The case for (and against) going to grad school

creativity, knowledge, learning, pr, work

I have this theory…that learning theory can help you more than you think. Even though it might seem totally useless.

Theory is, after all, theoretical. Which means not real life. So why bother learning about some hypothetical rule that says something should happen, when you can just go and make things happen? Why not just do real life?

These were the questions that kept popping in my head when I decided to go to grad school and earn my master’s degree in journalism. The spring before I graduated from the University of Missouri (Mizzou), I was just finishing up my bachelor’s in journalism and had three internships under my belt, with everything I needed to start my career in PR. I was all set to go and start making money and slaying the game and everything else you’re supposed to do when you graduate.

And then, I got into the master’s program at Mizzou, which was a 1-year program (for students who had attended Mizzou’s J-school as an undergrad- the normal length was 2 years). I got a TA position, which meant my tuition would be waived. And I was already there, which meant I would have housing, familiar people around me, and a campus I already knew. It was a no-brainer…except it wasn’t. Because the big question was, was it worth it when PR people don’t need a master’s degree?

Yes and no.

Yes, for me.

But no, for a lot of people. For very valid reasons, starting with you don’t need it. And it’s an investment (even with things like financial aid and tuition waivers, you’re still spending your time, which could be spent at a full-time job). Grad school is hard. It’s time consuming. And you will do more reading and independent work than you ever thought you could. So it had better be worth it.

I took a good, hard look at myself and what’s important to me, and I knew that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t take the chance to grab that knowledge while it was there waiting for me.

So off to grad school I went. I put my career on hold to spend a year studying theory and doing research and going to every last football game I could before I headed out into real life. Sometimes it was inspiring and great, and sometimes it was frustrating and sucky. After all was said and done, it was the right move for me, and not just because I had an extended stay in College Town, U.S.A.

But is it right for everyone? Read my thoughts below this convincing pic of me looking really excited to start grad school, not comprehending the massive piles of reading I had ahead of me…

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Reasons to go to grad school:

You want to keep learning more beyond what you got in undergrad.

This was one of the main reasons I continued in the master’s program. I wanted to expand on what I already knew, because even though you learn a ton in college, there’s still more. There’s always more. And the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, so I was itching to go beyond what a lot of my peers were doing and find out what else I don’t know. I’m a huge believer in lifelong learning, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do that through formal education, so I took that opportunity.

In grad school, you often don’t just learn the what. You learn more of the why. And theory is super frustrating at first, but when it clicks, you’re like whoaaaaa I suddenly know how the universe works! And then you go on to learning the next theory and realize you still know nothing.

You want to learn how to do research.

Even though I don’t need formal research skills to do PR, it’s already been an amazing tool to have for most of the projects I have to do- from searching for media contact information, to finding market trends from reputable sources like Nielsen and Pew. And a lot of people discover they enjoy research so much that they either pursue careers in market research firms, or continue in academia and get their PhDs. In my master’s program, I got to write a thesis, which means I picked a topic that interested me and conducted my own original research project from start to finish. Which is a pretty badass sentence to write, in my opinion, partly because I’m a huge nerd and partly because my Google search and database mining skills are now ON. POINT.

You need it to advance in your career.

Humor me for a second and let me be Captain Obvious, but if you need grad school, you should probably do grad school. Examples: Physician assistant, speech-language pathologist, social worker. Find out if that applies to you, before you apply to more school. Moving on…

You want to become a leader in your field.

Another good reason to get that extra education? It gives you credibility and a better foundation for eventually becoming a leader in your field. You have the expertise and the credentials to say you know what you’re talking about, and for that, you’ll be trusted with more leadership.

You’re changing your career path.

Oftentimes, people will go back to grad school to explore a new direction and pursue a different dream career. Grad school is usually a great way to specialize in something that you didn’t already have in your wheelhouse, so if you’re considering a career change and it calls for different education, grad school is a great way to go.

