Students in the Workplace: The Gray Area of Being Both a Student and a Professional

As the halfway point of my time here at Ooligan draws near, my effort in learning and my effort in applying that knowledge has started to even out. It is in this balancing that I’ve found an experience that is unique to Ooligan Press: navigating the murky waters of career development by simultaneously being a publishing professional and a student still gaining the knowledge and experience needed to break into publishing after graduation.

I will admit that even though I joined this program in order to get practical skills and make connections in the publishing community in Portland, I still approached classes my first term as I have during the rest of my school career—intent on getting good grades, maybe to a fault. I didn’t balance my priorities correctly for what I wanted to get out of this program; I focused on papers and readings before taking on projects within the press. While this approach can be especially helpful for those who want to continue on in academia or who are in this program for the theoretical insights it can offer their other skills, I lost sight of trying to build my skills as an editor as I shied away from taking on more publishing work in order to do my best as a student.

However, after attending conferences (#networking, am I right?) as a staff member of Ooligan Press, my perspective shifted from “making it a learning experience” to “representing myself and my press to other influencers in the community.” As one of the acquisitions managers for Ooligan Press this coming year, I was invited to a reading that was hosted by Ooligan Press and Literary Arts. It wasn’t until I got there, though, that I realized it wasn’t like the panels or readings I’d been to before where I’d viewed Ooligan Press as part of a graduate program. The event drove home the fact that Ooligan really was a publishing press focused more on serving the authors than the students participating in it.

This has been backed up by some fantastic teachers who realize that even though we are grad students looking to earn good grades, we are also here to gain skills and experience—and subsequently, they treat us like we are getting training in the workplace, not participating for a grade. In the classroom, I have learned to hold myself on a higher level and see these teachers not as authority figures whose every word I have to listen to but rather as more experienced colleagues. In doing so, I have built a better rapport with them.

While there have still been times when I’ve worried more than I should have about the outcome of a paper (though realistically, I’d done all I could at that point), and there have been teachers who prioritize academia and insist we do reading assignments, there are also benefits to being closer to a student than a full-fledged professional employee. I have felt more comfortable asking for feedback on my work than I would have at a job, because I don’t feel like it affects my professional appearance—I am here to learn, so I’m going to take every opportunity to do so. Ultimately, I came out of the last term viewing myself as a capable employee and will be approaching the rest of my Ooligan experience as such.

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