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Starting Year 6 as a “New Professional”

New Professionals and Graduate Students New Professional
September 14, 2021 Jess Shapiro

This July marked the beginning of my sixth year of full-time work post-graduate school.  By many definitions, that puts me into the mid-level category now that I have completed five years post-Master’s, but I am still in an entry-level role.  My entire professional career thus far has been at Ithaca College in central New York, working in Residential Life, Campus Center, and now the Office of Student Engagement.  Now that I have hit this arbitrary milestone of being five years out, I have begun to think about my career trajectory in a new way.

Throughout graduate school and my early career, I always struggled to answer the question about what my ultimate career goals were.  I knew I wanted to start off in residence life since I had benefited and learned so much from my experiences as an RA my junior and senior years.  After my planned first job as a Hall Director, though, I did not have a plan for where my career might take me.  I was lucky to work in a Residential Life office that not only allowed but also encouraged RDs to explore other functional areas through auxiliary assignments, campus committees, and informational interviews.  My likes and dislikes about residence life work became clear (like: programming, advising, supervising; dislike: crisis, mental health emergencies) and I was able to pivot into a new functional area in student unions and student activities.

My third and current role as Assistant Director of Student Engagement allows me to dive even deeper into leadership development, high-level student organization advising, and program management.  I love my role, my colleagues, and the students I have the opportunity to work with.  Even in the shorter context of a five-year plan, I still have trouble answering that question about my future career goals.  I know part of this is attributed to the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and the drastic changes to the job market in higher education and student affairs that ensued.  My identity feels stuck between new professional and mid-level, and I struggle with not really knowing what that means for me.

For those of you in a similar boat, this blog does not have any answers or solutions, but I can tell you what I am planning to do with my time in the “in-between”.  First, I am remaining involved with groups like the New Professionals and Graduate Students Steering Committee during this time of transition as a way to put a bow on my time as a new professional.  Second, I am making more of an investment in my specific functional area associations like NACA in order to more deeply grow and develop within my new role.  Third, I am working on developing my personal and professional skills on my own, by reading books and articles, attending webinars of interest, and working toward becoming an anti-racist educator.  This work will hopefully help me to feel even more ready to step into my next role, whatever and whenever that may be.  Finally, I am still taking things one day at a time.  I do not have a five- or ten-year career plan and do not plan to create one.  I truly enjoy the work I do every day and am so fortunate to work alongside some truly incredible colleagues and students.  I am excited for the opportunity to eventually supervise full-time staff and move into a true mid-level role.  For now, I am overjoyed to be able to work so closely with students and avoid the many new struggles that come with being in mid-level management.  

Many discussions have been happening lately about folks like me who remain in entry-level roles past the five-year mark.  Our professional associations need to offer more structure and opportunities specific to this group, and also potentially consider revised definitions of “new professional” and “mid-level”.  For the time being, I will continue doing the best I can for my students and see where each new day takes me.

Author: Jess Shapiro (she/her/hers) is the Assistant Director of Student Engagement at Ithaca College, where she oversees leadership initiatives, manages programming, and advises several student organizations.  She began at Ithaca College after earning her Master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University in 2016.  Jess is also a member of the New Professionals & Graduate Students Steering Committee for NASPA.  You can follow her on Twitter @jshap722 or email jess.shapiro.310@gmail.com