Tuesday, June 16, 2015

LinkedIn to the Job

I started my doctoral program at the ripe age of 22. I was only 2 years out of college. Because of my writing center experience, I was fast-tracked to act as a senior consultant and to teach an English class immediately. Needless to say, I was nervous.
The only picture from teaching ever,
and it's awful, but I loved this class.

I was especially nervous about being respected by my students. They were not that much younger than me, and I knew I would have to earn their trust. I was also worried about being labeled a "novice" and being excluded from professional conversations and opportunities.

I also had some skeletons in my closet. Facebook came out my freshman year of college for college students only. I was a freshman learning to use a new technology, and the ramifications of this technology were still years away from really being considered. Not to say that I ever really did anything that bad during my college years, but I didn't want my students or colleagues to see my personal life and judge me. I didn't want them to assume I did drugs because they saw pictures of me at nightclubs and raves (I don't do them and never have, by the way). I didn't want them to assume I was unintelligent-- or worse-- because I enjoy mini-skirts and makeup. I didn't want them to assume I was wealthy because I was on the Equestrian team. I wanted to be able to develop my own persona, based on their judgments of my current actions.

Luckily, I realized that social networking profiles could be more about who you wanted to be than who you actually were. Even more so, that who you showed you wanted to be on social media attracted like-minded people.

I wanted to be a well-educated professional and a competitive scholar. 

Case Study # 1 

So I went to work. I made sure that when you Google "Nicole Papaioannou" my history of horseback riding and college parties doesn't come up. Instead, you'll find a slew of academic-related profiles and my work (and perhaps a few articles about the other Nicole Papaioannou, over in Cyprus-- she's a ballroom dancer). Go ahead, try it!

I saw how my online presence shaped my offline life. My students read my profiles and saw a professor, rather than a grad student.

Colleagues thought I had something worth saying. They asked to work on research with me. They extended learning opportunities to me.

And years later, a professor in the department read my blog, reached out to me, and eventually became my dissertation chair, despite not ever having a class together.

Then I decided to go to California. In a month, before I made the move, I snagged a well-paying job in a month (pretty unusual for LA, I hear) mostly based on what they read in my LinkedIn profile, as well as looking at my instructional design philosophy via my course website. It was what set me apart at the starting gate.

Social media is important to becoming a professional. I know this beyond a doubt. 

Case Study # 2

My boyfriend and I made the move out West together. He left a full-time job to try to create a better life out here, including finishing college. Without a degree, though, in a city full of actors and part-timers, it was really a challenge for him to find work. Eventually, he turned to me for help. when my

The first thing I told him was to create a really good LinkedIn profile and a personal portfolio.

It took a while, but a few weeks ago, he landed his ideal job. He's making good money and enjoys going to work every day. He works alongside like-minded individuals at a company committed to continuing education for its staff. It's a place he is proud to work.

The funny thing is... he NEVER APPLIED for the job.

During his first interview, he learned that the hiring manager reached out to him based on what she on his LinkedIn profile.

Pointers for Professionalizing Online

Here are some things I learned about developing an online presence along the way:

1. Make as many profiles as you can... keep up with. It's great to have an all-encompassing social media presence, but it doesn't serve you well if information becomes outdated. It makes you look uninterested. 

2. Have great taglines! We all have short attention spans. If you can capture your essence in 40 characters, you have a competitive advantage. 

3. Show don't tell-- build an ePortfolio. Whether it's a formal online portfolio, a website, or links to work that you've done, people want to see what you can do, not just what you say you can do.

4. Engage in the right conversations. Share and discuss issues relevant to that image you want to create. If you like photography, post resources for other photographers, comment on photography blogs, and show your pictures. Engaging in the right conversations might also mean you have to apply self-censorship. For example, fact-checking when you want to post something that seem too crazy to be real is important to maintaining credibility. If you post that Tupac was sighted, you better be ready to provide legitimate resources to back up that claim. Think of all the internet hoaxes that get spread by people who are too lazy to do a quick internet search on"giant squid hoax."

Ultimately, this doesn't have to be about a job. It could be about entering any community that you want to be a part of.

Your social media presence is a self-portrait, a piece of art. It's like the lighting in a painting. It can make an object attractive and beautiful or cast it into the shadows. You are the painter, here.

