So What’s it Going to Be? Liberal Arts or Professional Studies?

Yes! It is finally spring, which ushers in the graduation parties, both high school and college. I am at the point now where my friends have kids who are eyeing college with both trepidation and excitement. Having worked for over 20 years in higher education, I get invited to a lot of these graduation parties and am privy to the liberal arts vs professional studies debate.

Sometimes it gets ugly with parents on opposite sides or parents ganging up against their kids. But here is the thing: Liberal arts, or education for education’s sake, to become a well-rounded person was losing its panache when my friends and I were going to college. Studying for a “profession” was where it was at. Oh, there were still liberal arts students at my Ivy League institution who nervously eyed us at recruiting functions – would they get the jobs or would we as the professional, internship-toters edge them out? Maybe all of this was a function of what was happening with the 80s robust economy. Be a professional, make a lot of money, make America great.

So flashing forward through the decades, past a major economic depression, past the boom/bust/mini boom of technology markets and here I am, facing down the “Well?” accusatory stares of my friends and their offspring: But again, here’s the thing. The lines between liberal arts vs professional studies have become blurred. There isn’t necessarily only either/or anymore. Nope. No one likes that answer, but it’s the truth.

So I bring out my education again as an example. Back in the 80s when I tried to get my advisor to sign off on my schedule which included the requisite social work classes, along with creative writing, religion and Latin studies, he thought I was crazy. But I convinced him because I had enough AP credits that I had room in my schedule for it all. I had to wait until after graduation to take the music, writing and stress management classes I wanted when I could get tuition remission in my higher education jobs.

Today, this works in reverse too. So many liberal arts students are coming to college with AP credits that they can add professional studies to their schedules. And the colleges and universities are loosening up too, allowing this to happen. The key is to plan ahead to get the prereqs for the professional studies classes finished in the first or second year. The way is then clear to add professional classes that will complement the liberal arts that students pursue.

Parents eye me suspiciously. “But does that really work?” they ask. Let’s take an internship and a job example. Internship: I had a film student in the late 90s who had grown up with a movie camera in his hand. He knew “everything” there was to know about making a film. He spent over $20K on his demo reel which he shopped around to potential internship sponsors. Remember, this is the 90s when every film studio wanted highly skilled interns. You know what? They all hated him, and he had a really hard time finding an internship. He didn’t want to start at the bottom. This guy wanted to immediately get his hands on the most expensive camera on the studio lot. As an intern sponsor at Industrial Light and Magic, one of the premier Hollywood production houses, once told me: “I would rather have an intern who is willing to follow our training program which takes them from running for coffee to reading scripts to participating in the shooting action. If that means I take a liberal arts major who doesn’t have all the technical skills but who is willing to learn, I’m okay with that.”

Now a job example: Did you know that many Disney artists studied liberal arts? Well yes, yes they did, much to the chagrin of all the specialized art and design graduates out there. So why? This is what the recruiter from Disney told me: While Disney requires that all of their art has that “Disney” quality about it, the company recognizes that the key to longevity and icon status comes from their artists willing to learn and to innovate.” That means that sometimes when you are a trained professional, you get so caught up in the technique and the design that you are learning, that you aren’t willing to move ahead to build and innovate because you learned “this is how it’s supposed to be.”

So, blurring the lines between liberal arts and professional studies can be a bit scary for both parents and students, as I’ve worked out in my conversations with them. Getting more out of a liberal arts education may mean spending more time and money, both of which make parents nervous. And we already have college (and high school) students complaining that school is making them stressed out. And they are right – it is. This type of program is going to be jam-packed with liberal arts classes, professional studies classes, internships and experiential education. It may mean that students need to take a gap year to take a break or expand their schedule to fit in a mini coding boot camp or a certificate program such as the brand new Eastman School of Music’s Career and Leadership Certificate program. But the benefits of such education would be tremendous: we would be both educating our students and preparing them for what comes after graduation. I like that because to me the best possible ending of a student career is a graduate who is confident and knows where he or she is going.

 

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The Professional Doldrums: Cue Professional Development Programs

As a college student, no one tells you about the professional doldrums – those two years or so after graduating where you struggle in survival jobs while trying to get your career off the ground. You can also end up in the professional doldrums after you have been laid off,  have opted out of a job for maternity leave or have tried to switch careers.  Thankfully, there are programs out there that are designed to help you get through these tough times.

