Every semester I hear from one or two students that need to conduct career interviews for a class project. Yesterday, a student of mine reached out for this very reason. The questions they asked really spoke to what students and young professionals want to know from people already in their careers. So, I decided to answer those questions, not only for them, but for all of you. Feel free to also use these questions in reaching out to people you admire.
1. What is a typical day (or week) like for you?
The thing I love most about my career, is that no week looks exactly the same. This is a lifestyle in my career that I specifically wanted. I had a job when I was getting my Master's where I worked 9-5 and I hated, I mean hated, the big blocks on my Google Calendar. I needed more color, more movement, more time to run errands in the middle of the day. So, luckily I was already on the path to Academia that allows this freedom.
My typical week has some regularity to it though. I reserve Mondays and Fridays as "writing days". Though most of the time this ends up cluttered with committee meetings, department meetings, grading and catch up on anything I didn't get done throughout the week or previous week. Tuesday's and Thursday's are for class. Though right now since I am teaching online, I only do Tuesday's. A part of my job is academic advising so right now Wednesday and Thursday I spend the whole day advising. If I am low on advising appointments I reserve time for writing.
Each day, I start by dropping the kids off at school and getting to work between 8:00 AM and 8:30 AM depending on how hectic the morning went. Then I take a half an hour to peruse email, Zillow (that SNL skit really hit home), as well as other social media (mostly Twitter and TikTok). Then I check and respond to email. I get anxious when I have unread email, so I'm the annoying type that never has a full inbox. After email time, I look over what I need to do for that day and plan out my day and potentially the rest of the week. (I'm obsessed with planning and organizing!).
After that, I dive into whatever needs to be done. This usually involves, in rotation (never all in one day), course prep (planning assignments, assessments, lectures), grading, advising, teaching, workshops, writing (this blog, my other blog, a book, or a journal article), podcast interviews, podcast editing, podcast social media (I need to hire someone!), meetings, planning future ideas, or just interacting with students and colleagues.
2: What do you like most about your work?
I can't pick just one, so I'll give you the top two. First and foremost, is and will always be, the students. I love interacting with students and helping them navigate their way through college and careers. As a first-gen who still doesn't fully know what I'm doing, I really want to try to help other students figure this out a little sooner than I did. As a child, my only goal was to sit on a college campus and study and think about big philosophical ideals (I know, I know, I'm a nerd!) and now I get to do this with young, excited people who are just learning about these ideas every day. It is so refreshing and renews my interest in learning every day.
Second, the flexibility. As I mentioned earlier I crave a random schedule. I love seeing my Google calendar with all different colors and timelines. I love being able to take time off to go to a Dr.'s appointment. I can quickly pivot a day to bring my sick kid to work with me or take the day off to stay at home with them. I can take the day time off and work at night if I wanted to. I can create my schedule in any manner that I want and that feels like freedom and joy to me.
I also like the entrepreneurial freedom. I can decide to write a book, start a podcast, host a blog, whatever at any time. If these activities are related to teaching and learning, then I even get to count them on my resume and use them to help me with promotion. This level of freedom to think creatively, build a community and reach out to students in new and exciting ways is very gratifying.
3: What do you like least about your work?
Meetings. I actually really love meetings. I'm weird and I love serving on committees or engaging in admin stuff like faculty governance, and I love having meetings with people about these things. However, I tend to overextend myself in this regard and join too many committees and so have too many meetings that it can distract me from bigger goals.
Politics. In any career there is some form of politics and culture around that career. I think it is very important to do the research to learn what that culture is and what the politics are like before you dive in. For me, Academia does have certain politics that I do not agree with. However, it is about balance, you're not likely to find a career that has a political atmosphere you totally agree with, but you find one that still centers the values you have and weigh the pros and cons for you personally.
4: How did you become interested in this field?
