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Are We Living in a Post-Professional Society?

There comes a time in everyone’s life where you have to buckle down and become an adult.  You hit an age, or you progress to a point academically/professionally, or you enter a new legal/relational role like marriage, and suddenly, BAM!– adulthood hits you.

Until then, you can couch on a general understanding of our sociologically elongated youth giving you an excuse to not grow up.  You have the capability and mental faculties to act mature, responsible and professional, and yet you choose to act like a spoiled seven-year-old asking for more candy or a bossy, up-in-your-face middle schooler with an axe to grind against everybody and their second cousin once removed. (Check out this great article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Yes, sometimes I still act like a child myself.  Yes, I admit to not always being the most mature person.  Yes, this critique can be thrown back on me, making it a hypocrisy (I accept that; I’ll point it out again).  But I feel like we need to address the lack of maturity and professionalism in American college students.

Going to college is a rite-of-passage in American society (one of several coming of age rites) that takes one from childhood to adulthood.  So how come most of some of my peers in their third or fourth year of college do not yet know how to act like adults/treat others with respect/uphold levels of professionalism in their academics?

For example, I worked in the Advancement office this semester on the annual Phonathon fundraising campaign.  Some of the other students working the Phonathon often showed up in casual clothes and carried on personal, social conversations throughout the course of the shifts.  It was a fun atmosphere, but it was difficult to hear the alumni on the phone (who we were supposed to be talking to) over the noise of the chatting between the callers.  Yes, the phone calls happened; yes, we received donations.  But there was no minimal professionalism coming from the students working the lines.

I’m sorry, but if you have a job, you act like you have a job, even if you think that it’s not a real job because all you do is call people on the phone for three hours and then go home.  You are employed.  The Phonathon is an office job, which comes with certain stipulations and expectations.  You have to dress appropriately (business/professional attire, not jeans and a t-shirt).  You have to arrive on time.  You have to focus on your work.  You have to turn off your private life (that means no cell phones/facebook on the job).  I’m not saying that you can’t relax at all, but you have to know the boundary and stay on the right side of it.  You have to be professional.

Classes.  Since the majority of collegiate life is related to your education, we should talk about appropriate behavior in class, with homework, in communicating with professors and advisers.  There is another level of professionalism in the academic world that we need to acknowledge.

Your professors, even the ones that you know well personally and the ones who you view as mentors, are primarily your professors.  Which makes them above you hierarchically.  You need to address them with respect.  That means using the appropriate title when addressing them (Doctor for those with doctorates, Professor for those without.  Not Mister, and Not their First Name unless specifically requested).  That’s in class, in conversation outside of class, in your emails.  Your professors deserve respect.

Homework (here’s my first hypocrisy) needs to be done on time.  I fail at this regularly, but I don’t like to ask for extensions and I don’t like to ask for forgiveness because I know that homework is supposed to be a deadline.  Granted, homework deadlines are usually soft deadlines, and there are exceptions that can and should be made sometimes.  But still, there is no reason why, if you are taking a literature class, you get to the midterm and have read none of the texts.  That is not appropriate.

Speaking of deadlines, this seems like a good place to transition:  The newspaper.  Let me start with the writers and photographers.

There is a deadline when you write for a newspaper.  When you write for a professional newspaper, you have to adhere to the deadline.  Do our writers and photographers at the Forum stick to the deadline?  No.  Now, they have gotten better from last semester to this semester, but still– if your deadline is Thursday night and your article isn’t in until Friday or Saturday afternoon, that is not okay.  I know you’re not being paid, but you will be someday, and if your materials are consistently late then, you will run the risk of being fired.

If you work for your college newspaper, you should approach it with the same level of professionalism with which you would approach working for a professional newspaper.

And I mean on any and every level.  Just because you are one of the editors does not mean you can approach the newspaper with less professionalism than you would a paying job.  In fact, the opportunity to work on a college publication gives you the opportunity to learn professionalism.  That includes treating others with respect, publishing on time, delegating tasks well, finding quality writers and editors, etc.  And if sometimes that means printing an imperfect paper on time instead of delaying publication, then so be it.  A newspaper isn’t about perfection; it’s about punctuality.  It’s about keeping to the deadline.

Fundamental principles of professionalism are being ignored by all parties involved with our newspaper right now.  There is no mutual respect between the editorial staff and the writers, nor within the editorial staff.  There is no enforced punctuality with deadlines.  Without mutual respect and punctuality, there is no professionalism.

Now, I realize that this isn’t a very professional piece of writing right here (Genre: blog/opinion).  This is largely me unprofessionally grousing about unprofessional people in what should be professional situations..  Which is why I’ve also added a couple of times that I accept a level of hypocrisy with this post.  I am often unprofessional when I ought to be professional.  But at least I acknowledge that and strive toward professionalism.  At least I try to be mature.

There is a lot to be said about 20-somethings and their maturity levels right now (Check this NY Times article).  All I can say is that within the structure of the university, more needs to be done to foster a spirit of professionalism in students.  If students are able to act professionally, they are able to act maturely, which leads to actual maturation and higher marketability in the post-graduation job hunt.

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One thought on “Are We Living in a Post-Professional Society?

  1. Hear, Hear! The longer college students wait to embrace professionalism, the more unlikely they will be to receive any serious job prospects after they graduate (causing them to complain about our economic situation as if they are entirely without responsibility for their joblessness).

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