Whether you are a musician and need a Young Artists Program (YAP) or a professor wanna-be in need of a post-doc program, the process of getting into the right program for you is similar. First, you have to ask yourself what type of program do you need? Do you want an incubator program where you are less in the public eye while learning your trade, or are you ready to step onto the performing or teaching stage? Do you need to get paid or can you afford to participate in a program without pay?

Also, what can you bring to the program in terms of experience and skills? Most professional development programs are going to ask you to have experience and skills. You can still be accepted into a YAP or an adult internship without some of these prerequisites, but you must have references such as teachers, coaches and professional colleagues who can speak to your abilities.

Your resume is important because this is where you list your abilities, skills and experiences. Concentrate on describing how you are a soloist and a team player. If you are a singer, list your solos and recital pieces first. Save the choral works and coaching the children’s choir for the related skills section. If you are applying for an adult internship, highlight your transferable skills sets. Don’t pad your resume with extraneous “stuff.” Your real skills and abilities become hidden, and it is obvious when you are adding “stuff” to make your resume more impressive.  You resume will become bloated and a chore to read.

Once you are satisfied with your resume, take a look at the program application. Not clear on something? Ask before you submit the application. Most programs will have a contact email address or number. Follow the application directions. Do not get eliminated because you failed to clarify a section or wandered off on your own tangent instead of providing the required information.

Most important: Get someone else to read your application and resume before you submit them. Another set of eyes will find the mistakes you can’t. Many people skip this step because they are too self-conscious or over-confident in their proofreading abilities. However, it’s worth the extra discomfort to be able to submit a mistake-free application.

Some professional development programs may ask you to submit a video as proof of singing or presenting abilities. Get help if you do not know how to do a professional recording. You should dress professionally and eliminate fidgeting. I’ve seen a number of masterclasses and presentations where performers/presenters have clearly been doing this for a long time, yet they still clear their throats repeatedly, say um, twirl their hair, scratch their noses, tug on their clothes, etc. Why do they do this? Because they are nervous. Concentrate on introducing yourself and your performance or presentation. Leave it to your recording assistant to ensure your sound is clear, the lighting bright enough and that you are not positioned to sprout a lamp or any other object out of your head to make you look ridiculous.

Your application introduces yourself to the program staff. Your social media profiles tell them more about yourself, who you are. Keep your profiles up to date and list them on your resume to make you easy to find online. Social media profiles have an advantage over the resume in that they should showcase what you are doing now and how you are developing professionally. They keep the story of you going.

 

So Your Kid is Having Career Day

We used to love Career Day when we were kids. It got us out of the humdrum, boring day-to-day classes, and it gave us an opportunity to hear what some of our classmates’ parents did for a living. One year we even got to dress up for the career of our choice.

But how do kids really learn about careers? Career Day is helpful, but one day really really isn’t enough. Working in higher education for several decades has shown me that by the time students get to college, a large percentage still have no clue as to what they want to do professionally with their lives. High school guidance counselors don’t help either when they tell students to sign up for college as undeclared majors. They can figure it out once they take a few classes, or so students are told.

The problem with this strategy is that 1) the initial classes college students take tend to be general education requirements, prereqs for the upper level classes that are more likely to define their likes/dislikes, and 2) it is an expensive and hit-or-miss way to find a career interest, especially when the student may need an extra semester to complete his/her degree.

I get the idea of education for education’s sake, but with college getting ever more expensive, students and parents want to see tangible results, a solid job at the end of four or six or ten years of study. And I am not sure we are doing a good job of telling our students at ANY level why getting a solid education is important. There is a push for more career coaching at the high school level. But we need to be looking at the lower grades as well.

For example, how good of a job do parents and teachers do in explaining why knowing the periodical table is important to everyday life and how it is used on the job? What do you tell a child who struggles to answer basic comprehension questions about a story read in class? Why is it important to know about the angles in different triangles? The question I hear most of often from students of every age is, “Why do I have to know this?” Perhaps we need to make every day Career Day and take time to explain why learning is relevant to everyone’s life.

Six Signs You’re Ready to Work From Home

The internet has changed how we work, taking us out of the cubical culture and making it possible to work from our homes. Whether you have the work-from-home option at your job or are interested in making a move to an at-home job, these signs will help you assess if you are ready to take that step.

