So What’s it Like to Study Online?

I was talking up the Eastman School of Music’s online Career and Leadership Certificate the other day to some academic professionals and musicians. It is a brand new program starting in the fall. One of the students knew I had completed my Masters degree online, and she asked me, “So what’s it like? It must be pretty weird not to have to run to class or listen to boring lectures. How did you take exams?”

There are a lot of pros to studying online. Tuition tends to be cheaper. Classes can be asychronous, meaning you do not have to log in at a certain time; you do the work – the readings and the assignments  – when you have time. Some classes are at your own pace, while others give you a deadline to complete. You can still have the advantage of studying or interacting with classmates online, and many classes are structured to make sure that you do. You can still work full- or part-time while studying online, and school fits around your schedule, not the other way around.

Yet there are some challenges to pursuing that online degree. You have to be motivated. I mean really, really motivated. Teachers won’t be keeping track of your attendance or prodding you to hand in assignments. If your computer breaks, you have to fix it or replace it right away because you usually will not get a tuition refund for abandoning class. Exam taking protocols can be strict: you either have to switch on your laptop’s camera during an exam or hire an acceptable proctor. If your program requires you to do an internship or practicum, you may have to find your placement yourself. This is especially challenging for online nursing programs where you need a practicum. A brick and mortar nursing school will send a preceptor to supervise student nurses; most online schools, however, will not. The placement must be willing to supervise a first-time student nurse and follow the school’s practicum rules.

So, if you are still interested in studying online, here are a few things to consider:

*Make sure your school is accredited by an appropriate accrediting body. Not sure who that is? Ask someone in your target career field for help. Your degree or certificate will be worthless if the school is not properly accredited.

*You will need a computer and a high-speed DSL line. Some programs may include a laptop in the tuition price. Make sure you know the type of computer, memory and speed needed beforehand.

*Get the IT department’s help desk phone number and email. You will need it.

*Find out what is included in the tuition. A laptop might be, but other materials such as special workbooks and templates might not be.

*Stay in touch with your advisor and keep that person up to date on your degree progress. Ask to make sure you understand any revisions to degree requirements. You may think you are eligible to graduate only to find out you are not.

*Ask for prior credits and learning experiences to be evaluated for transferable credit. Take any exams (and pass them!) that will allow you to opt out of prerequisite classes. This will save you time and money.

*Balancing family life, work and study can be stressful. Take a break if you need it; however, find out what your school’s time off or gap policy is. You may be able to take a break, but your loan payback requirements may begin immediately once you stop studying.

Online degrees are being looked upon more favorably by employers as technology speeds up changes in the workplace. Studying online is one way to make yourself ready for that next work challenge.




Commercialization of Your Fine Arts Career

One of the biggest challenges I faced in working in art and design was the student/artist debate of art for art’s sake and making a living at making art. The designer types in some ways were already set – they knew they would be designing for a specific industry and company. They were already in sync with the idea that their skills and work would be monetized automatically.

But fine artists, in many cases have a real problem with this idea. I’ve heard so many complain that an artist’s life is difficult, and there should be patrons who support them because of their talents. Others vilify those famous artists such as Thomas Kinkade for “selling out,” while secretly being jealous of their success. The prevailing attitude is that all of the most famous and best artists never had to actually sell their art for a living. That, somehow, these artists became famous and their works were exhibited in museums the world over without money ever exchanging hands.

Maybe that is true for some; however, if an artist wants to produce “art for art’s sake” today, that person must be independently wealthy or have a job that supports the work. A third option that I often tout to students and artists alike is to think about commercializing their work. It is possible, and artists have been doing this successfully for a very long time.

One of my favorite artists, Maxfield Parrish, is a case in point. He is very famous for his cobalt-hued and light-splashed paintings of neoclassical scenes, many of which ended up on candy boxes. Usually, my artistic career consulting clients give a not so subtle snort at this fact. But they are also brought up short by another fact – Maxfield Parrish had a very successful 50-year career as an artist.

