Dear Professor: My Parents are Lost at Sea and I Need an Extension

I have revised this post. Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about keeping it real. I give lots of advice on the Fri Fun facts and today it’s about not crafting elaborate stories in order to get an extension on work. During the last several school years I am seeing that the grandparents are safe and not dying at the high rates that they used to and this might be related to how clear my syllabus is about providing proof. And, the proof about a death in the family usually is from the service—the funeral home or church typically puts together a program for the service. This might seem like an onerous request, but I find that it has kept many grandparents safe! In the last three years, I have stopped asking for this and have met one on one with the student who needs an extension. I just do not have enough mental capacity to ask for the proof. I need to come from a place of trust, and take my student’s word.

I am giving some quick advice about due dates and managing your time. In case you’re wondering, I did get a student email about parents lost at sea. I contacted tthe Coast Guard. The student was embellishing and did not get an extension. Today, I likely would not contact the Coast Guard–who has the time? I offer some advice, though.

1. Manage your time well. In my courses the paper assignments are included in the syllabus, so from day one the students know what the assignments are and when they are due.

2. If you’re in over your head, make an appointment or come to your instructor’s office hours. I’ll be honest, I do think that I am more likely to be more flexible when a student “owns” their education and sense of overwhelm and talks to me face to face and asks for an extension. I do not always give the extension, but I think I am more apt to weigh the request differently than a last minute email.

3. Rely on resources around campus. At UVIC the library has an assignment calculator and students can type in the due date and a schedule is calculated that helps students organize their time. Attend class, go to tutorial, office hours, and schedule the time to conduct research and writing time.

4. Re-read points 1-3. I cannot emphasize how much guidance you will get from your professor if you ask for it. There is a reason why I had 8 hours of office hours this last week and that there was a line up–I care and I’m here to help. The only way that you’ll get guidance from your professor is if you talk to her/him.

With this—I ask that you finish your term on a high note and organize your time before the final exams begin. Good luck!

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with any of my current courses or students. It is merely the time of year when a post of this nature is appropriate. Again, this is not about my current class! You are rocking it.

Do Not Burn that Bridge: Collegiality

get hired

I am in the throes of letter writing and giving job references for former students and staff. This post is not a book review of the book in the photograph. I took the screen shot and of the book and add my post as a suggestion for a job applicant or new employee. One of the things that I have heard from prospective employers is the ways in which a candidate or hired employee fails miserably and burns a bridge. In my line of work as an instructor, advisor, mentor, coach or supervisor, I also occasionally see a student or staff member burn a bridge. Occasionally this is done with a positive attitude or the expectation that rewards are instantaneous upon merely doing the job.

I have heard repeatedly that a good attitude can help a new employee. If you are new to a job that you are not sure about make sure that during your shift you act like you care. This job could turn into something else for you and it is hard to shake off a bad impression. Be careful with social media. Do not post negative statements about your employer or co-workers. Nothing is private online and the worst thing that you can do is make you or your employer look bad. Likewise, if you have some terrible customers you also do not want to post information about them. Be careful and smart.

Make sure that you are dressing in a way that fits the environment. If there is a dress code, follow it. If there is not a dress code, ask your immediate manager what she or he suggests. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a manager speak to you about your clothing. In my early twenties, this happened to me twice and I never wore that blouse or the skirt again. Both seemed fine with the ensemble, but giving further thought I realized that they did not meet the conservative norms of that work place. I always suggest to my students who have job interviews to think about the dropped pen exercise. If you have to pick up a pen, will you feel comfortable as you lean in to grab the pen. Bend with your knees–not your back!

Other hints for looking for work–keep in contact with people who are well-connected or who you might want a reference from at a later date. This might be a bi-annual email that updates or an occasional hand written note. Make sure that you keep your circle of references up to date with all the wonderful things that you are doing. Related to this, be careful on social media. There are numerous examples of poor use of social media. I imagine that the communications staff at one East Coast university spent part of this last Monday chatting about a student’s racist post and the follow up posts that only made his original tweet worse. While his Twitter account is now deleted, many screen-shotted the tweet. Plus, the response against his racism was swift. That original tweet could haunt him.

