Posted October 22, 2013 by Missy Burgess 

I’m New

I once heard from a student affairs professional that you need a full year to transition into a new position in higher education; you need the opportunity to go through every process once to fully understand a system. For those that are a little less patient in life, like me, this can be hard to remember.

As I finished my second week in a new position at a new institution, I have the energy and motivation to do more than I have the knowledge or understanding to do. There are moments when I feel quite competent, such as when someone called my office with a question, and I was able to find the answer without having to ask anyone for help. Other times, the simplest processes can be reminders that I am still new—what is the code for the copy machine again?

As I have gone through these first few weeks, I have found myself trying to remember the pieces of advice that I have conveyed to so many new staff entering positions and new students to our campus. These include:

  • Allow yourself time to get settled. When possible, allow more time for the job-to-job transition than just a weekend. It’s a lesson I have learned through experience, but you will feel much more ready to take on new work tasks if your personal life feels settled.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions! Returning staff are usually more than happy to answer any question you have, but may not be mind readers to know you have them unless you ask. I try to spread out the questions I ask to multiple staff as to not overwhelm any one person and to allow me to get to know others.
  • Leave with enough time to get lost. For those who may have a poor sense of direction like myself, it is important to remember to leave early for work or meetings to allow time to get lost and still get there on time. It turns out not every stairwell in the union where I work leads to the third floor. It was a challenging lesson on the way to the first staff meeting I was leading.
  • Listen to the answer so that you know it for the next time. If I pass on a staff member or student to a colleague for a question I may not know the answer to, I try to listen to the answer so I will know it in the future.
  • Work hard. If a position has been open for any length of time, returning staff will be more than excited for your arrival to help shoulder the burden they have carried. Be willing to jump in and work hard right away!
  • Maintain a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh and smile through the mistakes and challenges of being new. The running joke is that I now need to have a trail of bread crumbs to follow to find the right room for staff meeting. I may not live that one down for a while, so why not embrace it?

In the end, I will still be new for another 50 weeks or so, but if I can remember these pieces of wisdom I have offered over time, I should be better off!

What advice do you offer to staff transitioning to new positions?

Missy Burgess

Missy Burgess is the Associate Director for Student Involvement at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.

Missy supervises student leadership and involvement staff in the Reeve Memorial Union, including volunteer service, student organizations and emerging programs, Reeve Union Board, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and greek life. She holds a bachelor’s from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of North Dakota.

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