Yet, he too struggled with commercializing his art, turning away from a celebrated career in engraving and illustration to paint landscapes. But the money still came rolling in as royalties from these paintings that graced calendars, posters and prints. Perhaps Parrish was a genius at monetizing his talents. What I do know is that he lived to grand age of 91 while continuously producing his art and influencing many other talented artists.

It is possible to make a living today as a fine artist. There are more avenues for monetizing artistic skills today than were available to Maxfield Parrish. Computers and digitization have made lucrative fine arts careers possible. Fine artists have to decide are they willing to learn other skills to get their art in front of the faces of the interested public? Are they willing to network and be entrepreneurs to create that interest? The alternative is to produce art in their spare time while working a full-time survival job. This is a viable alternative; however, producing art in this capacity ends up becoming a hobby, not a central life focus. The most basic career question becomes, as an artist, are you willing to accept your art as your life’s work or as your hobby?



Job Application Etiquette

You are about to send your 100th resume, haven’t heard back from any companies and are getting discouraged. It is tempting to send out yet another generic resume, but don’t. Recruiters can tell when you have the same resume for every job because the resume really does not say very much about you and your experience. Here are a few tips on making the most of your resume submission and what will get you remembered.

*Tailor your resume to the position. If a skill is a requirement, make sure that it is TRUTHFULLY on your resume. Do not make up skills or experiences that you do not have.

*Follow the application instructions. Yes, you need to send a cover letter if one is asked for. Make sure you include the information the employer has asked to see in your cover letter. Check that you have signed your cover letter even if you are emailing it. A generic signature will not do.

*If you use an applicant tracking system to apply for a job, keep your username and password somewhere safe where you can find it again. Chances are good you may need to access the system to check on your application status or to apply for another job. You will not have to fill in many of the fields for the second job application if you know your login. You will also not have to call the company’s HR to check on your application progress or to ask for login help.

*If you are asked for letters of reference and/or transcripts, follow the instructions for obtaining them. Do not just send a reference contact list or leave off required documentation. Either of these mistakes can irritate the hiring manager and push your resume to the bottom of the pile or off the desk entirely and into the trash.

*Stay in contact with the potential employer. Withdraw your application by calling HR if you decide to take another position. Call instead of emailing, as this is one way to get feedback on whether the company is interested in your resume and in pursuing you in the future. Keep your options open. You never know; the job you just accepted may end up not being a good fit for you.

*If the hiring manager calls or emails you to inform you that you did not get the position, do not be a sore loser. Thank the manager for his or her time. You can ask for feedback; however, you should frame it positively as in, “What else would you like to see on my resume or what should I be working on that would make me a valuable future hire?” Instead of, “Why didn’t I get the job?”

Finding your next job is a numbers game, so listen to what the hiring managers tell you and keep applying!

Where Have All the Career Dreams Gone?

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As I wrote in Creating a Work Legacy, sometimes you have to forgo your dream job for one that will pay the bills right now. Or perhaps your dream career isn’t attainable because of money, lack of talent or difficulty in getting into degree programs. But that does not necessarily mean that you have to give up what is behind those dreams. Believe me, you are lucky if you even know what your passion truly is. People often plod through their careers without knowing what it is that they would really love to be doing.

Figure out why your career dream is so important to you. Why do you want this career? Is it money, prestige or fame? Is it about using special skills you feel you have? How can you incorporate what drives your career dreams into your present-day life? Sometimes you can do this by setting a simpler version of your dreams as a goal or by pursuing them as a hobby.

