February 27, 2012

On being more than a student at Mount Allison University

Getting accepted into two prestigious graduate schools (and being offered the chance to interview for a scholarship) was the first tangible confirmation of what I had heard from many people I respect, including professors: going to University isn't just about some letter grades and a piece of paper. In a way it is about the basics- you need a a certain GPA in certain programs just to be considered and you need great references to get past the chaff in a pile of hundreds of applications but beyond the basics it's about what you're doing outside of class. Especially in my case (perusing a master's in Public Relations from one of 4 of the top schools in the US) grades can only get you so far.

After working full-time in communications this summer it was a little odd going back to being a student. Once you find something you love doing, doing work less relevant academic work seems to lose the air of having an absolute value.

I'm very interested in my classes this semester and I haven't developed college senioritis but experience has shown me that a focus solely on grades isn't enough for what I want to do. True, if I didn't have two jobs and other extra-curricular involvements taking up much of my time I would undoubtedly have at least a slightly higher GPA. But what I've learned going to a school like Mount Allison is that life isn't about jumping through hoops someone else has laid out for you but to find what you want and go after it and that means a balance between class and outside activities

Accepting the offer of representing The Argosy at the Canadian University Press' (CUP) National Conference meant missing a week of class. Being a part of the Mount Allison's Web Advisory Committee and providing input to the school's website redesign project meant temporarily choosing professional responsibilities over academic ones. While at times I've chided myself for this it all comes down to what matters to the people whose decisions will most influence my life path. Grades are important, letters of recommendation are important, but so is the ability to demonstrate what you've done with your time outside of the classroom. Going to the CUP Conference led to thirteen major recommendations I submitted to The Argosy Editorial Board which are my focus for the rest of the semester, and which so far have helped me increase The Argosy website's visits to the highest on record. Being a part of the Web Advisory Committee has given me the opportunity to be present at important meetings and have my input considered in what I would consider the largest communication improvement project in the school's recent history.

If you think my example is simply wishful thinking, look at the case of Daniel Hebert. Daniel, with a blog post and related social media savvy, earned himself an interview with Radian6 (a Fredericton, NB based social-media marketing company recently acquired by salesforce for $326 million). He applied with a basic resume and cover letter along with countless others but to prove his knowledge he posted an online plea to the company Why I Should Work For Radian6. It caught their attention and within 24 hours they contacted him for an interview. It's no guarantee of a job offer but at least it caught their attention. I wrote an article for The Argosy about it which I will elaborate on when I again have spare time which may not be for a while.

I'm not saying that I'm not focusing on academics, I very much am. I've just realized that especially in fields like social media monitoring and public relations, a good GPA isn't enough and you need to balance the basic need for good grades with doing something that stands out in a pile of resumes and grad school applications. As well, my years of intense focus on academics has exponentially increased my efficiency at analyzing academic texts, preparing for exams, and writing quality essays so that I'm confident in my ability to do much more work more in less time than even last year.

At this point I wish I had more time to work on The Argosy and other pursuits because that work is going to have long-lasting importance in the eyes of those who will be next to grade me than the exact GPA I earn this semester. However, I'm not going to let three and a half years of hard work go to waste over a poor final semester. The next eight weeks (until final exams have finished) will bring a renewed focus to my studies, however, it will be informed by the knowledge that I know what I want to do once this is over and that doing other work isn't slacking but managing my time differently than in earlier years.

As well, if I decide not to pursue graduate studies I'll know that with my experience in social media marketing, website building and maintenance, and the unquantifiable experiences gained by working in a student newsroom and in a University Communications Office simultaneously, I'll have something more than just a degree when I graduate.

If I had only focused on academics I would have never found the NPR video clip mentioning me, I'd be less likely to be working at either the University or The Argosy, and I'd be much less likely to consider social media communications as a major part of my future career. If I had gone to a larger school where students are mere numbers, I may not feel the freedom, nay, encouragement to make large time commitments outside of classwork.

So to those trying to discover what you're going to do next: Stop, take a moment to think of what you're interested in, and do that for a while. Go join the newly SAC-approved Archery Club. Do something different. Trust me, your textbooks will still be there (staring at you) when you get back.