July 26, 2011

My WorkStory: Social Media Communications

I was recently contacted by Natalie Allen regarding a project she and her colleague David Stanley at the University of Guelph are working on. The project, WorkStory.net, is a collection of videos by people in different occupations and stages of professional development who have all decided on a career choice. The idea is simple: have people who have gone through the process of surveying the options, sometimes choosing a job that doesn't fit, and eventually deciding on something that is a match for their skill and interest. 

For people who have always known what they wanted to do and have chosen a traditional path to their careers mulling over a job choice and sometimes making the wrong one may seem like a foreign concept. However, I know adults who by circumstance or conscious choice decided that they needed to do something radically different than what they were currently doing.

I myself have thought about many different possible careers and all but decided what i want to do multiple times. I considered the possibility of being a police officer so when I had the opportunity I went through a fairly rigorous application and screening process to participate in the RCMP Youth Academy when I lived in British Columbia. It was designed to give possible future applicants experience as close to possible resembling the boot camp that is training to be an RCMP officer. It was an eye opening experience into just how dedicated many RCMP officers are, and the fact that they all volunteered without pay to organize the camp was a testament to the character of most RCMP officers. 

Me during the Physical Abilities Requirement Evaluation (PARE). (I Passed)
The physical training was the most physically exhausting experience of my life to the point that when it came to classes I feel asleep, was caught, and then was forced to be undergo a field sobriety test as I was in the front of the class and it was a lecture from the RCMP expert on convicting people of DUI/DWI.

In the end it was a great experience and it gave me a newfound respect for those who chose that career. However, it also make it clear to me that the physically draining 5am-10pm training and heavily regimented lifestyle of an RCMP officer was not ultimately what I wanted to do. Sometimes you need real-time experience to know a certain job is or isn't for you. However, when you know what you want, and simply want to know how to get there, that's where I think sites like WorkStory

Workstory is the an avenue for people to share their story of how they eventually got to where they are today.

Since coming to Mount Allison University, I always thought I would end up going into some international relations related work, but as time has worn on I've realized that I'm not as interested in writing papers about political theory than helping to communicate things in real time.

As I discuss in the video (below), it was when I found out via the response to a video from an NPR training session on social media at the Knight Digital Media Center in Los Angeles that I thought I could use social media in a full-time capacity. The original video discusses how I created their Facebook page into as an introduction into the real content of the discussion which was managing online communities which NPR has been praised for doing so well and has been used as an example for other news organizations.

I'm still interested in international relations and regularly check NPR (the website, not the FB page, as they deliberately feature Music, Culture, and 'Oddly Enough'-type stories because that's what engages their younger fans who are more active on Facebook) and the BBC (and occasionally MSNBC, and when I want a surface level analysis, CNN) for international news. I'm very much looking forward to my IR courses this semester as they will reference current real-world events. I'll be taking US-Canadian Relations, Africa in a Global Context, Cultural and Political Change, Global Governance (in an age of (declining?) U.S. hegemony) and others. 

While I still plan on taking the GRE during my trip home in August it won't have the be-all end-all feeling that taking the ACT was. It's no longer a feeling that this number represents how smart I am but more an independent confirmation that I have certain skills. 

I'm going to be applying to different schools (including possibly the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington and yet-to-be determined schools in the US and Canada which offer programs/classes in Communications and New Media). 

Unless you're going into a field that requires credentials for entry (medicine, law, academia), and especially in non-managerial communications it seems the consensus is that having demonstrated knowledge and skill carries more weight than having a piece of paper that says you took a class on social media (which would be outdated the next month anyway).

What seems more valuable these days is training on best practices like that offered by Poynter's News University. (Side note: I'm taking the class Social Media and Journalism: What Works and Why to inform my work as the Argosy's first ever online editor.) Taking recently obtained knowledge and sharing it via presentation seems the most appropriate for a field that changes every day. I'm going to buy a textbook on the French Revolution for a class next term but I'm never going to waste my money on one that portends to teach a person how to use Facebook.

The WorkStory video is a very brief summary of my job and how I came to apply for and enjoy doing it. If I had more time I would have spoke at longer length about what I was thinking before coming to University, how I initially thought I'd go into a more academic field, about the NPR story more in depth, and then my thoughts about how, despite the fact I may not end up going to graduate school to continue studying social science, how a degree in International Relations from Mount Allison is incredibly useful and versatile in that it's a demonstration that you have a wide base of knowledge with which to work and that you can write well about varying topics. 

When I first considered not going to graduate school (in the social sciences at least), I felt as if doing so would be a personal failure, that I wasn't doing what I 'should' do and that I was 'taking the easy way out'. I then realized that was an insane thought. I have tremendous respect for people who dedicate their lives to studying what interests them and teaching the next generation. At the same time, I'm certain at least some of them were initially pushed externally or internally towards something else. I've loved my classes, from learning and discussing mutual interests with experts on the subject but I realized that I don't have to feel guilty about taking the critical thinking, analytical and writing ability gained from those classes and using it for another purpose. Not everyone who takes a Spanish class is going to become fluent and not everybody who takes a comparative politics class is going to be an academic.

While the work that I hope to do after I graduate will not have been a specific subject area in anything I studied, I have never even for a moment regretted coming to Mount Allison. It is the skill set earned through taking courses gives one experience with the process of learning and writing effectively. As the skills required in this ever-globalizing workplace change more frequently, the ability to hit the ground running is more crucial than ever to staying relevant and (gainfully) employed.

If I do continue with this type of career thinking I no doubt will eventually need additional specific training (Public Speaking, for one) and classes and possibly some credentials in Communications, but I already feel that Mount Allison has given me a solid foundation for whatever it is I will do after graduation.

If you'd like to share your WorkStory, they are accepting videos from people in all occupations.