For example, I loved performing music in high school. However, I knew I lacked the talent to pursue a music career, and stage fright was also a deal breaker. But I still loved music. I joined choruses over the years and performed in concerts. I participated in as much amateur training as I could, taking music classes at the schools where I worked, advising students with performance-related health problems, and attending training institutes. Pursuing simpler goals and hobbies gave me some insight into music, this love of my life. I realized as much as I loved music, I did not have the stamina for a single-minded pursuit that a music career demands. Instead, I found that sometimes scaling down my dreams gave me big rewards. I have had careers on both coasts, working with creative students, have met famous musicians, learned from fabulously talented people and have traveled to Russia to perform. I know now I would not have traded any of this for a career in music. I’ve also learned that the word “amateur” means “lover,” not “less skilled.” And I don’t let the professionals tell me any different.

As Shakespeare’s famous quote puts forth, who we are and what is important to us is ephemeral and eventually dissolves away. I would pursue music as a hobby if I could not do it as a career rather than not have it in my life at all. This is it. There is no do-over, no second life in which to pursue your real passions, so do it now while you can.

First Jobs

One of the most frustrating things about being a social worker or a career counselor is when the tools you have available to help clients don’t work. Card sorts and interest inventories expose clients to the types of careers that are out there, but they tend to confuse rather than help when a client such as a college student has very little job experience.

Even a first job experience can help a person figure out what they like or don’t like. My first job besides babysitting neighbors’ kids and a younger sibling was taking care of a neighbor’s house. He and his wife had eventually passed away from lung cancer, and their property was up for sale. I didn’t get to use the riding lawnmower to cut the grass as I was only 14, but I did have the run of the place. This was a wonderful property, behind our family’s house, up on a hill with a built-in pool and an acre lawn that backed up to corn fields.

The house was very sweet with a kitchen and breakfast nook straight out of the fifties where the windows and open cabinets were framed with arches and simple knotted pine carvings. I think the kitchen was painted aqua with chrome trimmed counters. I can’t remember what else was downstairs except for a main room that looked like a lodge. The walls were paneled in knotty pine and there were hardwood floors–the real kind–throughout the house. The downstairs was finished off by a stone fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves. I loved this house, even with its bowed wood floors upstairs and would love to move it to CA if I could.

The terraced gardens, lawn and pool were my neighbors’ pride and joy. Long after my neighbors had departed, I puttered around their gardens, cutting the lawn, pulling weeds, but staying away from the pool where I had almost drowned twice as a child, fooling around. (Didn’t learn the first time around, I guess.) It is interesting how the first memories of shock stay with you. It is like you are looking out of the wrong end of a telescope or binoculars. Everyone is so far away.

People, realtors and prospective buyers, came to look at the house. The estate lawyer came to visit from time to time. But I remember liking the solitude of this job best. I guess I should have known. Writing gives me the same sense of solitude and relief  as my first job did, especially if the words come easily…

Meeting the Diva: Career and Compassion

Walk the hallways at the Walter Reed Hospital in VA and you will see a lot of recovering soldiers listening to iPods. Many of those iPods were loaded with music and given to soldiers through the Stevie Nicks Soldiers Angel Foundation. Stevie visits Walter Reed Hospital when she can and brings the iPods with her as gifts to the soldiers. She doesn’t care that these young men and women may be too young to know who she is because by the time she leaves, they know they have a new friend. What I admire most about this foundation is that it is done without a lot of fanfare, little publicity. There is no rhetoric about war, for or against, on Stevie’s website. Now, maybe it is a ploy to drum up publicity for Stevie, a nod for her “good works.” But I don’t think so. She just contributes when she can, and gets friends to upload the music to the ipods, seeing that she is not a very technical person herself. There are no much-publicized interviews on the foundation, there are no loud appeals for funds or donations. It just happens.

