Thursday, November 14, 2013

Giving thanks for… good advice

I tend to over-think things. When I have a big decision to make, I will gather tons of information, look at every angle, think through all the ‘what ifs’. I may ask other people for their opinions but honestly, it isn’t that often that someone raises a point I haven’t already thought about. But when someone does give me advice that I had not thought about before, it generally sticks with me.

When I think about great advice I’ve been given, there are two examples that come to mind, in part because I repeat them a lot. As a professor, I talk to students all the time who need guidance about various things and I often find myself relaying what I was told by two of my college mentors when I was applying to graduate school. In one case, I was trying to decide what type of program to apply to, with the choices being a Ph.D. in Economics or in Higher Education Administration. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a professor or an administrator, though I was leaning toward the latter. The woman who was the Dean of Students of my college told me that I should do Economics because it would give me more options. She told me that many college administrators come out of the faculty ranks, which is what she did, so being a professor first would not rule out being an administrator, plus it would give me a better perspective for working with faculty if I did decide to go into administration. On the other hand, doing the Admin program would basically rule out teaching as a professor so if I decided I didn’t want to go the administration route, I could be out of luck.

Although this may seem like a pretty specific piece of advice, the larger issue is about keeping your options open, especially if you aren’t entirely sure what your final goal really is. When my students come and ask me what they should do after graduation, and they really have no idea what they want to do, I encourage them to choose the path that will help them gather information without closing any doors.

The second piece of advice that has stuck with me came from one of my economics professors who told me that I should go to graduate school in Wisconsin (rather than staying in California, where I grew up). His reasoning was that if I thought I wanted to work in academia, I may not have a ton of choice in where I ended up (note: academic jobs can be very specific so in any given year, there might be very few openings in a particular field across the country), and I needed to find out how I felt about living elsewhere. That was something that never would have occurred to me but it turned out to be fantastic advice. If I had stayed in California and then taken a job in, say, anywhere in the south, I would have been looking for another job within the first year.

Again, this seems specific but it goes beyond just thinking about where you want to live. My professor’s advice forced me to think about what is really important, what I really need in order to be happy. Up to that point, I was just hoping I would have a job when I got out of grad school but his comments made me think about what I wanted my life to look like. Was I willing to take ANY academic job, even if it meant living somewhere with 98% humidity in the summer, no where near water, and being surrounded by people who think completely differently than I do about social issues? After five years in Wisconsin, I knew the answer was no but I’m not sure I would have even thought about those things if I didn’t have my professor’s words still in my head.

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?

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