Wednesday, 25 June 2014

(Kind of) Summer Vacation - The case for getting involved in University

I have resigned myself to the fact that I can no longer have the kind of summer vacations I used to have in between years of elementary and high school. I actually managed to hold onto my last true summer vacation until last year. While I did work part-time last summer, I didn’t have any other commitments and spent many of my days off laying in the sun with a good book or wandering my new neighbourhood I had just moved into. Summer vacations before that were similarly relaxing and commitment-less. Summer vacation was days and weeks on end of having a quiet family home to myself while everyone else was at work. Summer vacation was trips to Cultus Lake, visits to the outdoor pool, and evening walks in Fort Langley. Summer vacation was going to the Langley Canada Day celebration and watching the fireworks until midnight and then wandering home on the dark, quiet country roads.

This summer, I find myself scheduling in meetings and events into my days off, and working 5-6 days out of the week as well. After my first semester at SFU, I realized how much more I can do to build my resume and portfolio, and even having the summer ahead of me is not enough for me to be able to take a break. All throughout elementary and high school, I was not one of the students who got involved in extra-curriculars (unless you count 4th grade Track and Field, which you don’t). I tended to go to school, do well in my classes, and go home. Getting straight A’s seemed to get me enough opportunities and scholarships and I didn’t see the point of putting in any more effort than I needed to.

But after one year at SFU as a transfer student from a small community university (UFV), I can see where my resume is lacking when I’m up against all these other Communication, Business, and Publishing students who have been working on their resumes outside of classes for years. One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from this first year is that there are two ways you can go in University: you can focus on academics and pursue research fellowships and honours programs and other awards that will guarantee your entry into Grad school. Or, you can get as much paid and unpaid experience as possible while you’re in school so that you get a better job sooner after graduation.
Five years ago, I would have unquestionably chosen the first route. I do very well in classes and don’t freeze up on tests, so academics has always been my strong point. But now, I meet students my age every day who are interning at social media agencies (Or even running them!), working in Co-Op positions at some of the largest companies in Vancouver, and who have 1000 followers on twitter and a successful blog. I could see after only one year of being in this environment that I needed to step up my game.

When I transferred to SFU, I declared my Communication Major and Publishing Minor. Which means I’m graduating from a faculty where experience is everything. I realized that I can’t just get a good Communication or Publishing job with my good grades alone. I needed more experience. So I started branding myself online. I already had a Twitter account, so I started really using it in a professional way. I started following leaders in the publishing world, I started reading the things they posted and interacting with them when I could. I started this blog and I’ve tried to make it a place where I can update my progress through university and into a professional career while still being able to get booknerdy and share my passion for reading. I started connecting with classmates and employers on LinkedIn, and making my overall online impression a professional and personally representative one. 

While doing all this work on my personal social media, I realized how much I enjoy interacting with people online. I’ve become obsessed with Twitter and its ability to connect me with current events as they happen, and with other students in my faculty. I found countless events and opportunities through Twitter and other social media that have helped me figure out my direction in school and develop my skills for the future once I’ve graduated. The biggest thing I’ve learned from my first year at SFU, is that I’m now prepared and excited to start working on myself as a brand by developing my own skills through experiences inside and outside school so that I can enrich my life and improve my portfolio for my future. So although I may not have a summer vacation any longer, I’m investing in myself through every event I attend and every meeting I commit to. I’m networking with my fellow students so that we can learn from each other and make those connections that may come in handy one day.

So this summer, I started the process to be a part of SFU’s Co-Op program. I’m attending the workshops and interviews so that I can spend the Fall semester applying and interviewing for positions, and hopefully working in the Spring 2015 semester. I was also selected to participate in Epicentr’s EpiAcademy, a bi-weekly workshop series that is the newest (and only) training ground for future social media experts. In between all of this, I’m working nearly full-time and attending any and all events I find for students that involve communications, publishing, or social media. I also have plans to get Hootsuite certified as well as teach myself some Adobe InDesign and Coding basics before summer’s out. And I’m learning so much. I’m also meeting the coolest people and getting so inspired to work with my classmates in the industry once we’re all out of here. You really can do so much to invest in yourself if you put some effort into it, and I think the benefits are already showing themselves in my life. 

This post started because I was feeling resentful to be stuck inside in uncomfortably hot business causal attire on such a beautiful sunny day. But now I’m feeling such gratitude for the opportunities I have going to such an amazing school and living so close to Vancouver so that I can attend all of these awesome events while working alongside inspiring and motivated classmates who care just as much about all of this as I do. So if you're a Vancouver university student who's reading this, or even someone in the industry, I'd love to connect with you! Tweet me anytime @michelle_gaudet.

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