Overall, be smart while you are looking for work and new on the job. Even if you do not have a probationary period, your first few days, weeks, and months are scrutinized. Check in with your co-workers and manager. If you do not have regular performance reviews, ask if you could have some assessment. Think of it as a work tune up. Reflect and learn. And, if you have questions–ask them.

Continuing the Conversation About Leaning In

Many are still responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. People have both applauded and attacked the book and Sandberg. I was recently catching up on my magazines and read a review in the April issue of the Atlantic and came across Garance Franke-Ruta’s “Miss Education.” Franke-Ruta notes that women are doing a great job in seeking higher education. Women are leaning in at university, but once they leave they fall behind. In short, we do well at school, but when we get our first job we do not negotiate well. I do not really agree with all of her article. Franke-Ruta uses dating as a metaphor. She explains that women are waiting to be noticed or wooed and this is different for men, since they seek out the job and feel more comfortable negotiating their salaries. Many articles and books point out that women do not negotiate their salaries and benefits well or as well as their male counterparts.

What the author is getting at in an interesting if not problematic way is that women are socialized to not negotiate well and to not find work in the same way that men do. This might explain why some 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (28). What we might actually need is more leadership training for women, better mentoring programs in university, and in the workplace. Franke-Ruta is correct that education is not the panacea, but it is not just the formal education that is needed, but re-education of peoples’ expectations about women and men. We need better career education and mentoring all along the education and work pipeline. And, we need stop dismissing the career advice in Lean In and other books. They are targeting professional women and we need to embrace the message and not just attack the messenger. These books are clearly not for everyone–which career book is? I am including a screen shot from the article that assesses other similar books. Many thanks to the Franke-Ruta for her provocative review. You can see that these books share one major point: it’s important to ask for a raise.

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Advising: #AcAdv

It’s just about that time of year when current students begin to think about their courses for the next year. The thoughts vary from what should I take to what do I want to take. But, for some of the students the backdrop is what can I take to help me more employable. Yes, cue sighs from educators who do not want students to focus solely on employment, but perhaps on the love of learning.

One of the things that I’d like to remind most academic advisor is when you were an undergrad surely you heard from your friends and family–that’s a great program to study and eventually get a job. Alternatively, you might have been like me and fielded odd looks or even condescending comments that  said, “What are you going to do with that?” (I have my BA in Women’s Studies and a minor in Political Science). I do think that many have always looked at a university degree as something that can open the door to a career.

What has heightened this is that more students are also feeling this way that their college education is really meant to help them find a career. This is the reality of higher education today and I’m not going to argue against this point of view. But, I will say that as an undergraduate advisor I am going to try to help each student in my office to the best of my ability. Some students want the practical advice about getting work experience or making sure that each class gets them closer to their next goal. Then, there are other students who treat their education differently and are trying to find their niche or area of interest. And, yet another group of students are convinced that they will work for the UN or become lawyers. I offer these generalizations as examples of some of the student population and know that this is not an exhaustive list of the various student demographics.

These last two weeks and most likely next two months will mean more career counseling and helping students plan out their next school year. I will continue to ask, “What do you want to do.” This simple question helps, scares, and starts important conversations.

Fri Fun Facts: Advising

Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about Advising on college campuses. I want to students to remember that students should look to the various Advising offices on campus as a place to not only get questions answered, but the first step in their success.

1. Good Advising is community building.

2. Seek out advice and advising. The official university policy is on line and usually available as a hard copy. Double check the requirements, but also ask others for advice. It’s good to confer with trusted classmates and then check in with an advisor. Don’t rely merely on students or your peers, as they might not have the most recent information.

3. Check in with your advisor once per year–at the least! It’s like an oil change or bike tune up! This is your education and you need to “own it.”

4. Remember that there is the rule of thumb and the requirements. Distinguish between the two. Don’t always think of the minimum requirements. Also think about what you want to take and how your plans or dreams can change. Here is why taking a minor, honor’s, co-op (internship) or double majoring can be helpful.