Reasons not to go to grad school:

Your career doesn’t need it.

A strong (and obvious) case against going to grad school: You don’t need it. Technically my career doesn’t need it- most journalism/PR/communications grads can just head on their merry way with their bachelor’s and live happily ever after. You don’t even really need an MBA to be a top executive. So it’s often not worth the investment, if you’re happy with where you’re going.

You don’t want to leave college.

I get it. Mizzou was a great time, and if I wasn’t sticking around for the master’s program I would’ve had a much harder time leaving. I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments that I squeezed an extra year of tailgating into my life. But that shouldn’t be the reason you go to grad school (or even choose a particular program, unless it’s also the right choice academically).

You’re just killing time. 

Grad school is still an investment, even if you’re just taking a year or two to do it. Don’t think grad school is just a way to pass time while you’re thinking about what you want to do with your life, because it will still be hard. And busy. And exhausting AF. You won’t have time to think about anything other than your readings. Take a gap year instead.

The bottom line: The choice to go to grad school is a personal one, and depending on your goals, can be the best choice or not. I realize that sounds wishy-washy. Don’t @ me.

For the record, I’m very happy I did. Even when I was literally buried underneath my books.

XO,

AG

7 design hacks that make it look like you know what you’re doing

creativity, Design, work

I have this theory: You can be good at design without being good at PhotoShop.

I am not a graphic designer in the slightest. Yes, I learned some PhotoShop and Illustrator during high school and college, but it’s not like I have the software anymore or even remember what I’m doing. And yet I find myself making design decisions all the time (my resume, a blog post infographic for a client at work, the bar cart that my roommates and I are trying to put together). It’s been life-saving to know at least things like how to make a Powerpoint slide look good, which sounds super basic, but really comes in handy more than you know.

Enough intro- on to the good stuff!

Alex’s Design School for Basics

1.  Learn some easy color theory.

First things first- you have to be good with color. I’m going to skip over that color wheel and primary and secondary color stuff, because I never use it anyways, and get to the things you really need:

  • Choose two main colors and then a few accent colors– for instance, my two go-to colors are ballet slipper and black, and then I have a few others like lavender and sea foam that I like to throw in the mix.
  • Pantone has everything you need for hex codes and color trends. Hex codes: that exact number (like #AFD645, for example) to match the specific shade you want.
  • Use tools like the Canva color palette generator to give you ideas and inspiration for good, meaningful color combos. I like to pick a few images and plug them in to get the colors I like– for instance, I picked the ballet slipper shade because I used to be a ballet dancer.

For more reading on basic color theory, I suggest this article.

2. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance, says Coco Chanel. Translation: You know how the little black dress is the epitome of classic style? You want your designs to be the LBD of graphic design. For instance:

  • Stick to those two colors you just picked out. Three max.
  • Use just one image.
  • Pick one font for headers, and then another font for the body text.

3. A few dont’s:

  • Do not use Comic Sans.
  • Do not put purple text on a black background.
  • Don’t skip spellcheck- last thing you need is a typo ruining your Insta highlight and distracting you from an awesome design.
  • Don’t fill the whole space. Use the white space!

4. Find free stock images that go with your colors.

Not crappy stock photos of random people in suits giving you a thumbs up. Here are a few amazing sites that provide beautiful free images:

I often use these because my own iPhone photography pales in comparison to these pros, but you can obviously also mix in your own photos. Stock sites just make it easier on you to look polished and professional, and find unique images you might not be able to take yourself. There’s just something extra glossy about a good stock photo.

