A Year On, Not a Year Off

by Lindsay Mapes

My academic motivation in high school did not follow me to college.  Freshman and sophomore year I struggled through classes, or it’d be more accurate to say I struggled to make it to any class.  I didn’t know why I was in college other than my parents (and most everyone else) told me I was supposed to go.   Of course I knew eventually I would head to college, either in Elle Woods or Will Hunting fashion, but after graduating high school I just didn’t feel ready.  Still, I went because that’s what kids  in my town did.  The first two years I practically failed out.  It was comical that such a smart girl was wasting an expensive academic experience (Right dad?  We’ll look back and laugh after the student loans are paid off.)

During the middle of my sophomore year of college I realized before I tried to pass my biology requirement for a third time I needed to take time off to get my priorities straight, to mature and recharge.  I didn’t want to go back to Central Jersey and live with my parents and work at the movie theater as I had done during high school, I really wanted to do something.  The only thing I still had remaining from high school was my dedication to community service.  With help from my mom I searched the internet for international service programs.  Unfortunately most programs required I pay them to serve, whereas I needed income, as meager as it might be.  I narrowed my search to the states and was fortunate to find out about City Year.

City Year is an AmeriCorps program that unites idealistic 17-24 year olds in a year of powerful service in 20 cities around the country.  Volunteers, or corps members as we were called, work at schools in underserved communities tutoring, mentoring, and teaching. Corps members also perform a significant amount of transformational service including working in community gardens or painting murals.  Sounds like your typical service program, right?

City Year Rhode Island Newport Young Heroes 2003

Well, City Year is a little different.  Unfortunately I have to compare it to joining a cult.  Instead of Nike Widerunners and a glass of Kool Aid, you received a uniform provided by Timberland consisting of boots, khakis, a team shirt with your sponsors’ names, and a bright red jacket (or yellow in Los Angeles or San Jose as red is a dangerous color to wear because of gang activity in the area).  When I served as a corps member in 2002-2003 in Rhode Island we had to meet requirements in order to earn a uniform.  Besides completing a certain amount of training and service with our team we had to demonstrate knowledge of City Year physical training exercises and recite various AmeriCorps and City Year creeds.

The physical training, or PT, was CY sanctioned exercises that all new corps members initially looked at as ridiculous (City Year Slap-Happies?  Just call them jumping jacks!).  PT is very low impact and barely makes you break a sweat (except those who are embarrassed about doing City Year Foot Fires in a public place…and it is always done in public), but is meant to demonstrate discipline, purpose, pride and power.  City Year culture is part of what makes the program so successful and so meaningful.  Standards were high (a fellow corps member was sent home for not having creased khakis, another written up for chewing gum, and you were required to cross at a crosswalk when the signal read walk even if you were running late), but for a reason.  We were a young organization providing critical service in at-risk communities. In order to be taken seriously we needed to present ourselves as disciplined, purposeful, prideful, and powerful young adults.

The culture strengthened our team relations and our ability to lead.  Though we were incredibly diverse, we had a common goal, to effectively serve a community in need.  City Year gave me so many opportunities to lead my fellow corps members and work with influential community members.  City Year also taught me how to communicate.  After a long day of working in schools and at after school programs all we wanted to do was go home. Despite that longing our team usually ended up spending another hour constructively and passionately discussing the day’s drama and successes with the children, children’s families, and team members.  Some days there was crying about disparities in the community, other days there was venting about corps members.  We always left with a resolution or a hug. My team became my family; we supported each other and pushed each other to succeed.

Taking a year off was a difficult decision, especially since my dad thought doing a year of service was tantamount to dropping out of school and joining the circus, but it was certainly one of the most difficult and gratifying experiences I’ve had.  My year of service was inspiring and motivating. When I returned to school I took biology for the third time and passed, and I even made the dean’s list numerous times!  I became more active in the community and more importantly I cared about what I was learning in school.

It’s summertime, maybe you’re on a beach vacation dreaming about your future or stuck at a boring office internship wondering where your youth went (thoughts can become pretty outrageous after 4 hours in front of Excel), whatever the scenario, if you’re wondering what to do with your life, consider dedicating a year to service. From creating curriculum for elementary school children to participating in round table discussions with political and community figures, my AmeriCorps experience provided me with so many skills that I wouldn’t have gained elsewhere.  If working with children doesn’t interest you, AmeriCorps offers many different programs.  One example is the National Civilian Conservation Corps, a program that primarily provides transformational service in different regions around the country, which is a great fit for someone who enjoys traveling and has a propensity for manual labor (you’re not going to get pecs pushin’ paper in an office).  AmeriCorps programs offer a meager salary (my team and I were on food stamps), but you do receive an education award of about $5000 after your year of service which some schools will even match!