It takes a certain kind of person to bring this type of foundation into being and make it work. Empathy and compassion go a long way in this world, especially when so many people, not just injured military personnel, are struggling. Stevie’s stroll across the stage and handshaking during her concerts are legendary. I got to meet her at one concert in San Francisco, where she stopped to shake my hand and talk. I have no idea what she said because I was standing in front of Waddy Wachtel and his guitar, and that boy is loud. And, honestly, I don’t really care what she said because there are some people you look at and know they get it. They know what empathy and compassion are and how to act on them.
Setting up the Stevie Nicks Soldiers Angel Foundation  is a great use of a career. Why not? Stevie has the fame and fortune to pull it off. She is also smart enough to recognize the healing power of music. Many of these military people are at Walter Reed for a long haul of physical and mental recovery. Love her music or hate it, this woman has had a music career that has spanned over 40 years, longer if you count her baby years standing on the bartops of country western bars performing with her grandfather. She has survived serious drug addictions when many of her contemporaries perished. Stevie has also engineered a spectacular musical career comeback both in her solo career and with Fleetwood Mac. And she still carves out time in her schedule for Walter Reed.

We all work long days and get frazzled sometimes, and while we are on our own road to recovery out of a recession, it is still hard. Many of us are underemployed, struggling under a pile of bills and do not have secure living and food situations. However, compassion really does go a long way, and it doesn’t have to be giving away piles of money or other things. It’s as simple as offering a kind word to a co-worker, finding solutions to problems together instead of bickering, or even offering help on a project or a sympathetic ear. It’s just a few words, just a few minutes. It’s so easy, and it can change everything…

This Cali Modern Life

I never thought I would say this, but I’m beginning to like California modern architecture, with the exception that most of the buildings in southern CA do not seem to have central heat. What were they thinking? I have been colder these past two winters than I ever was in Russia or NY. Like so many people here, my career brought me to the land of sunshine. So far I have lived in a well-kept ’70s apartment complex a few blocks from Apple headquarters, a starter home in what used to be orchard country, an Eichler house, (why anyone would live in a glass-walled house in earthquake country is beyond me, but they are interesting), a condo and a Depression-era apartment building. I must confess: the condo, starter home and Eichler had my parents’ house beat by a mile.

The house I grew up in was an old farm house. Anyone who lives in an old house will tell you they have “quirks.” Like the shower in our bathroom that would leak water into the ceiling globe lamp of the dining room (creative plumbing), or the toilet that did an amazing imitation of Niagara Falls – the Canadian side – at the slightest provocation (an errant deodorant can taking the plunge.) Then there was the kitchen ceiling light that would pee on you when it rained (weird, unlocatable roof leak.) We got so blase about it, that we would slide a pail under the leak and forget to turn off the light.

One particular memorable moment for which I was thankful I was in CA and not at home: My stepmother was doing her usual amazing all-out cooking for Thanksgiving when everyone finally sat down to eat. There was a huge cracking noise and the house shuddered. She made everyone stay where they were and eat first before checking the cellar to see what happened. The cellar usually floods every spring, the house being at the foot of a hill. No worries about pests or other things growing in the cellar swamp, though. I’m sure the pesticidal runoff from the fields surrounding our house took care of that. However, this was in November, and a floor support had given way under the dining room. Glad I wasn’t there; I’m sure my added weight would have sent us all plummeting down to the cellar to eat our Thanksgiving dinner in the swamp.

I love horror novels, and this was the perfect house to live in if you liked spooky. Closet doors would swing open on their own, (ghost?). The kitchen cabinet doors would pop open and slam shut (tractor trailer barreling by the house). I already had enough to deal with when watching The Exorcist, my brother kicked open my bedroom door, making my bed fly up in the air at the precise moment that Linda Blair was levitating in her bed. The chimney in our house ran up between my and my brother’s rooms. Imagine my horror when reading Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot — I looked up to see “blood” running down the chimney side. The stairs are steep, but I think I took them 3 at a time running downstairs. When my parents finished cracking up, they figured out that the chimney flashing outside had pulled away, and the rainwater was mixing with brick dust, creating a bloody horror. I don’t care; that house was creepy, and I’m glad I do not live there anymore.

Not sure where my career will be taking me next, but I hope the next place has central heating. And I won’t even care if it is “ugly Cali Modern…”