5. Draw inspiration from everywhere.

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Looking to outside sources will help you see new ways of putting together visuals. A few places I like to look for design inspo:

  • Vintage ads
  • Neon signs
  • Art museums
  • Gardens
  • Boardwalks
  • Window displays
  • Album art & music (my love of lightning bolts comes from David Bowie)

6. Use mood boards to define your aesthetic and stay focused on it.

I love spending time finding images of things that resonate with me and putting them all together to see what my overall vibe is. Use those stock photo sites I just mentioned if you need help. I have this live inspiration board that I keep adding to and taking away from, and from that board I’ve figured out what I’m drawn to. And then I can take a step back and pick a few words to describe it. I found a few themes: Coffee. Pink. Architecture. Typewriters. Vintage. Beach. And so I stick to those themes whenever I’m choosing pictures for my blog posts and other designs.

My personal vibe is usually timeless, bold, professional, feminine and fun, and I got that from seeing pictures of vintage neon signs next to pictures of desks. Why do I like desks? I have no idea. I just love desks. Anyways. Here’s a sampling of what I have on my board:

7. Photoshop is great and all, but Canva will make you look like an actual wizard.

If you’re a pro graphic designer, you can work PhotoShop and Illustrator like magic. I can not work magic, but I like to appear like I can, so I use these easy graphic design apps instead. You’ve probably heard of some of these, especially Canva, and they are my dirty little secret to success. A couple others: PicMonkey, and A Design Kit.

The important thing to remember with these is not to get too excited and forget all the things we just went over: Keep it simple. Pick your colors deliberately. Stick to one or two fonts. Use the stock photos. Focus on your aesthetic.

And honestly, if all else fails, just use the templates. It works every time.


XO,

Alex

How to rock your first 30 days at a new job

pr, Uncategorized, work

I have this theory…

That time flies when you’re having fun…working your butt off.

I got a calendar invite this week for a “30-day check-in” meeting and I thought, oh, which client is this for? And then I saw that it was just me on the invite. And then I realized that I am the 30-day check-in. Which means that I have officially been working at my new job for a whole month. What. the. eff. 

Slam on the brakes, because a few days ago at a 4th of July barbecue I was literally walking around telling people I started my job two weeks ago. Whoops. Guess my sense of time got lost somewhere between my first day when I was finding the coffeemaker to today when I was taking the lead on a new project without a second thought.

How to absolutely kill it in your first month on the job:

1. Do extra research on your own time to get a better sense of what you’re doing.

I work in PR, and a lot of my clients are technology clients, which means I’m promoting companies that do things like hyperconverged cloud infrastructure and endpoint cybersecurity. I am not a software engineer or an IT professional and had no idea what these things were. This was not like beauty PR, when I was promoting things like mascara, which I wear every day of my life. This was serious deep tech stuff. So to get over the learning curve, I got Googly and did as much as I could to get up to speed on my clients.

If you feel behind, don’t wait for your coworkers to catch you up. Get a head start by understanding as much as you can before you even walk into your first meeting.

2. Don’t be afraid to start contributing.

In the past, at my internships, I was terrified of looking stupid. I didn’t think I knew enough to be able to raise my hand, so I always stayed silent during meetings. But the real stupidity is in never speaking up, because you don’t learn anything if you don’t try. So volunteer to take a whack at that writing project. Pitch an idea at the brainstorm. It will definitely be appreciated and you’ll start learning faster.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? You volunteer an idea and someone tells you why it wouldn’t work? Great, then you’ve learned why it wouldn’t work, and you have more knowledge for next time, and you at least look engaged and thoughtful. If you don’t make mistakes now, you’ll just make them later on. Put yourself out there and speak up!

3. Notice the ways you can make everyone’s lives easier.

Stay in tune with what’s on everyone’s plate. If they look like they’re swamped and you have extra time, offer to handle something for them. It’s the nice thing to do and the best way to support your team. Plus, sometimes it’s a good chance to jump in on responsibilities that you wouldn’t normally have gotten.

4. Do allllll the things.

By things, I mean happy hour, volunteer days, parties, client events, networking, conferences, book club, game night, everything. The more face time you get with everyone in the office, the more it will start to feel like home. This is why I think I was so surprised that 30 days had already gone by– my work fam already feels like my work fam, and that wouldn’t have happened without the time I’ve already spent with them. Embrace the office kitchen! Take a teammate out to coffee! Do all the things!

