Leaving after one year: Let’s change the culture of student affairs

For friends and those who follow me on social media, you may have seen my exciting news: I recently accepted a new position as a Resident Director at Santa Clara University! It’s a rapid transition and a change of functional area for me, and I couldn’t be more excited. While I have many strengths and skills in marketing communications work, my heart has always been torn between two worlds—the world of higher education marketing, and the world of residence life and student affairs. This recent job search process threw me for a bit of a loop and occurred much sooner than I had planned, but all of this sudden change has led to the biggest lesson for me in my career so far.

Plans are nice, and they hardly ever work out the way you imagine them to.

I’m feeling very Carrie Bradshaw-esque as I reflect on my experiences and write this post (and, of course, I’m reading my own writing in her voice) as I let my fingers hit the keys of my beat up Macbook from undergrad at the Temple Coffee Roasters in Downtown Davis. Today was my last day working on the Davis campus in my role as the Social Media Strategist for the Division of Student Affairs. A water sign to the T, I’m full of emotions; nervous, excited, nostalgic, proud, happy. And as I reflect on the three to five year plan they had us make in graduate school, I can’t help but also feel a little bit silly for thinking that would come to pass. For those curious about my professional development plan, which was written at the conclusion of my graduate program in June 2017, here you go.

If doing what’s best for you means leaving a job after a year or less, isn’t that worth your happiness?

I spent part of my afternoon chatting with a fellow young student affairs practitioner about the things they don’t teach us in graduate school. One of those lessons is that the plans we make are helpful guidelines, but in the end, your plan can change at any time. When I started job searching, I felt a bit like I was violating my own timeline, as if I was doing something wrong. The field passes down toxic ideologies to young professionals like myself about the “right time” to leave a position. While leaning on professional mentors can have many benefits, it’s also critical to listen to what can be your best mentor—yourself. Once I stopped ignoring my heart and started to free myself from the idea that staying in a role for a year is wrong, I felt free to let myself get excited again about the future and my place in the field of student affairs. I wish graduate programs and more seasoned practitioners gave the advice to listen to your heart before listening to the unspoken norms of the profession. The reality: we can change this damaging norm over time, and ultimately, you know what’s best for you. If doing what’s best for you means leaving a job after a year or less, isn’t that worth your happiness?

The field passes down toxic ideologies to young professionals like myself about the “right time” to leave a position.

I recognize that student affairs practitioners can be the masters of giving great advice while also not practicing what they preach. But, when it comes to this particular set of advice, know that it comes from my experience having left two full-time positions after one year (no, not just one year; one year is a year, and that’s a long time!), relocating professionally for the second time, and switching functional areas from residence life to marketing communications back to residence life again. Some advice for my colleagues seeking to change the culture with me:

  • Look out for your best interests. This may mean leaving after one year. It may mean leaving after five years. In the end, though, we owe it to ourselves to understand that our best interests may not align with the best interests of the institutions we serve, and that’s okay.
  • Hire better. When hiring, don’t look down on one year stints. As a new wave of practitioners begins to engage on hiring committees, encourage your colleagues not to toss out the application materials of those who have short stints on their resume. If they’re qualified, they’re qualified. Your job is to hire the best qualified candidate for the role and for your students; let the candidate fill in the blanks about their work history.
  • Know yourself. Don’t be afraid of what you know you love doing. I’ve wrestled a lot with this one, and I’ve spent a lot of energy convincing myself that I wouldn’t return to work in residence life. And, here we are, three days away from becoming an RD. Have the insight and bravery to admit to yourself when you know you’ve strayed from what you love doing, and if you have the power to do so, take the action you need to realign yourself with those passions. Life’s too short not to.

This final thought goes out to my fellow millennials in student affairs: We have the opportunity and the power to make some real change in this field. Let’s not squander the chance to change the culture of student affairs at every turn for the better. And know that the change starts with you.

Let’s make a difference together.


5 thoughts on “Leaving after one year: Let’s change the culture of student affairs

  1. I love this. Left an enormously toxic environment after 3 months and never looked back. Was told I’d be unhireable, but here I am 6 months into an amazing new job!

  2. Thank you !! Great I am two weeks into my job as an Academic Advisor, it’s going well! Enjoyed the read and will definitely keep these things in mind as I journey through my first year in higher ed

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