Like I mentioned, I envisioned sitting on the lawn at a University studying. Once I was in my junior year I realized the clock was ticking down and I had to decide to do something. All I could think was that I wanted to stay in college. I did not want to leave. So, why not become a Professor and stay forever! It sounded like a dream. I chose psychology specifically because psychology, in a way, is the study of everything. Since we study humans and humans exist in every other environment or career, I could study anything! I always joke in class, that there is an area of psychology designated for every other career option on the planet. Like health and medicine, we got that (health psych); like development and children, got that too (developmental psych); like the brain, yep (neuroscience); want to go to space, we even have that (human factors or engineering psych).
I just love to learn and I love to learn about all things. As a child, I wanted to be an actress, a writer, a director, a teacher, a psychologist, I wanted to be all of it. This career allows me to do all of those things and so much more.
5: How did you begin your career?
My story is very windy and twisty and full of coincidences. I started thinking I would do criminal profiling or clinical psychology working in mental institutions. After doing research and interviewing people in these careers, I quickly learned I did not want to do that. So I went on to my Master's degree in Social Psychology. I wanted to understand group dynamics and interactions to aid in prejudice and stereotyping and intergroup conflict. I loved it! I applied to PhD programs to study these things and didn't get accepted anywhere my first round. So, after a brief mourning period, I searched for ways to strengthen my application for the next go around. I found a research assistantship at Harvard studying social dominance theory in economic inequality. I fell in love and was fortunate enough to be able to go for a semester.
I really liked this work, so I applied to PhD programs related to this topic. I got into one, the University of Mississippi, and was excited to get started. Before, entering my first year the advisor I was supposed to work with moved Universities. Ole Miss was amazing and they said I could work with a new upcoming professor in Developmental Psychology. I could still work on topics I wanted and they would find a way to make it work. Turns out, I fell in love with Developmental Psychology. My advisor studied cognitive development and wouldn't you know, that relates to learning! As you might have guessed by now, learning is my main passion and this coincidence helped me discover that and brought me here.
6: What kind of problems do you deal with?
All kinds! On a student level, I deal with students not understanding material, missing deadlines and needing to make up coursework. For advising, I can handle issues of not submitting the correct forms, not scheduling classes appropriately and needing to reschedule a little too late, I see students having trouble engaging and needing help navigating how to study and stay on top of work. I handle issues of how to decide what career to go into and how to manage the anxiety that comes with this and all other college related things.
Personally, scheduling a hectic work/life balance can be challenging. The freedom to build my schedule can leave my work-obsessed brain with too much control and I can overschedule things. Making sure I take time for myself and my family can prove difficult.
Also, thinking of what to do, how to build my "brand" and how to build a successful career is also challenging. It's why I started this podcast and this blog to help others navigate along with me. It's an ever changing world and we have to do so much more in our careers now to make it to the middle class, it can be very challenging to navigate all of it.
7: If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? If not, what would you change?
Yes! This is what I have learned most from doing my Podcast. The windy, twisty path I've taken has led me exactly here and I wouldn't change it. There are plenty of times, I wish I had not been first-gen and could've known things earlier. Or that I had started out knowing I could research teaching and learning and went straight there. Or even, sometimes I wish to go back to Social Dominance Theory and economic inequality. But overall, all of those things provided me the exact skill set and knowledge I need to help other first-gen students or young professionals navigating this tricky career market.
A caveat to this, though, is if I could still change one thing. I would have more confidence early. Imposter syndrome be damned! I've learned how to overcome my insecurity (not completely, still working on this everyday), but if I had not let these insecurities stop me at times, if I had pushed through and just went after what I wanted, I might be more successful now. So if I could give advice to anyone in any career field, find the confidence somewhere. Blast through the imposter syndrome. We all have it, even those very successful people you admire. The difference isn't the imposter syndrome itself, it's that successful people don't let imposter syndrome stop them.
8: What advice would you give someone who is considering this type of job (or field)?
I used to think that some jobs existed outside of business, like Academia. I thought it was this Ivory Tower that didn't need to deal with business related things, I didn't need to learn how to sell things, or be
come an entrepreneur. That was entirely wrong. Every career is a business. If you are not selling a product, you will have to sell yourself. Learn how to sell, learn how to create a business, it will pay off in one way or another in any, I mean ANY, career.