  1. Your current situation is noisy, crowded and has constant interruptions, making it difficult to concentrate. You end up taking work home at night. Work productivity can increase when you work from home because there is less noise, less traffic around you and fewer interruptions. You can also set up your home office to maximize your work space.
  2. You can organize, multitask and prioritize like a boss. You will still have to do all three from home, and it can be a challenge when the laundry, cable TV and kids are calling you away from your computer/desk. Making a list first of what needs to get done by the end of the day can keep you on-track.
  3. You have mad technical skills. Even a minor computer glitch can bring a small business or home worker’s day to a screeching halt. As someone who is working from home, you’re not likely to be high priority on your company’s tech team list or with your IT help desk contractor. Your productivity at home stays on-track when you can fix the glitches yourself. Also, having an alternate place from which to work or a spare computer/tablet can keep you working even when the DSL goes down or your computer crashes.
  4. No means no. Are you good at saying no? You need to be when your office is at home. Word gets out quickly in the family, amongst your friends and out there in the neighborhood that you are working from home. Working from home becomes code speak for “flexible schedule and available for emergencies.” You need to decide in advance what constitutes an emergency and who you’ll be able to help. Manage your family/friend/neighbor expectations at the beginning to prevent yourself from having to say no too often.
  5. You use email, text and voicemail to prioritize your work. You know that not every phone call is top priority, and answering every call can throw your day off.  Plan time in your day to return phone calls either via phone, email or text, and keep an eye out for priority calls as they come in.
  6. You find it difficult to work in exercise on a daily basis. Even short walks around the neighborhood are preferable to sitting 8 or more hours a day at your desk. Many work sites do not have environments suitable for exercise, especially in the winter. It is much easier to fit in stair exercise or short neighborhood walks when you work from home.

These are just some of the factors to consider before deciding to move to a home office. Everyone’s situation is a bit unique. It can be a challenge to work from home, so make a list of everything you need to consider before making that move.

Getting Back to Work

It is not uncommon for people to take a career break. But whether you stop out due to maternity leave, a layoff or family illness, sometimes it can be a challenge to return to work. You may think you are guaranteed to get your old job back, however, this is not always the case. Business factors can change quickly, leaving you scrambling for a job.

One option is to start your own business, whether it is providing goods or services such as consulting on a freelance basis. The Small Business Association – SBA can help you get started. The career services or alumni offices at your alma mater may also have classes – you may have to pay for them – on re-entering the workforce or starting your own business. If you opt to freelance or consult, check for state or career organizations that can help you such as NYS Freelancer’s Union. Finding and following such organizations on social media is also helpful.

Another option if you are in good financial shape is volunteering your services. Look for businesses or non-profits who can utilize your skills and provide you with opportunities to learn new ones. This can help you transition into a new job or career, but be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act, put in place to protect workers’ rights to fair pay, can make volunteering and compliance to the law tricky.

Perhaps a better option would be to pursue an adult internship designed to help you re-enter the workforce. These internships are paid, last from 10 weeks to a year and can bridge the gap in returning to work. You will get a chance to update skills, to build your career network or perhaps to test drive a new career. There are many options out there, especially in the finance and legal sector. iRelaunch, a career re-entry resource, provides a list of internships as well as higher education re-entry resources here. This list includes opportunities at financial institutions such as Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and MetLife. OnRamp Fellowship is another career entry resource aimed at lawyers looking to get back to work.

If you do not see an adult internship program for your career field, think about creating your own. Come up with a strategy by identifying your skills that can help an employer. Define what you want to learn and do and how much you would like to be paid. This process is easier if you can write up your proposal as a contract. You can use your alma mater’s career services or the career resources at your local library to target companies. Use your career network to get your proposal in front of prospective internship sponsors. You may have to contact many companies before one agrees to an internship. Don’t get discouraged. When I worked in sales, the mantra went, “It takes 17 no’s to get to one yes.” It may take you a lot more than that, but an opportunity to get back to your career or gain entry into a new one will be worth it.

 

Active and Passive Mentors and Why You Need Both

Many of my work supervisors have acted as a mentor to me: the boss who was excellent at written and verbal skills and showed me how to work my way out of sticky client situations; the boss who modeled how to navigate the corporate good ol’ boy network of automotive design. These were active, on-the-job mentors, teaching me skills and how to adapt to the work culture. Active mentors teach and model valuable skills. You can find them at work, through LinkedIn, word-of-mouth and many other places. They are the people in the career in which you want to be, albeit it further along the path, but in-the-know. They have many of the same career goals as you, and are willing to invest the time to help you reach those goals.

Now, many career professionals will tell you if you are looking for a mentor to try and engage a KOL, a key opinion leader in your career on LinkedIn, Facebook or some other social media site. But the reality is these KOL’s have so many demands on their time that they will likely never even reply to your request for mentoring.

