October 23, 2017
Other duties as assigned; four words that make many student affairs professionals cringe. The words are often uttered under one’s breath, as one begins to prepare themselves for additional work piled on top of their already overwhelming load. Although I’ve experienced that same visceral response in the past, I have come to value the opportunities that other duties as assigned have provided me in my career. In fact, when I look at each new position or promotion that I have received in my career, all of them were reached through the development of skills or knowledge from these dreaded other duties as assigned.
A career in student affairs is often a long and winding road, even if it doesn’t appear that way on your resume. The path from graduate assistant or coordinator to Director, Dean, or VP can take many different forms. Along that path, expectations for student affairs professionals change and staff must broaden their experiences to be ready for the next step. That may not always be possible within the confines of your current position and duties. To develop professionally, we must continually challenge and improve ourselves and our work. Some of this comes from networking, conference sessions, formal education and training, or reading and research. But in my experience, some of the most valuable professional development in my career came from the attainment of new skills or knowledge through my work on committees, special projects, or campus-wide initiatives. In other words, other duties as assigned.
Search committees, campus-wide committees, collaborations within your Division and beyond, service as an interim in another role, and leadership of new initiatives or special projects can help you gain additional skills and round out your experience as a SA professional as well as shape your interest in the field. As a graduate student or new professional, it is hard to see outside of the day to day duties and the challenges of your specific position. But how does a Residence Life Community Director or Coordinator of Student Activities become a Dean of Students or Director of Strategic Planning & Assessment one day? How do they even know what those jobs entail or require?
If you give these other duties the same effort and commitment as your regular duties, they can help put you on the radar of your VP, DOS or other administrator across campus. You can become a go-to person on campus, somebody with a reputation for being a great representative for your area, or someone that can bring a fresh perspective to a new situation. Yes, success in other duties as assigned normally leads to more other duties as assigned, but over the years these other duties as assigned will also help round out your resume and better prepare you for future roles. Performing well in these additional contexts will help put more people on your team. In every additional duty at which you excel, you continue to build a team of people that can vouch for your skills and professional performance. These team members prove invaluable in your career and can help serve as references, sponsors, and potential mentors for you along your professional journey.
I’m aware that these other duties can be overly burdensome and that sometimes we as supervisors can use other duties as an excuse for dumping too much work on new staff. New professionals in student affairs are incredibly susceptible to burn out and we must continue to ensure that our field offers a healthy work environment. As staff, we can help manage the amount and type of other duties that come our way. The key for me is to be intentional whenever possible and actively search and volunteer for the other duties that I feel would be the best match. When meeting with your supervisor, either in a routine meeting or during an annual evaluation period, be prepared to discuss different opportunities or experiences that you would like to gain. If you seek out these other duties intentionally, you can drive your own development. I keep a list in my desk of areas that I want to learn about for my next step and I am sure to volunteer and offer my time to projects or initiatives that help me gain that knowledge. Supervisors and organizational charts will always change; you will be the only constant in your career and will benefit from any efforts you make towards your own development. Next time you hear those four dreaded words, instead of cringing, see a new door opening in your career, full of challenges and successes that will help guide your path towards your professional goals.
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Adam Sterritt is currently the Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement & Academic Partnerships in the Division of Student Life at The University of Alabama and is also an adjunct assistant professor in their Higher Education Administration graduate program. He is the proud partner of a Student Affairs spouse and an overwhelmed father to two incredible little boys. Adam can be found on Twitter at @Adam_Sterritt.
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