5. Be patient.

This is probably the hardest one, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to hit the ground running and be Superwoman the second you start. And it’s definitely important to communicate with your manager about what the expectations are for your progress in the role. But know that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. It will take time to get settled and get going on the meatier projects, so just relax, do your best at everything you’re given, and you’ll be celebrating a successful first month before you know it!


planner coffee stock photo

Do the thing that scares you: Why I moved from the Midwest to San Francisco to start my career

Uncategorized

I have this theory…

That the decision that scares the crap out of you is usually the best decision.

The drive from Columbia, Missouri to San Diego is about 23 hours long.

That’s roughly how much time I had to sit and think about what I had done, and it finally sank in: No more Missouri. No more college. No more 75-cent drinks, no more sorority house, no more wearing Nike shorts and oversized T-shirts to class every day. No more hot summer nights at the lake, fall football game days, or snow days in the winter. It was time to be a Real Person now with a Real Job, and I was moving out of the Midwest to do it.

For someone who was on her way to start an exciting new job in an exciting new city, I was feeling pretty…unexcited. Unexcited is the less embarrassing word for what I was really feeling: Nervous. No, not nervous. Scared. I was scared out of my wits.

But this is my first blog post so I should back up and start from the beginning.

I had chosen the University of Missouri for two reasons: The world-famous journalism school, and the phenomenal Midwest college experience. It was phenomenal indeed. So phenomenal that I stuck around for five years, one extra year to grab my master’s degree while I was at it.

As amazing as the Midwest was, though, I knew it wasn’t going to be the best place to start my career. Something told me I needed a challenge. Something was pulling me back in the other direction, and it wasn’t just the better weather.

(Side note: It may have partly been the weather. I think my final decision was made on one fateful day when I walked outside wearing my backpack, on my way to class, and I stepped on black ice, slipped, failed to recover my balance– I blame the backpack– and fell flat on my face, sprawling on the sidewalk still wearing my backpack. That was the last straw.)

So I decided to move back to California. But not back back. After growing up in San Diego, I still wanted to try something different, so I went with northern California. In my mind, San Francisco was the place to be. It checked all the boxes on my imaginary dream city list:

  • Good Chinese takeout and decent Mexican restaurants
  • Ocean views
  • Outdoor activities
  • NO ICE
  • Smart, open-minded, ambitious people
  • Job opportunities in tech PR
  • At least one In-N-Out location
  • Walkable (as in, I can walk to work AND to In-N-Out. Told you this was a dream city)
  • Affordable (Note that I said AFFORDable, key word being afford. I did not say “inexpensive” or “reasonable.” However, I can afford it so therefore it is affordable. Fight me.)

So I really had no excuse to feel sorry for myself when college was over, because I was damn lucky to be starting a job at an amazing company in the exact career path I wanted in the exact industry I wanted in the exact city I wanted. I was set.

Set, yes, and also scared. More than I want to admit, but I’ll admit it: I was scared shitless. And it’s hard not to be when everyone else seems scared for you: “Isn’t it expensive? Aren’t you worried about learning the tech industry? Are you SURE about this?” No, I’m not sure. I am 22.

Which brings us to the moment in the car on the drive away from Missouri. I was questioning everything. Why had I even made the choice to leave? Why was I going to a city where I didn’t know anyone or have friends? How did I think I could afford an apartment or find roommates? What did I think I was doing, entering the tech industry, when I barely knew anything about tech? Was this the right decision?

Looking back now, a month later in my new city, I know the answer: It was absolutely right, because it was the decision that was absolutely terrifying. And you only grow by doing things that scare you. When you feel pulled in a direction that scares you, run like hell…in that direction.

Do the hard thing, the scary thing. Take the risk and you’ll get the reward.

You’ll thank yourself one day when you’re walking distance from In-N-Out.