Some older woman said to me recently: “you’re not a real doctor unless you can write prescriptions.”  I thought it was pretty funny, that in a sentence, she could totally discount my entire academic career.

In any regard, it started me thinking, about the whole academic journey, and how much work it is.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my students lately, and worrying about what they’re going to do after graduation, and how they’ll find jobs in a less than stellar economy (note: every time I graduated, with my Bachelors, Masters, and PhD, the economy TANKED — so don’t worry, it gets better.)

Each year around this time in the academic year, I give my 3rd year students a little talk about what’s going on in their life.  Many of them are looking at the very beginnings of very promising careers.  Most are about a year away from confronting the beginnings of a quarter-life crisis: the realization that summers off aren’t a given, and that it’s no longer a 30-week on/20-week off cycle, but a 50-week on/2-week off (if you’re lucky) cycle.  That fact along is tough for most recent  grads to swallow (and brings many back to grad school a few years later).  

But… they still have one summer left.  It’s important — especially in this economy that they use that summer wisely.  I’m all for taking a week or two off to do a whole lot of nothing, but time is precious. The next 10 weeks will define the next 10 years of your life.  The time to plan is now, so here’s my prescription (FWIW) for the summer:

1.  Game plan:  NOW is the time to start thinking about what happens in June 2009.  What do you want to do?  Where do you want to work?  What opportunities are knocking at your door now?  What opportunities do you want to be knocking at your door?  Are you going to stay here or move?  Where’s the rent money going to come from?  All those (and many more) questions are fair game.  The answers are scary, but it’s not time to freak out.  It’s time to grow up, and take control of YOUR life.  If you have a plan, the rest will fall in to place.

2.  Read Suze Orman’s Book: The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke (or listen to the audiobook — you can do that whilst flopped on the beach.)  It’s a must read for any graduating (or soon-to-be graduating) student, and explains all kinds of things about money management, managing your credit score, student loans, etc.

3.  Read Keith Ferazzi’s Book: Never Eat Alone.  Then… start building your network (and no, not your Facebook network).  Your professors aren’t your only conduit to the outside world.  Get out.  Meet people.  Take names.  Follow through.  After your degree, your professional network is the most valuable asset you will cultivate.  It’s not easy, but the payoff will be huge.

4. Check out professional organizations like AIGA, SEGD, GAG, and many others.  They’re great for building your network, and many have summer events.  You have the time, now’s the time to get started and get your feet wet.

5. Start working on your portfolio.  Don’t wait another day.  Do it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, or “da bomb” it needs to be done.  A good portfolio isn’t a done deal, it’s a flexible system that will grow and change over time, but you need to start somewhere, and fast.

6. If you’re watching TV, you’re not building your future.  If you have time over the summer to watch reruns of the OC, I Love New York, or any of the other shows on TV, you have time to develop work for your portfolio.  Remember, if you have only the work you’ve completed as assignments in studio, you have a portfolio that is remarkably similar to that of 300 of your closest friends.  Show your design skill, and do a few projects that YOU create from scratch.

That’s it.  No magic formula, just a little hard work.  Remember, you’re an adult now, and though it might be scary and overwhelming, YOU are in control of your professional development.  If you set your mind to it, you’ll be fine, in fact, you’ll make it because you HAVE to.



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