This blog is pretty long and I hope that if you did not read the entire post you at least skipped to the end (though that means you missed the riveting rising action, very exciting climax, and the oh-so-dramatic falling action), where I tell you I loved my AmeriCorps experience and love to talk about it, so don’t hesitate to stop by the office or shoot me an email if you have any questions about AmeriCorps, City Year, or how to tell your parents making $120 a week doing community service is a good idea. However, if you’re looking for insight on biology courses, despite taking it 3 times I can’t help you.

Don’t let your network be like my garden

Dr. Joseph Barber

I’m not a very good gardener, although I do have some skills. I can pull up weeds, for example. I usually go for the “if it looks different from everything else it is a weed” strategy, which has its drawbacks.  Some weed-like plants actually turn out to be beautiful flowers (or they would have done if I hadn’t pulled them up). I can mow the grass quite effectively, too. I guess slicing off the top half of the grass is similar to pulling out weeds – it is more destructive than nurturing. It seems as if the nurturing part of gardening is the problem for me. I tend to over-water houseplants. “Surely they must need a drink todayI tell myself as I slowly drown them. OK, the fact that my cats chew on them doesn’t help either. Just recently, I haven’t been watering my outside plants enough. I had hoped that my “let’s hope it rains a little each day so I don’t have to water my plants” strategy was going to work, until it stopped raining, and then got very, very hot. My plants now look like this. They are very sad. I started watering them again, but it may be too late.

The network of people you build around you also needs to be nurtured. They are like my houseplants: they need to hear from you every so often, but don’t need to be drowned by a deluge of not-so-relevant information. For example, you might have recently had an informational interview with a researcher at a pharmaceutical company you are interested in, just to find out a little about the company and the person’s role. It is a great idea to keep in contact with this new addition to your network, perhaps by letting them know you have spoken to someone they referred you to, or by forwarding a paper or article that touched on something you both have in common. But, you definitely don’t want to email them every day saying: “OK, now who should I speak with?”, or “I’ve just sent off yet another job application to X Company, just wanted to let you know”. You can slowly kill off your network with too much attention – just ask my houseplants. Most people know when to stop watering their plants or pestering people in their network, but they don’t often realize that too little attention can be just as devastating. You shouldn’t network only when you need something, like a job. You need to be networking all of the time so that when you do need something, people are already thinking about you, sending you leads, recommending you, giving you referrals, and so on. People know when you are just speaking with them to get something from them, and that is not ideal for your reputation.

Networking is about a mutual sharing of information and contacts. It will pay off in the future only if you invest in your network here in the present – before you are desperately seeking a job. If you haven’t spoken to an old PhD advisor for 5 years, and now need her help in writing a letter of recommendation for a job because your postdoc is ending, it is going to be much harder to get them write a positive, convincing letter that you are the right candidate for an editorial position – especially if they had no idea you were even interested in being a journal editor. If you had kept in better contact, she would have known about the various experiences you may have sought out to gain editorial experiences, and she may have even been able to give you the name of a contact at Nature Publishing Group who, quite coincidentally, happened to be her baby-sitter’s father.

The final piece to this whole gardening/networking analogy should be clear to you by now. Whatever you do, don’t let your cats chew on people in your network; it’s not good for the plants, your cats, or your reputation. So, if you don’t have a garden to worry about, then get out there and network today! I’ll join you as soon as I have pulled up some plants that may or may not be weeds, mown the lawn, drowned my houseplants (unlike these ones, mine are all plastic now, so I can water them as much as I like), and had a long conversation with my cats about why eating plastic plants is not such a bright idea.

You have a job. Now what?!

by Robert Gannone

Now that you have a job, you may be thinking of how to advance your career in the years to come. One of best opportunities to advance your career path is to connect with other people in your profession.  Joining a professional association is an ideal way to connect with professionals, who have shared interests. A professional association’s goal is to further a particular field and to enhance the careers and knowledge of individuals engaged in that profession.

As you have heard before, networking is one of the best ways to hear about new companies or open positions. More importantly, it’s simply a great way to expand your career horizons.  By being engaged in a professional association, you can meet with others in your field and share your ideas about your profession and its direction.  Some professional associations also offer certifications or licenses.  These can also help to advance your career because they are earned from a professional organization and given to a person who has been designated as qualified to perform a job or task.

