Thursday, August 11, 2005

Strange trichotomy

“What’s it like with all your experience, to find yourself a full-time student?” Every so often I get asked that question, the latest being last night during a cocktail reception at the Association for Education of Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in San Antonio. “It’s been interesting…” is my usual answer and depending on who is asking, I might give different example to illustrate. Admittedly, the program at Texas State was set up for working professionals, and in class, I’m not the oldest, although in some classes I might be the most versed on a particular topic. However, in the realm of graduate assistants I admittedly feel out of place within our department. They are all a good dozen years younger than myself and have mostly gone direct from an undergrad program to graduate school, with very little real world experience.

Even with professors it has been tough at times, as they see me as a student. Interestingly enough, most of them seemed to have worked before attending graduate school, but I guess since they deal with undergrads all day, sometimes they forget to flip that switch. Then again, I am their student and our relationship is as such. Still, there were some faculty members who when I told them I was working at a PR agency this summer asked me if it was an internship. You don’t know how offensive that was to me. I am an account supervisor, setting strategies for clients, not an intern filing magazines and doing clip books.

Am I a professional or am I a student? Interesting dichotomy, especially after working this summer. My friend G is a media law professor with a JD degree who has been taking mass comm classes so that he might be able to teach other classes (he has to have 18 hours to teach other mass comm. classes). He came to one of the parties Doug & I threw last year and later he admitted feeling a bit out of place with the other grad students there talked about professors who were his colleagues and he saw from a different side.

Now that I am a teacher of record, I get where he is coming from and it’s actually creating a trichotomy for me – professional, student, teacher: which is it? At this conference I am wearing a big yellow ribbon on my badge that says Graduate Student. Supposedly I get more free stuff, but I have yet to see it. Anyway I’ve noticed that when I’m making an introduction to folks, oftentimes they look at that ribbon and somehow I get treated just a little different. I’ve noticed that with the professors and I even noticed that with some professionals who have been guest panelist. If I saw these same folks at a PR networking event, I would be treated very differently.

Of course not everyone has been like that. I got to trading war stories about PR versus newspapers with one professor over happy hour at our hotel. Was talking to another professor who is into new media about convergence about some things a client is doing. We may work on a paper together or at the very least, introduce him to client. Overall everyone has been nice. But still there is the question, which am I – professional, student or teacher, and more importantly, what will I be this time next year?

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