The Big “T” of Higher Education: Transition

Matthew Linton

August 7, 2017

When thinking of the word transition in the context of higher education, I would venture to say that 75% or more professionals would immediately think of Schlossberg’s Transition Theory. I would also hypothesize that professionals would also only think about a student, specifically an undergraduate student. While yes, we as a field do focus the majority of our thoughts and energy on undergraduate students, we cannot forget to engage in dialogue on how transition theory relates to graduate level students or professionals as a whole. I am going to invite you, as the reader, to follow a little bit of my journey transitioning from a graduate student to a full-time entry-level professional in the field of higher education.

To give a little back-story, I am what we call a traditional student affairs professional in the sense that I went straight from undergrad to grad to professional with no “gap years.” While I honor my own journey, I also acknowledge that not every professional within our field has the same journey as me. Now that this has been clarified and acknowledged, my transition from graduate student to new professional was somewhat of a challenge for me at first. Below, I am going to detail three (3) specific challenges that I faced, to which I overcame or am still in the process of overcoming. I will also add a brief approach as to how I tackled and/or embraced the challenges.

Challenge 1: Culture

Within every department, division, institution, state, region, or nation comes a different culture. While some things are similar across the board (i.e. “National I Hate My Roommate Month = October for Res Life folks), the way we all approach the similarities and differences drive the culture. My biggest transition from Florida to Arizona circulated around the laid-back mentality that Arizona presented. I tend to think the way I approached this challenge was by jumping straight in. I rid my vocabulary of “well in grad school, I did this.”

Challenge 2: Work/Life Balance

Thankfully, this transition worked in my favor for the most part. Transitioning from a graduate student, where you spend half of your life in the classroom or in the middle of a research project, to a professional staff member, where you actually may have this magical thing called “free time,” was a huge benefit. As a transitioned professional, I had time to catch up on all things Netflix and Hulu. I even had the luxury of going on vacation, something that seemed absolutely absurd to do a year or two ago. That said, please do not think that the learning or development is over and done with. You should still read, especially articles and blogs related to our field, or even look to take some classes on the side with your supervisor’s support.

Challenge 3: Voice

While I was at a graduate institution that mostly had their stuff together in terms of this challenge, I was still met with issues. During my transition from graduate student to professional, I found myself having a larger, louder, and well-received voice at the table during discussion. I was no longer “just a grad” anymore, which is amazing. I am now able to be trusted (most of the time) for the opinions, recommendations, or thoughts I presented at the table. Utilize this challenge, not by getting a big head, but by truly advocating for the students and professionals you work alongside.

Bonus Challenge:

No matter what level you are in this field, please never say the following sentence: “I would never go to a graduate student’s presentation at a conference. I won’t learn anything.” In a professional development session during my graduate program, someone said this in a presentation to my cohort and me. This truly fueled my fire to serve as a support system to graduate students all across the board. Seeing as I now serve on the NASPA Region VI New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge Community Leadership Team, I would definitely say I overcame that challenge of “not knowing anything” or “not being inspirational.” A note to the graduate students out there: your voice is valuable. Never stop sharing the amazing ideas you think up or stumble upon! As a (new) professional within the field, I can speak for the majority of people and say that we look to you as the future of our field! Be the change you wish to see in the world and above all else, DO NOT stop caring!

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Matthew Linton is currently a Community Director in the Residence Life department at the University of Arizona. Matthew also serves on the Region VI New Professionals and Graduate Students Leadership Team. He loves all things Disney, traveling the world, spending time with his husband, and raising his Siberian Husky puppy. Matthew can be reached at [email protected].

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