Life After University: What Next?
I entered the world of academia in 2009 as a spry 17 year old. The world was my oyster. I was free from the shackles of high school rigidness: wake up, sneak in some breakfast, hit up Phys Ed, then some French, followed by English, and end the day with data management (I was never good at math).
Back then, I envisioned myself working in something media-related: production, broadcasting, journalism, etc., so I went into Communication Studies at Carleton. I wouldn’t have thought that at the end of my undergrad 4 years later, I would have wanted to ditch all those dreams and continue on a path in academia with a M.A in Communication.
But I did. After 6 years of academia and two degrees, I was set loose onto the world.
I was commenting to some friends and colleagues on how September lifts my spirits for many reasons. Two of these reasons are that 1) my favourite season begins (the autumn), and 2) feelings of back-to-school nostalgia direct my brain to fire off endorphins. It used to be that I’d see everyone on my social media accounts posting statuses/pictures/quotes on going back to school, or getting ready to take on new adventures, or *insert cliché comment here*. When I finished school, it made me happy that others would get a kick out of going back to the grind but also a little sad that I couldn’t share these feelings/experiences anymore.
Of course, seeing statuses in November of the gruel of midterms/final papers routinely kill any nostalgia or yearning to return to school. That’s where my romanticism stops. As much as I miss spending full-time hours researching something I think is important (socio-economic development in Latin America), I’m happy with applying my skills to other endeavours.
I can honestly say that I had a heck of a time in my 6 years at Carleton. I got into materials and research that I never knew existed, and it’s because of those 6 years that I’m in the position where I am now, both career-wise and as a person.
That’s why I stuck around in academia. I knew that by 3rd year undergrad, I didn’t have any aspirations in broadcasting or public relations. It took me a year or two to figure it out, but I knew that what I wanted was something research-oriented.
Unfortunately, others didn’t, and this left a lot of 19 and 20 year olds in an awkward position: they wanted to learn applied, more “hands-on” skills in a program that dealt with lots of theory.
Don’t get me wrong: Carleton’s communication program is lit (right kids?!). I credit the progression of my critical thinking, reading, and writing skills to the materials I engaged with and the discussions I had with my peers and professors. I came out smarter than when I arrived because my time in the program taught me how to approach tough questions.
But at the same time I know that students want something more than the weekly readings assigned in class. I know that not everyone is destined to stay in academia.
You might have non-academic aspirations in mind while you’re reading this blog post: video production for a hit-TV series, broadcasting from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, writing for a trendy news source in Manhattan, public relations, client-engagement…the list goes on.
A light bulb may have gone off in your head right now. Oh my God, how does he know that? Well, I was a student and a TA in my former life (which wasn’t too long ago). So I understand the struggle.
For those skills, I’ll tell you this: look at places outside of your academic classes. Strengthen your C.V with paid work and volunteer work. A communication officer position, for instance, is fantastic because of its versatility. Volunteer work at local media outlets—community newspapers, community radio (Carleton’s got a great one on the 5th floor of the Unicentre. CKCU 93.1 FM. Yes, the Unicentre has a 5th floor!)—these provide valuable, tangible experiences. Trust me on this—I dabbled in both.
Not to toot my own horn (my thesis supervisor constantly reminded me to “quit being so humble” and go for it), but I can say that it’s worked. I’ve grinded. I’ve poked my nose into opportunities. I’ve had many late nights/overnights. I’ve made sacrifices. I’ve been lucky and, just as important, I have created my own luck.
It’s because I filled my resume with stuff outside of academia that I decided to pursue a degree in the arts. I knew that with my prior experiences, coupled with my degree, I’d have a chance of positioning myself into getting somewhere I wanted to be.
Unfortunately, I don’t think many young students are aware of this concept. A+’s are impressive, but unfortunately, an A+ won’t guarantee you work in the job market. That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive for greatness in your courses. Don’t stop challenging yourself. Don’t settle for mediocrity. If you are, shake hose habits. Make the best use of your time. What matters is the grind: if you’re not grinding, you’re not going anywhere.
During my time as a T.A., I would advise students who asked me about career options to differentiate themselves from the crowd. And now, as someone who is outside of academia looking in, I’m saying it to you. Keep in mind that you’re all graduating with the same degree, so to a hiring manager who is picking resumes out of a pile, you will all look the same on paper. Put your own twist on it. You’ve got time in university to check out new things, so be sure to use it wisely.
Henry Guardado, M.A.