Choose what you want to highlight and what you want to hide in the dark.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Problematizing Problematizing

The last time I wrote a post was almost 9 months ago. Since then, a lot has happened.
  • I moved from the suburbs of NJ to the city of Los Angeles. 
  • I left my job as an adjunct and writing center consultant and took a job as an Instructional Designer at a startup EdTech company.
  • I developed courses about automobiles, medical compliance, and all things aviation (aircraft systems, aviation regulation, inflight service, etc.). 
  • I got promoted from Instructional Designer to Content Manager and now oversee a team of Instructional Designers and Subject Matter Experts. I also interface with executives from the client company.

So what's the biggest thing I've learned during this transition?

There's a problem with problematizing. 

From the time I took my first graduate Writing Studies course until I taught my last writing course, problematizing became a central focus of my life. Authority was demonstrated by the ability to find flaws in others' ideas, to be able to "make an argument." It transitioned from academic analysis to social analysis to picking apart every little facet of my life. To be smart, it seemed, I had to see the loopholes and the weaknesses in every theory, practice, and action, and to be socially just, I had to make sure to bring up the problems I saw in every space. I had to spread awareness.

Things could never be simple, and you could never take them at surface value.

When I became an Instructional Designer at a startup, there wasn't too much to problematize. I was given the content. I turned it into instructional materials, and I moved forward. I wasn't an expert in the content, and I didn't have enough authority to poke holes. I could learn without trying to be an authority on the subject matter. I was also too much of an authority on pedagogy for my colleagues in video production and animation to challenge. It was freeing.

When I was promoted to manager, however, I was given new authority. As I transitioned into the management role, I found myself problematizing everything. I'd essentially complain to the Director of Curriculum Development about everything that "wasn't working" and tell her why it wasn't working. On some level, I thought that showing her I saw that our system was flawed was demonstrating authority, intelligence, showing her I was smart enough to be a good manager. Now, I'm sure it was just irritating. It definitely wasn't good management.

Good management requires making decisions, taking action, and ultimately risking being wrong. These are not skills that are advocated in the current educational climate, where we are pushed to always be right, to make "arguments," and to strike at the weaknesses in other's theories in order to bolster our own, where we are taught that we need to make people more aware of their misconceptions.

Spreading awareness used to be difficult. It used to require action. Now, it's mostly kids whining from behind a keyboard, claiming that you "just need to like or share" to save the world or expressing offense over non-PC language (I've done this myself-- totally guilty).

What I've learned is that outside of academia there is little place for problematizing without action. There is only a need for solutions. Someone who can analyze then think beyond the form of the problem is valuable.

While I know the idea of using knowledge to take action was built somewhere into my education--  mostly in relationships with mentors-- it became buried in the layers of problematizing and reestablishing the hierarchy of experts and novices. It became the reason I left academia. I felt that everyone always needed to leave a mark on an idea and only did so by deconstructing it, by finding what needed to be improved, rarely by an act of support.

To take action is to take a risk, a risk that you might be wrong, a risk that someone else might exercise their "authority" by exposing your action as imperfect or faulty. Theory is, after all, built on ideal circumstance. Action is based in complex reality.

What I've learned from crossing the boundary is that it is much harder, but also much more necessary to become an authority through action rather than argument alone. That is true leadership, and I hope to be a true leader some day.

As of this week, I also traded in the car I drove across the country. It started to "problematize." 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Do You Write Assignments for Colleagues or Students?

Every year the university where I work as a writing consult has a school-wide book that all incoming first-year students must read. They've picked some good books-- The Geography of Bliss, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Devil's Highway, and most recently, Scarcity: Why Having So Little Means So Much. Every year, though, without doubt, we cringe at the department-wide first writing prompt that students are given based on these texts.

The problem is that every year, without fail, the question is convoluted and overwritten. As a consultant, I have to sit there with a pen, highlighters, and paper to try to make sense of what I'm being asked and how to approach the question. There are too many words on the page. The important information is wedged into distracting excess language. Sometimes, there is even discord between the question and the book's message. Sometimes, I feel like I don't understand the question and therefore can't help students. This year, I found the question particularly problematic because it asked students to analyze a specific high school writing assignment. We have a school with many returning adult students and veterans. This would automatically put them at a disadvantage.

Even more problematic is that this department-wide essay prompt is given for high-stakes writing assignments. For the first three years, the questions were used as placement exam questions. Now, they are being used for the first graded paper and a mandatory portfolio entry. When the question is confusing or even at a level they haven't yet been prepared to meet (first essay before class or first essay of class), it's unfair.