These are some quick ideas about best practices or needs for advising.

Career Advice for Advanced Undergrads

You’re in your last year of university and getting nervous as the school year starts, hits the half way point or is ending. But, for the sake of ease, let’s pretend it’s mid-way through your last year of university. I’m going to make some suggestions for you. And, these are my opinions alone and not endorsed by my employer. This advice comes from my university experience, 14 years of teaching, and years of advising unofficially and officially.

1. Get yourself to the Career Center or the Career offices. Your campus should have an office with extremely competent staff who are there to help you. But, understand that they aren’t there to help you get a job, rather they are there to give you the skills so that you get yourself that job. They will empower you, but it’s all about your own skills and your own file.

2. Speak with your departments Undergraduate Advisor. Believe it or not, s/he might have some good advice to give you. The advisor might know of additional job boards in your area of interest. See if this person is willing to review a cover letter or your resume. If they are not–don’t get offended–go back to number one and ask for help at the Career Services office.

3. Speak to trusted peers who are in your situation or who have recently graduated. Your peers are a useful resource, too.

4. Confer with other faculty or mentors that you have in the campus community or community at large. Now is not the time to feel shy. You have to reach out and make some effort.

5. If it works for your field (and which fields does it not work for?) get on social media. Yes, join Linked in and establish your profile there and meet others on the platform. Ask people questions—especially those in the industry that you’re interested in.

6. Are you blogging or on Twitter? Will these platforms be useful for you? If so, then do it. But, always be very careful with your digital footprint. Google yourself and see what is out there. That photo of you in residence engaging in naked beer sliding—might need to be deleted! OK, you really don’t have compromising photos, but do take a look and see what photos and status updates you’ve had so that you won’t have a future employer “creep” and find something that they don’t like.

Particular to Victoria, I suggest to students that they not only look at the local job boards (BC Public Service, municipality job boards, and UVIC’s U-Hire, but also VIATEC’s. You never know what you might find in many of these. I also explain to students that they most likely won’t get hired right out of their undergrad as a senior policy analyst. The truth is that you’re going to have to work your way up and this might mean that you’re working in a position that requires data entry, filing, and “gofer” work. You have to cut your teeth in a job and be prepared for this.

If you’re interested in working in Victoria, I suggest that you keep abreast of when there are Chamber of Commerce events (Victoria or Westshore) and attend some of the events to network and meet local members. Note that members of this organization aren’t only local business owners, but government types, elected officials, and just regular people who are interested in the community. Also, attend other local events and get to know the community. This might mean registering with Meet Up and looking for events that will allow you to meet other like minded people. The thought of doing this might make you feel uncomfortable, but you need to get out and meet more people and realize that the limited discomfort can pay off with a mentor, community building, contacts, and possibly a job connection.

I have seen students take 4-8 months to find work after they graduate and this is pretty common. The students who are willing to take risks or start at the entry level position are the ones who have been the most successful. What are you doing to do?

Fri Fun Facts: Happy New Year

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is dedicated to something that I’ve said before–advice to undergrads for a successful term. I have to repeat it because each time more of you hear it! No, in all serious these points work for all of us.

1. Sleep. Sleep right! You are better able to deal with the day if you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

2. Eat. Eat right! Refer to the previous point and add eat and you get the point. You need the fuel to run efficiently–to run coherently.

3. Exercise. I love seeing my friends or students at the gym. It’s important to take care of yourself. And, you’ll find that you’re able to get some thinking done, when you’re at the gym.

4. Office hours. Office hours are not only the place to clarify points about a reading or an assignment, but also to chat about how you’re doing in the class. Remember that your instructor might be teaching 50 or 300 other students and one way to get them to know you is to be a great student and/or also be memorable (in a good way). Office hours is a useful time to have one on one interaction with your instructor.

5. Time Management. Keep up with the reading and work in your classes and you’ll have a less stressful term. Seriously.

All of the above will work for me, and I’m not a student anymore. The advice will also work well for those of you not in academe. To everyone, I wish you a successful January through April. Now, I only have to remember to follow my advice!