Professionalism Uncut…

One of the first things I remember being said to me last year was, “You are a graduate student now. Your undergraduate experience is over and it is time to let others have theirs. It is time to work on becoming a professional.” For many of you reading this, you can probably smile and remember a similar comment you once received. But honestly, what does being a professional really mean?

Rather than go on the traditional route and express my opinion on what it means to be a professional, I decided to do some research at a familiar stomping ground. While it may not be the most orthodox place to discuss professionalism in the work place, it provided me a great opportunity to sit down with a wide-array of friends from many different areas both professionally and in their personal development. The involuntary participants in this post ranged from a professional in the medical field, to first year graduate students in Residence Life and Greek Life, second-year graduate students months away from their first professional positions, and two full-time housing “professionals.” I use that term loosely, because one of them is me.

So here is the feedback, transcribed loosely from the notepad on my Galaxy Nexus, from the most common of after work establishments—the small town pub and eatery.


[Male #1] I already mentioned this. Growing up doesn’t always mean you are mature. Mature people aren’t always grown-ups.

This is a very solid answer. I can relate to this. We all know that there are those 29-year-old immature guys out there who refuse to grow up (wait, that’s…me). But in all honesty, this sets the groundwork for what it takes to become a professional. Your age doesn’t make you a pro. There are inner-city tweens with more life experience than the common doctoral student, yet when that piece of paper is handed out and some papers are published, a title is often granted as acknowledgement for their accomplishments. But does a degree make you professional?

[Male #2] To me, professional means that next step in role modeling. With each level you obtain you are presented with new responsibilities and new ways to represent them.

This comment stuck with me because of the status of the respondent. As a first-year graduate student, this struck accord because it has only been a few months since his undergraduate experience ended. Professionals were the ones you looked up to as an RA, and in regards to hierarchy, they are the next step. However he went deeper. He discussed that it isn’t necessarily a title given, it is earned.

[Male #3] As a professional you are to better yourself through professional conferences, peers, and literature. It is no longer student organizations and programming.

When I heard this, it made me think of my opening quote. Considering we came from the same program, this is not surprising in the least. We have both been conditioned in the same manner in regards to what it means to be a professional.

[Female #1] To me, professionalism represents that full-time job. Everything you do is more profound and permanent. Your actions carry much more weight, as where in graduate school the consequences to your actions can often be temporary.

[Female #2] I refuse to answer this question because it is entirely too broad.

[Male #1] We blame you for our reluctance. This is an improper study and we are pretty sure an IRB would not approve of this.

So as you can see, after an amazingly reflective response from Female #1, my subjects have turned on me. Maybe because by this time it was starting to get into hour two of our discussions? Either way, I decided to take a temporary break or fear losing them to the game of pool going on or the basket of popcorn in front of us.



[Male #3] Hey, can I add to mine? Make sure to put “Professionalism means learning how not to push Reply All.”

[Male #2] Professionalism is knowing how to get what you want. It’s Machiavellianism with your chest.

[Female #2] I can make $@#@ up if you’d like?

As you can see, the conversation got a little off track, and for all of us it was pretty humorous. However a gem soon landed which changed the whole scope of this conversation and created a pretty solid interpretation of what professionalism meant to the group.

[Female #2] What you are transcribing here is the opposite of what is perceived to be professionalism.

[Male #1] You can’t say preserved. What is deemed professional in one department may not be in the next. For example, in some Student Affairs programs, graduate students are not allowed to hang out with professional staff after work.

[Female #3] Your school’s culture defines it.

[Male #1] Even here, the culture is changing.

[Male #3] I want to add the ACPA standards of “Do no harm..blah, blah, blah” to mine, can you do that?

[Male #4] Being professional is staying knowledgeable in your field, obeying your oaths, being honest, and at times, just doing what you are told.

(Leave it to the non-Student Affairs professional to interject with a solid, unwavering response which is spot on with his association’s creed).

[Male #1] The difficulty with this is we are required to demonstrate professionalism 24/7. We see each other at our best and at our worst.

[Female #3] We also have to separate the difference between Professional character and characteristics. It is hard to define when it is both a noun and a verb, often used interchangeably.

[Male #1] Agreed. Being professional means being responsible and ethical even when no one is looking. That being said, a professional does not always act professional.

[Me] Seriously guys? This was supposed to be a social experiment where I got to mock your answers the further into the night we got. Instead, you actually came to a pretty solid consensus as to what being a professional means. How am I supposed to get views with this?

As the scientific method comment goes, “even negative results are results.” I cannot help but be pleased with the outcome of this evening. A small group of Student Affairs professionals got together in the best way they could and had an entertaining evening of relaxation and developmental conversation. Whether the statements were outlandish or profound, they all had one common theme: Professionalism is what you make it. It is up to you to determine where you take it from here.

Charle Cherry

Student Affairs - the First Years

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