Now, it seems to me that the issue here is that question is being written to impress colleagues and those doling out accreditation. The words are overly scholarly. The ideas are complex. It seems that an incoming first-year student, who may never have seen anything other than the 5-paragraph essay, is a distant thought in the minds of the creator. And that's really unfortunate. If the goal of the department-wide writing prompt is to help students bridge the gap from high school to college while having a diagnostic writing sample, this type of assignment does not provide a clear picture of a students' capabilities.

On the other hand, there is a lot of pressure for this department to demonstrate their worth and excellence at all times. For outsiders, "worth" often comes from complexity, a belief that if something really demonstrates high-level thinking it will be hard for the average person to decipher it. It's not surprising that something like this would develop from that academic cultural tension, and it leads me to wonder what kind of choices I make for the sake of "accountability" or answering to higher ups in my writing assignments.

So what would you do if you had to design a book-related prompt for a large population of students in core classes? How would you approach the task? What would you consider the best theories or best practices to apply in this situation?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Transitions and Anxiety

Today, I feel unable to do anything. I have a ton of work that I'd like to do before the holiday weekend so that I can relax, but I can't concentrate. I'm anxious. Sitting in a chair is making me want to scream, but at the same time, I feel very much like I must stay sitting here. I feel like if I move from this chair, I will never return to being productive, and so I'm writing this in hopes that it will help me to start moving again.

Tomorrow, I give my horse away. Now, this might sound like a ridiculous thing that only a privileged white girl would experience, but humor me for a minute....

On April 4, 2001, my parents bought Lexington for my brother, my sister, and me. I was 14 years old at the time, and Lexington had just turned 4, also entering the young adulthood phase of life. We grew up together.

2001 - our first year with Lexington

For thirteen and a half years, I have owned this horse. For most of that time, I've really been the sole owner, as my brother and sister eventually lost interest. I took care of him when he was sick, and he saw me through some of the hardest times of my life-- a really rough patch in my parents' marriage, depression, broken friendships and relationships, big life changes. Whatever it was, I would come to the barn, brush my horse or go for a ride, and forget it all. After all, you can't think about anything else when a 1200 lb. animal is relying on your for directions. Riding was my therapy. Being a rider is who I was.

Over thirteen years, I earned Lexington's respect and trust, and he earned mine. I've seen people try to ride him, and sometimes, he simply will not move for them, but I can always get him to go with just a few verbal cues and a little squeeze. If I lead him into a scary situation, he doesn't bolt, but waits for my reassurance. These are things that suggest we have a friendship, even though we are two different species.
Seeing him off to his new home tomorrow is terrifying and sad for me. Other people will be riding him without my supervision. Other people will be taking care of him. I know he is going to the best home possible, but I am no longer in control of his fate. Right now, I can go see him at his new home any time I want, but I don't know how long that will be possible as I make further long-term plans.

Giving up Lexington is a major life alteration, a huge transition. It marks the end of so much for me. I can't just run off and ride when I'm stressed anymore. I won't have my horse best friend to get me through rough patches. I won't be going to the same barn where I've been riding for 16 years now and seeing the same people week after week, my little campers grown from children to college graduates. I have always been an equestrian, and after this moment, I do not know that it will be possible to be that person anymore. It feels like I'm giving up a part of my identity. I'm also seeing the end to my connection to my youth, detaching from yet another thing that I saw as constant throughout my life. At the moment, this is all completely overwhelming.
2010 - our last show - he took 2nd place

I'm sure that many people would look from the outside and see my anxiety in this situation as ridiculous-- someone of privilege complaining that she had to give up her pony when people have "real problems," like poverty. I acknowledge that my situation is in no way life-threatening and that people do have problems that affect their well-being in more substantial ways, but the anxiety is real, and the fear of change is something most people have experienced. And that is what I'm asking readers to consider. Transitions are great because they bring new opportunities, but they can also be incredibly paralyzing.

How many people are facing these life transitions--students, colleagues, people we pass on the street-- and what kind of support do we offer, individually and institutionally? Is the best remedy really to throw yourself into your work, or is to walk away from everything for a short time? Should we blame people who become paralyzed in these transitions for not doing what they are supposed to do? Is it their own shortcomings that keeps them from moving forward in moments of change? As I attempt to adapt and evolve, these are questions that I can't help but ask myself, questions that affect how I treat others and set expectations for myself. I do not know the answers, but what I do see is that we should not underestimate the impact of transitions on people's lives, even when they seem superficial to us.