JumpStart Networking: It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Our guest this week is Margaret Bruetsch, a recent graduate of Marist College and an aspiring author. In this week’s guest post, Margaret reflects on important advice she’d share with younger students.
My father would be the first person to tell you how stubborn I am. It’s probably dated now, but when I was a kid my father, the teacher, got my sister and I all of the JumpStart computer games from Kindergarten to 8th grade. I’ve always loved to learn and I’d like to challenge myself even when I was in 2nd grade. Instead of only playing the JumpStart 2nd grade I’d try to tear through the 3rd and 4th grade editions as well, despite being too young for them. When I couldn’t figure something out, I’d get frustrated and cranky and cry to my father about how I “couldn’t get it.” And he’d always say to me, “Well, there's only one thing to do...give up.” He knew I’d react by stomping my foot and declaring that I wouldn’t give up, and continue to struggle until I finally completed the Math or Science game that was so difficult.
"I was just a new kid and networking was supposed to be done in business attire at some formal conference or event where you talked with people who were so important you could barely find the words to introduce yourself."
I didn’t grow out of this stubbornness; it continued into high school, college and even now. When I was in high school I went to a small school (my graduating class was only 115 kids) and I knew everybody, so my dad was worried that when I went to college his stubborn daughter would get lost at a big school and be too proud to go to a Professor’s office hours for help. Despite going to a smaller school, for my entire Freshman Year at Marist College, my Dad was right. I was too busy figuring out the campus and whether I wanted to stay there or transfer to another school. I was meeting new people and trying to figure out who I was going to be at the college. I was joining clubs that took up my free time, and I had picked up a job I was too afraid to leave to go have a 20-minute meeting with a Professor. I don’t remember if I even saw one of my professors at their office hours that year.
Looking back at my Freshman Year, I realize what a mistake it was that I didn’t make the effort to get to know my professors. It would have led to better grades. It would have helped as I struggled to find internships and publications to at least have someone I knew to help me. It would have opened more doors, and maybe it would have changed my stubborn and very shy ways earlier. Instead I kind of trapped myself, and figured I was doing really well at school and I could always leave the meetings, which were basically networking opportunities, for later when I had more to offer or talk about. I didn’t want to speak up, and was okay with just observing rather than going out of my way to make an impression. I was just a new kid and networking was supposed to be done in business attire at some formal conference or event where you talked with people who were so important you could barely find the words to introduce yourself. And when you did, you didn’t want to make any mistake. Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to learn differently.
"Everyone makes networking into this stressful, ambiguous, and very important business practice, but what nobody tells you about networking is the fact that it’s just talking to another human being."
The fall of my Sophomore Year, however, was a different story from both high school and my Freshman Year. I was enrolled in Classics of Western Literature, a required Core course at the time, and I figured it wouldn’t be much harder than an introductory class. I was wrong. It wasn’t the content of the class that was hard, it was figuring out how to get a good grade on the essays. I was an expert essay writer and I couldn’t figure out how to improve it to get a better grade. I always counted the first essay as a trial run, so I was okay with a B/B+ on it, but when I got a B on my second essay on Antigone, which I had read and wrote about in high school, I began to worry. I didn’t want to end up with a B in the class, partly because I enjoyed it and because I didn’t want to disappoint Professor Goldpaugh who had quickly become my favorite teacher despite his tough grading. I finally took my Dad’s advice and went to see Professor Goldpaugh, essay in hand.
Dr. Goldpaugh had his quirks; if you talk to any English major at Marist they'll describe him differently. I still remember his pre-class ritual: push up one sleeve of his light blue work shirt ¾ of the way up his arm, then the other halfway up his arm, tie his white sneakers, take off his glasses and brush his hair back behind his ears before putting his glasses back on. And then he’d even drink some coffee to calm down before class when he’d write “notes” on the board which were really just circles, lines and chicken scratch if he actually included any words.
There weren’t any of the pre-class rituals when I went to see him to discuss my paper. Instead he put his feet up on his desk, looked at me and asked “So what are we working on here?”
He could come off as a bit intimidating in class, but in that meeting I got a chance to talk with an individual who stressed the importance of research, reminding me that I should find something that pushed the assignment beyond average. I should look up something different I noticed or found interesting, and then be able to back up my claims. I got an A- on the rewrite of that essay, and an A on a paper comparing The Odyssey and The Aeneid because I had found some interesting information on the character of the Sybil.
"close your eyes, breathe, and take 5 seconds to gather your thoughts. Then be yourself and show how intelligent and special you are…it’s worth it to be a little confident."
That meeting taught me that it was okay to go to a teacher for help; that’s what they are there for. They won’t come searching for you, but they’ll quickly help you work out ideas if you seek them out. And learning to talk to my professors led to connections I hope to keep my entire life; as a recent graduate, I’m friends with four of them on Facebook. They suggested interesting classes, helped me pursue interesting projects, and even influenced me to participate in a collegiate conference and share my work. Now these professors who I was afraid to ask for help have even become networking connections; people who keep an eye out for jobs that I’d fit into, and sending me listings and information.
Everyone makes networking into this stressful, ambiguous, and very important business practice, but what nobody tells you about networking is the fact that it’s just talking to another human being. Sure, you’re trying to put your best foot forward, and it’s very different from how you’d talk to someone at a bar or on a date. But the purpose is the same: you want the person to like you enough to help you. So a little advice from someone who’s always hated the idea of networking, but loved talking to people: close your eyes, breathe, and take 5 seconds to gather your thoughts. Then be yourself and show how intelligent and special you are…it’s worth it to be a little confident. And don’t forget: your professors are only people, but they may be the most important connections you make in your life.
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This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original thoughts & expressions of the author.