Meet Your New Mentor, YouTube

This is where passive mentoring comes in. There are different types of passive mentoring: mentoring that takes place inside your career and mentoring that comes from other areas of interest. You do not get to be passive in finding active or passive mentors. It is up to you to do the leg work. KOL’s are all over the place. They lecture and record it on YouTube; they offer webinars; they blog; they speak at conferences. They are passive mentors in the sense that they  do not know you, but every time you watch, listen and read their words, they are mentoring you. Often, they are giving you valuable intelligence about your career that you would not get from day-to-day work interaction.

The other type of passive mentor comes from your interests. Again, they do not know you, but you know them. They are the NASCAR drivers, the opera singers, the sports figures, the gamers, the artists and actors whom you follow, whose careers you are passionate about. You hunt for their videos, their blogs, their games, their concerts. You avidly keep up with what they are doing, where they are going. These people often give you valuable information too. They model ambition, good and bad work-life balance, how to communicate and work as a team, and even how to stay out of jail.

So why do you need active and passive mentors and why must you actively seek them out? Active mentors help you acquire the career skills you need to be successful. Passive career mentors can do that too. Passive mentors in your interest fields can pass along knowledge that may not be direct career skills, but still can help you get ahead in your career. For example, I definitely know I do not want to be an opera singer. However, watching some of these singers in their careers gives me motivation and determination to succeed in my own career. All of these skills from both types of mentors may make your career path easier and more successful. You need to be proactive in seeking out both types of mentors because I can practically guarantee that:

This May Never Happen to You:

There is a now-famous story in opera circles that Renee Fleming tells about how Leontyne Price ended up mentoring her. Ms Price literally contacted her and said, “I think I can help you.” You can watch Renee talk about her experience here. It is a wonderful story; however, it almost never happens that way for the rest of us. But do not be discouraged: most people genuinely like to help others and are gratified to be asked for their expertise. So do your research and ask. Your active and passive mentors are just waiting for you to find them.

Art Internship Ideas

For all you student artists out there trying to finish up your end-of-the-year portfolio projects, I feel your pain. The weather has finally gotten nice, and while all those liberal arts students are able to study outside out the quad, there you are, stuck in the studio. And for those of you who have not gotten around to finding a summer internship, you are probably disconsolately staring at the prospect of a long, hot summer doing something like house painting.

Well, don’t despair. You may think that all of the good internships are taken, but that may not be true. If you don’t look for internships and ask about them, how will you know? There are a myriad of directories out there for arts and entertainment, too many to list here. Check out your school’s career services, the library or your local big box bookstore to find internship directories. 

I include entertainment in this blog because if you are an artist, you should be looking for opportunities in this industry as well. The video game industry not only needs testers, they also need graphic artists and painters to bring their creations to life. Theaters and opera houses also need artists and textile and fashion designers who can help mount their productions. Casinos and hotels routinely need artists as well to keep their facilities up to par and looking beautiful.

Then there are the fashion houses, the museums, the art galleries, book and comics publishers and the auction houses who need summer help. These are the internships that seem to fill the fastest. Did you find an internship like this whose application deadline is past? Sit down and write out a list of what you want to learn this summer and what you can contribute to an internship site. Then get on the phone and call them up. Ask if the internships are filled and give them the 30-second take on why they should consider you. Be ready with an online portfolio or a mini portfolio you can send out right away.

Not interested in spending the beautiful summer indoors? There are internships in art for you sun lovers too. Check with parks and recreation departments, your local highway department or local arts festivals. Summer camps will often hire artists as camp counselors to run the art activities for the kids. You are a creative person, so be creative. One of my art students collaborated with the Phoenix highway department to design and create mosaics along the Phoenix interstates. Not sure I would want to be outside during the day doing that, but most of the layout and cementing of pieces was done at night.

So you have called many places that offer internships to only be told no? Do not stop there. Another one of my students wanted to learn about pop-up book design and production. There were not any publishers who were offering this type of internship. So we called publishers, and one decided to hire her for the summer. There is no reason you cannot do the same – call a video game producer, a theater, or a park that does not offer an internship. Call and offer your services, but be prepared. Know what you want to learn and what you can contribute and commit to. What if they tell you they can’t pay you? Negotiate for free lunch/coffee service, a stipend, or get them to fund all or part of your transportation costs like a bus pass.

Taking the initiative may mean the difference between a boring summer and one that could change your life. A risk worth taking, yes?