One of the nice parts of having an extended Winter Break as a student—aside from the obvious time to visit with family and old friends—is the time it affords you to reflect on successes and challenges as you move into a new semester. Whether you find the New Year’s Resolutions strategy productive or disheartening (I’ve had mixed results), building a habit of ongoing reflection and goal setting can be really helpful and, fortunately, the academic schedule has built-in opportunities for self-assessment.
Thinking about where I can invest more of my time, or where I might need to scale back, was an important part of this process for me as I planned for my second semester as a graduate student this spring. In my role as a Graduate Assistant in the Cohen Career Center, we frequently talk about the propensity of William & Mary students, particularly freshman year, to spread themselves too thin with involvement in a multitude of work, clubs and activities that many struggle to balance with demanding course schedules. Emphasizing depth versus breadth, through active engagement with a shorter list of activities, becomes essential in creating valuable experiences while maintaining sanity and well being.
Getting outside during my break home in snowy New Hampshire gave me a chance to reflect on the semester ahead.
Still, with a myriad of attractive opportunities to invest our time and energy in, how can we possibly decide which are worth diving into and which we’re better off ignoring, at least for now? Part of the reason I think this is a difficult question to answer is because we are, in a certain sense, ill-equipped to answer it. As students in the “preparing” phase of our career journey, we’re not yet advanced enough in our field of interest to know which stepping stones will get us where we want to go.
Something that I thought a lot about during Winter Break was the role an effective mentor can play in helping us set goals and identify those few areas where our time is best spent. When I attended the Virginia Student Services Conference this past fall, one of the interest sessions I attended took on the topic of mentorship and the value of having a trusted professional in your chosen field to navigate the inevitable rocky terrain that accompanies the lengthy process of preparing, searching, and succeeding in meaningful work. During this session I heard a valuable peace of advice: “Find a job you’d love but might not be qualified for and walk backwards to determine the steps you need to take to get there.” That seems like a helpful strategy for planning on our own, but how much better to get to know the person currently in that role and have them take those steps with us?
Convinced there isn’t a better way to intentionally seek success as a student and aspiring professional, I resolved to find myself a mentor when I came back to campus this spring. Another critical piece I learned during the interest session I attended at VSSC was the importance of intentionality when seeking a mentor. It’s not as easy as finding someone you get along with or who you admire, but for mentorship to be truly effective, it’s vital to identify someone who you’re confident will be able and willing to invest in your success. Approaching this person with clear intent and objectives in mind is the only way to prevent what you hoped would be a helping hand in your career search from devolving into something less purposeful.
It was a surprise to come back to more than eight inches of snow in Colonial Williamsburg. A rare chance to see the Governor’s Palace in a coat of white.
For those of us less accustomed to bringing a lot of formality into relationships this might seem a bit awkward, but to keep yourself and your mentor accountable, it’s even advisable to consider co-signing a “Mentorship Agreement” which spells out the agreements you’ve made towards stated goals, as well as other important aspects of mentorship negotiation, including confidentiality, time commitments, and any boundaries to the relationship that you’d like to set.
Even with nearly a month of time to reflect, I didn’t actually decide on a plan for semester two of my graduate program, but with a mentorship agreement ready to sign, I feel confident I’ll have that plan ready soon.