"Why did you do 4 years in Comm?"
"Why did you go to graduate school?"
"Don't you just want to start your career?"
My response: Why do I have to choose between being a student or being a professional? Can't I do both?
Well, we can. We can take our education beyond the classroom. On that note...
My name is Laura Hong and I received my undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2010. I graduated this May from the University of the Pacific with an M.A. in Communications and a concentration in Media and Public Relations. However, I’m still completing my thesis through the summer. I’m also a staff writer for the pop culture website CC2KOnline, and a web editor for the online literary journal, Blue Lyra Review.
Why Graduate School and why Public Relations specifically?
I took a year off from academia after UC Irvine with the goal of finding a job so it would shine more light on whether I wanted to continue onto graduate school. I struggled with unemployment for a while until a friend got me in touch with the startup, Readyforce. Working on their operations team, I became fascinated by the tiers of communication taking place within the company, and decided to study communication. I stumbled onto PR while researching communication programs and found it to be the perfect fit. PR was versatile, encompassing the skills I possessed or wished to expand on such as writing, analyzing, being creative, having an eye for detail, and building connections.
What is writing a thesis like? Do you have any suggestions for current and future students?
Choose a topic you are personally interested in, rather than a topic to impress. You will be working on your thesis for months, maybe even a year or more. That means constantly writing / editing / researching / revising, having ongoing discussions with your chairperson, and dreaming about the same topic for days on end. I may get tired of my thesis at times, but at the end of the day I’m still excited as ever. Also make yourself liable by having your chairperson give you rough deadlines if you need the extra push.
What advice do you have for students wanting to improve their writing and get published?
It’s been said many times, but start a blog and have an online presence. Your blog can be about anything as long as you enjoy it. When I was unemployed, I started a blog where I reviewed novels and comic books to experiment with my writing. I included my blog link on my Twitter profile. By chance, the comic editor for CC2KOnline stumbled on my blog and asked me to write for the site, which became a starting point for my writing portfolio. This portfolio helped me land my social media internship at SmartRecruiters, which had a company blog of their own that I contributed to. SmartRecruiters also had a list of contacts for me to guest blog for, such as Virtrue. My blog, in combination with my online presence, became a domino effect for improvement, exposure, and success.
Do you have any suggestions for young professionals trying to get noticed by employers?
Be proficient on at least one form of social media. We live in an age where technology provides us the opportunity to be more creative and stand out. My workshop at the “Not Your Usual Career Fair” was about having employers seek you out first rather than the other way around. To do this, cater your choice of technology or social media to your desired job industry. From there, engage your community by talking to people with similar interests and joining industry groups on a site like LinkedIn. You would be surprised at how many people will reach out to you about opportunities without you even asking. In addition, build a genuine personal brand online. You don’t need to always showcase your PR side. Be yourself!
How do you think your life and future career would be different if you chose not to attend graduate school?
I would most likely still be clueless about my career path and not as happy as I am today. Graduate school opened my eyes to a field of communication and public relations that I would have never envisioned on my own. I was fortunate to have learned from wonderful professors and peers that came from diverse academic and professional backgrounds. They gave me the confidence and push needed to succeed.
Do you have suggestions for students currently deciding on graduate school?
Don’t go to graduate school because everyone else is doing it. Get an internship or work experience to provide you a perspective on what it’s like to be out in the working world. You’ll discover your likes and dislikes, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, which will help you cater your career choice. If your internship or job leads you to a career you love, great! If not, it can point you to a field you may have never thought of before to study and expand on in graduate school.
Graduate school isn't for everyone. Neither is a four year undergraduate program. Many outstanding programs exist to get you in and out in two years or less. In communications especially, a field that doesn't necessarily require certification, people wonder why I've stayed in school. ComBeyond honors people working hard to balance being a student and a professional.
A Boston girl via Toronto. University of Toronto, Sheridan College, and Boston University alumna. Passionate about ending domestic violence. Hoping to never go a day without carbs or chocolate.