally consider it a win. Whether that encounter was a “success” (for you and whoever helped you) probably depended on customer service.

Balancing how much you go out of your way to help someone depends on lots of things, but ultimately comes down to how much you can accommodate before you stop doing your job. Where you’re going to draw your service line. My old co-workers used to call it “the sample cup line.”

(We worked in frozen yogurt. In a college town. And when you work in frozen yogurt in a college town what you get is a bunch of undergraduates in sororities and fraternities hanging out and trying to eat a quart full of yogurt in tiny sample cup portions. I understand that this is a very specific analogy but you get what I’m saying.)

As graduate students, I’m not sure how many of you have had non-academic jobs (although I hope most of you have) and if so, whether or not front-line customer service was an important aspect of your position. But if you haven’t… well you might want to get something part-time this summer because I’m pretty sure that understanding customer service is what separates the successful from the misanthropic.

And yes, I am implying (heck, outright saying) that misanthropic people are unsuccessful.

The cranky, absent-minded professor might be a stereotype, but it’s not one you should be looking to fill. Because while it might seem that of “all the professions, in all the world”, being a professor might give you the most leeway on behavior and interacting with other humans, I assure you that it’s not true. Ask a department chair—no one wants the person who doesn’t know how to play nice to be a permanent part of their community.

And customer service (and sports- but that’s another post…) teaches you how to be a part of a community and interact with others while meeting a set of stated goals. The trick is how to then translate that skill to other professional agendas.

Work is about accommodating people, assisting them, while still prioritizing and accomplishing your own goals. And truly successful people understand and manage that balance in ways that serve the missions of their employers and themselves.

I’m still working on this. It’s hard. And it’s going to be even harder for those of you who are going to have to balance classes of students, tenure reviews, and colleagues, so make sure you start thinking about it sooner rather than later.

Any of you have any “first job” advice that’s helped you succeed?

  • Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14

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Filed under Graduate Students, Networking, Professional Development