Top ten tips…
For getting the most out of your experience at the iSchool
6. Be willing to look stupid…
…because most likely you won’t actually look stupid. You may feel that way briefly, but it is very unlikely that anyone else will be able to tell. I guess I mean that you should try to put yourself out there, take risks. Being a student seems to offer more allowance to walk up to people you want to meet and just introduce yourself. You don’t work for the competition and you aren’t looking for a job. Well, maybe you are, but you can at least cover by playing up the ‘student’ persona.
Last year I heard about a cool seminar coming to Seattle that was exactly in the field I’m interested in and led by a big luminary. I really, really wanted to attend, but it was around $800. I screwed up my courage and wrote to the person leading the seminar, telling him that I was currently a student and was wondering whether he needed any volunteer help in return for a reduced seminar rate. I worked hard on trying to explain the value I could provide and sounding as professional as possible. I felt naïve and stupid, but I figured he could easily delete my email if he wasn’t interested. To my surprise, he responded that very day and told me I could attend both his seminar and another associated seminar for free in return for helping out with set up and registration logistics. Well worth that brief period of feeling like an un-cool 12 year old!
7. Don’t obsess over grades
I remember vividly when Allyson Carlyle stood in front of our 500 class last year and told us to not stress over grades. She even said something like “any employer who wants to know your grades is probably not the right employer.” I have never had an employer ask me anything about grades. (although I did work at a local e-commerce giant who famously required SAT scores! But that was long ago…) So unless you are planning on going into further academics, try not to worry too much over getting a 3.8 versus a 3.6. Getting a well rounded experience is much more important. When it comes time to get a job, which is ultimately the main reason most of us are here, good employers generally care most about the range of experiences you have had.
Once you have become a little accustomed to the new rigors of managing school on top of the rest of your life, give some serious thought to volunteering. Besides providing opportunities to make a difference within a community, volunteering is also an extraordinary way to get your feet wet in new career areas you might be interested in pursuing. It allows you to get a better sense of potential co-workers, the environment of jobs you might be interested in, exposes you to new challenges and often lets you gain direct experiences that can be crucial to your resume.
A fantastic resource for finding out about volunteer opportunities is the iSchool’s iServe group. iServe is currently in the process of building a website with more information about getting involved, but in the meantime please feel free to email Blythe Summers with any questions or if you just want to find out more. They have done some great projects, such as working with the Washington Talking Book and Braille library to re-catalog talking books, barcode new materials, and help with check-ins. Seattle Girl's School and the Hutch School are two places that currently need library volunteers – a great way to get that all-important library experience if you plan on working in a building that says ‘library’ on it!
Regardless of what you are interested in within the broader library and information science field, you can probably find a volunteering experience that will closely align. If you are a techie, there are tons of non-profits that would love help with their website, database management, or programming. NPower is one that is always looking for volunteers. Also think about just contacting organizations you find interesting and inspiring to ask them if you can become involved – this is how I have arranged most of my volunteer experiences and have found folks to be very receptive.
9. Find a mentor
Or three. I am fortunate enough to have a few incredible mentors. They are extremely busy people, so I don’t talk to them very often, but I make the effort to keep in touch with them on a regular basis. I line up lists of questions and areas for advice for when we are able to have a phone call or a lunch date. Because they are very ‘in demand’ folks, I make sure to take the initiative to instigate contact and to work around their schedules.
Besides giving great school and career advice, mentors can have a direct impact on your life. I got my current job via one of my mentors – he gave me a contact and I had to convince them they wanted an intern, but that internship turned into a real job that would have likely never been posted or even existed if my mentor hadn’t pointed me in the right direction.
There are often semi-formalized mentoring programs through professional organizations – this is how I got one of my mentors. There is also the old-fashioned way of just talking to someone whose work or experiences you respect and asking if they would be willing to be a mentor. Be flexible with the level of support you are looking for. A lot of potential mentors are involved in 50 other things, so think of ways you can benefit from each other’s viewpoints and experiences without having to spend a lot of time. Try to establish some guidelines around the mentoring experience so that the mentor won’t feel like having a mentee is one more burden. A few solid ideas on what you want to get from a mentor will really help when you are out looking for one.
10. Make your own list. Share it.
This is the completion of my list, but it is not the definitive word on how best to use your time here. Use this and anything else as a starting point. Talk to everyone you can – the benefits of being a student are HUGE and encompass a wide range of things beyond the academic experience. Most importantly, let others know of any good and bad experiences. The community of wonderful people here is one of the best parts of the iSchool. Take advantage of it!