There are many professional associations in industries as varied as healthcare, academia, public administration, and urban planning. Whatever your field or your area of interest, professional associations offer a way to keep in touch with policy developments and an opportunity to network with others who share your interests. They typically also offer annual expos and meetings. Professional associations can have a national, local, or state focus.  For example, associations ranging from local to national include such organizations as the Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia, the Texas Music Teachers Association, and the National Black MBA Association.

To find a listing of professional associations in your career or field of interest, visit one of the following sites:

http://www.weddles.com/associations/

http://www.associationsdirectory.org.

http://www.asaecenter.org/

You can also search for professional licenses by industry by going to the following website:

http://acinet.org/certifications_new/cert_search_industry.aspx

Strutting the Right Stuff – Revealing Tips on Interview Attire

Are you still actively job searching and interviewing, even though the weather speaks more to sitting on the beach or a streetside café with a tall cold drink? During the summer it is so tempting to dress to be cool and comfortable, especially with July’s exceptional heat. Unfortunately when it comes to interviewing, it is a big mistake to confuse cool with casual, and I am offering you some reminders, or perhaps an introduction to interview attire. The main things to remember are this:

Research the Employer – There are typical expectations across-the-board in interviewing, such as dressing neatly, being clean and well-groomed, however, knowing the culture of the places where you send in applications is extremely important. Company cultures, and interview “dress codes” vary, so make the time to learn the norms from investigating an employer’s website, asking contacts in your network (know anyone who has worked there or for a similar organization?), or even undertaking a reconnaissance mission before your interview. If the latter is feasible, time your visit to the employer’s neighborhood around lunchtime, usually noon-1pm, to watch people come out of the building. In general, it is best to look slightly more formal for your interview than the typical day-to-day attire of an employee. Here is a really comprehensive overview from Career Services at Virginia Tech on how to dress for interviews, for both men and women. Here is a website (from North Dakota State University) with photos of interview clothes by industry/career field.

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller
Generational Differences – Tattoos and multiple piercings, tight clothes, assymetrical haircuts are all par-for-the-course for Gen Y and Millenials, but remember the person who interviews you might be from a different generation and have a different sense of what is acceptable. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t “be yourself” but when in doubt, don’t take risks –tone down or cover up. If you want to enforce the qualities that represent professionalism, be careful that your clothes and accessories don’t distract your interviewer from who you are and your qualifications for the job. Here is more on the topic: Dress The Part: Proper Attire Aids In Job Search.
Interview Hottie? – Even on a super hot and humid summer day, you will still need to wear a suit for most “office” job interviews. You may wear short sleeves under the suit jacket, but do not go sleeveless. Linen is a fabric that breathes well, and may be nice for keeping cool while wearing your suit. Dress suits (or jacket and skirt) are acceptable for women. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes. I do not know why, but it is true that baring some toe is a bit risqué. Simple flats, or low heeled pumps are good for women.

Hygiene –There is a classic book on interviewing called Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed. Unfortunately, in the summer “sweaty palms” can be a bit of an understatement. The truth is, that your grooming is as important, if not more so, than your attire. You do not need an Armani suit to make a good impression. Neat and clean are HUGE in conveying professionalism. Make sure that you are prepared to combat the heat with these simple tips:
• Allow PLENTY of time to get to your interview. You do not want to have jogged the last 5 blocks from the train because you were out of time. If you get to a site early, you can find a restroom (even going to the nearest Starbucks) and freshen up.
• If you are prone to sweaty palms, forehead, and the like, bring a hanky (like your grandparents had) in your pocket or purse, or buy some rice paper blotters (many cosmetic lines have this product). It is more polite to dab off sweat than to leave it beading on your body. Also, dusting with baby powder or corn starch can help you stay dry.
• Do wear sufficient deodorant; do not wear a lot of perfume or cologne. Don’t eat strong smelling foods just before you go to interview. Smells in general, even flowery or spicey ones, are distracting and will make your “I’m a great candidate” message harder to hear.

Want more tips on what to wear? Here are two more links I recommend:
• Penn’s Career Services’ blog on “Vampire Teeth and Other What Not to Wear” items for OCR Interviews
• This Luke Wilson look-alike is not as funny, but has some very good tips for men’s interview attire: http://video.about.com/mensfashion/Job-Interview-Attire-for-Men.htm