This post is part of a two-part series on office culture by Amanda Cornwall, PhD, Manager of Graduate Career Services at the UCLA Career Center. Click here to read the first part of this post.
6. Meetings are not conversations
From the moment I started my new job, I became fascinated by the concept of “the meeting.” In my life as an academic, I went to relatively few meetings, and, to be honest, I found it intimidating and alluring when someone said to me “I have a meeting,” or texted “I’m in a meeting.” Now, my schedule is packed with meetings. There are one-on-one meetings with peer colleagues and with my boss, group meetings with partners from other departments, and meetings with outside industry partners or groups who want to collaborate. Each kind of meeting has its own etiquette and protocol, and I confess that I am still learning about this. One thing that I have learned is that a meeting is not the same as a conversation. The majority of meetings are about solving problems and delegating responsibilities, and there are important undertones that inform how these things are accomplished. My strategy is to think about each meeting in terms of what I want to contribute and what I want to capture. A contribution could be a productive comment, clarifying question, or concise piece of information. Capture, for me, has to do with what I must take away from the meeting, which can also be information and is often a task to complete. A major culture difference between office and academia is the efficiency and direction that is expected in a meeting. The meandering exchange that can be so delightful in an office hour meeting between professor and student simply isn’t appropriate in the office setting. Although I could have told you this before I started my job, it is a different thing entirely to understand it from my own lived experience.
As an academic, I confess that I thought networking was for the birds or, more precisely, for the suits. Now, I feel like I could write a dissertation on the value of networking. Clearly, “knowing the right people” has always been essential to work success, but with the advent of the Internet, we now have much more agency in the ways in which we network. Actively forging professional relationships is an expression and extension of one’s aspirations. Further, forming reciprocal relationships through networking is synergistic and, the mechanisms of the Internet aside, it is a profoundly human process. Reaching out with courtesy and following up are pivotal to this process. My advice to anyone working anywhere: get yourself a LinkedIn profile and start spinning your benevolent web.
8. Find your allies
As you build your network and understand the hierarchy of your organization—all the while gathering social capital—take care to recognize colleagues who share your values, are interested in your projects, and have expertise to share. These allies, as well as your mentors, will be essential to you. As you grow in your competence and knowledge, do all you can to return the favor and provide support to those who helped you get started.
9. Every cliché and platitude about time…
…is absolutely true. Time flies. Where did the time go? There’s never enough time in the day. The most valuable thing you can spend is time. In my experience, time management was a part of succeeding in academia, but the time that needed to be managed seemed more expansive: deadlines loomed heavily but were often months or even years away. In my work now, every day needs a strategy. Anticipating that an office job will keep you busy is different than knowing how to stay in control of your time. My job now revolves around my calendar, and I rely on lists and productivity apps to make the most of the little time I have that isn’t already colonized by meetings and events. Develop your time management strategy, fast.
10. Your job is to make your boss’s job easier
This is the most important, and the simplest, thing that I have learned. When I started my job, I was so worried about learning everything I needed to learn that I was oblivious to the toll that all of my questions were taking upon the person I was hired to support. This was a major “ah-ha!” moment for me, and now I am working to reframe my understanding of what I’m doing when I come each day to my office.
The best part of my job is that my position exists to help graduate students as they launch their careers inside and outside of academia. I am already beginning to teach some of the things that I have included in this list. As I work to pass along what I have learned, I am helping myself to adapt and—I hope—to succeed.