Will the real professionals please stand up?

by Ryan Bye

So, who stood up? Did you? What about you? And you? I physically stood up as I wrote this – so yes I did. I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about feeling like an imposter or imposter syndrome and I totally get it. I felt it at one point in graduate school, I’ve felt it when I was new to presenting at conferences and I’ve felt it again in my new position. Internally, I know I am not an imposter – I’m just new – and it is not bad thing.

So, what does it mean to be new? I guess what I am really asking what does it really mean to be a first-year entry level professional? I started my position as a Residential Learning Coordinator at Valparaiso University in July. This is my first position right out of graduate school, and let me say it is great. No, it is not everything I expected or anticipated – it’s different, it’s tiring, and it’s rewarding. I am currently the only RLC who is in their first entry-level position right out of graduate school and it has provided an interesting contrast for me (I would like to take this time to give a major shameless plug – I feel very supported and respected). I have found myself reflecting over this topic for the past several weeks and realizing it means a lot. It means so many things I have learned that it means:

First, let me tell a story: I used to work in a residence hall of 1,100 first year students, 22 RAs, 1 hall secretary, 2 grad assistants, and 1 full-time RLC. I now work in a hall of 256 students, 8 RAs, and the department has 1 administrative assistant, 7 full-time RLCs, 1 Assistant Director, and 1 Assistant Dean of Students (who supervises all of us). So needless to say there was a big change.  I now also advise our chapter of NRHH and this is whom I am so thankful for teaching me a majority of the aspects of the “lessons” below.

We are a chapter that is starving to grow, ambitious to get on the “map”, and has a burning desire to do their best. That being said we are undergoing some changes. Last year they re-affiliated after some odd years of non-affiliation, this year we are going back to using & promoting the national OTM database submission tool, and we’re continuing a Fall & Spring induction process – oh wait and working on our normal operations. It has been a whirlwind but an amazing one. Well, after our fall inductions I received some feedback that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. I was a little surprised, disappointed, and defeated. There were some faux pas made, nothing major, just some tweaking needed, but it felt like the end of the world. Why? Because I made it that way. I needed to step back and think about what it means to be an entry level professional.

I am learning. I am learning how to do my job; I am learning the institutional culture; I am simply learning. I love this fact. I also hate this fact. I love being able to see all the learning I’ve been able to do since I got here. It also means I need to pace myself. I’m learning the culture, I’m learning about how I am as a supervisor, I am learning what motivates me, I am learning I need to improve in many areas, and I am learning more about what I am learning. So, you might ask what am I not learning? Well I don’t have that answer for you… and I probably never will. Why? Because I am more than just a proverbial lifelong learner – I want to be learning every day of my life (career included), but I want that learning to be purposeful and meaningful to the work I am doing and myself.  

I’m finding my voice. You might be saying “Ryan, you talk all the time, write, and tweet, don’t you have your voice?” Well, you may have notice I have blogged less, I’ve been tweeting less, and I am significantly less involved on Facebook groups. Why? Well, I just started my job and I am figuring out where that part of my life fits in. I will be honest being involved with #SAchat, this blog, and engaging with amazing professionals on Twitter is where I started the journey of finding my voice. Right now I am figuring out how to find my voice, not only as an “official” entry level professional, but also within my institutional context. So I need to work on forgiving myself for not blogging or tweeting as much and accept that this is part of the journey of finding my voice as a professional.

I am going to make mistakes. Also because part of this means I am making mistakes and I am learning how to make those mistakes. It really feels like I could go on and on talking about all the things I have learned. I feel like this is the

There have been times where I have felt like I should have perfected all of these things already. I have caught myself saying, “Shouldn’t I have perfected this in grad school?” And the answer I have to tell myself is no.  If I refer back to my first “lesson”, which is I am learning. I’ve come to accept that it is okay for me to still be learning, making mistakes, and learning some more. 

I could have made a list of things it does not mean to be a first time-right out of graduate school- entry level trifecta of a professional, but really where would that have gotten me or us.  I want to provide these as my last words; I love what I do, I love the support I receive, and I love the experience. 

Student Affairs - the First Years

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