This is as Important as Your GPA
Published: August 18, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding
As the official start of the fall semester
looms approaches, I asked Kim Dority to share some of her wisdom. What follows is both a pep talk (that B in cataloging is going to be ok) and a smart strategic plan to keep in mind as courses begin. Combining Kim’s advice with Jill’s nuts ‘n bolts webcasts on how to network and job search on LinkedIn should help you reach the head of the class!
If you’re like most iSchool students, you’ll do an excellent job in all of your courses and shoot for an A in each and every one. You’ll eventually graduate with a stellar grade point average, which is great, right? Well, yes, sort of…
The reality is that grad school represents an average of two years of your life, an investment of time and money whose real goal is not to create a perfect GPA but rather to prepare and position you to have a terrific career for the next thirty or forty or more years. That stellar GPA is nice, but there’s another accomplishment that’s equally important in the long run as acing your grades. And that’s the network of professional connections you begin to establish.
Building your professional community
Your opportunity to make professional-level connections and build a robust network as you move through your courses is one of the most valuable aspects of being in the iSchool program. Why? Because grad school is both a target-rich environment for building relationships and it’s easier to do as a grad student than it ever will be again.
To get you started, here are some of your best (and easiest) opportunities:
- Your facult y – get to know them, and let them get to know you. Be interested in the topic they’re teaching, and after you’ve completed their course, stay in touch. Let them know you appreciated their expertise, and would like to be able to reach out to them in the future as you start your career as a new professional. Ask them for career advice if they’re willing to share it, and keep in mind that they’re often a terrific source of career insights and job leads. They usually know a lot of people in their field!
- Your fellow students – these are your future colleagues, and people who share your passion for the profession, the trials and tribulations of grad school, and the challenges of group projects…in other words, you already have a lot in common, which is a wonderful basis for forming lasting bonds. If you’ve enjoyed a classmate in one of your courses, make sure to stay in touch and get to know him or her better. These can become relationships that are not only to be treasured but also can be mutually beneficial from a job/career perspective.
- Guest speakers – guest speakers are golden for network building for several reasons. First, simply by being willing to be a guest speaker, they’ve most likely signaled that they’re interested in and like students. Second, they’re usually practitioners, that is, they’re working in the discipline they’re speaking about. That means their knowledge is current and based on “real-life” practice, and they’d probably be willing to help you with insights and connections if you’ve previously reached out to them with a note of appreciation for their time spent with the class (e-mail is fine).
- Assignment interviews – every time you get a new class syllabus and start planning your work for that course, check out the assignments to see if any of them lend themselves to interviewing someone of interest to you. That might be because they have a job that fascinates you, they work for an employer you’re considering, they’ve had an especially adventurous career, or any other reason. Reach out to that person and explain that you’re a student working on an assignment in their area of expertise, and you’d appreciate it if they’d be willing to do a brief (assume 20 minutes) phone interview and share their insights with you. After the interview (assuming they’ve said yes!), follow up with an email or written thank-you, and then a copy of your assignment when completed. They’ll remember you and your professional, gracious behavior, and most likely be open to staying in touch.
- Internships – every internship should be as much about building lasting relationships with the individuals you meet, work with, and learn from as about the skills you practice. Dazzle your internship sponsor and co-workers with your positive attitude, openness to new ideas, willingness to tackle any job, and passion for the field and you will have created a mini-community of future LIS colleagues who will feel good about helping you with career advice, job leads, references and recommendations, and possibly an employment opportunity.
- Fellow volunteers – just because your volunteer activities don’t focus on LIS work doesn’t mean that your fellow volunteers aren’t a valuable component of your budding professional network. One of the most important aspects of a resilient career is simply planting seeds of opportunity whose results you’ll be unable to predict or count on. But one of the most interesting aspects of extending your network to relationships outside the LIS world is that often some of the most interesting – if unanticipated – career opportunities come from these contacts.
The great thing about building your network as you progress through your iSchool courses is that people naturally get to see you in action – they get to see your professional demeanor, your positive attitude, your collaborative spirit, your passion for the profession, and all the other outstanding attributes you would bring into a workplace. Your goal is to capture all of those positive engagements and turn them into similarly positive professional relationships that will last well beyond your iSchool years.