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I Asked My Professors for Their Most Essential Career Advice; Here’s The *Unexpected* Lesson I Learned

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

The road to success looks different for everyone, and it’s almost never linear.

If you’re anything like me, you might be wishing you had a high-tech GPS that could guide you right to your destination. Spoiler alert: it just doesn’t work that way. I know, it was a tough pill for me, too. However, in the spirit of learning to love the ambiguity of my future, I set out to ask three of my most memorable professors for their two cents on launching a fulfilling career. 

However, my brief stint as an interviewer didn’t go quite as planned…

The bad news? Only one of the three professors responded to my messages, which was admittedly a bit disheartening at first. Under any other circumstances, I’d demonstrate the grit of a true reporter by seeking alternate sources. But, it just didn’t feel right. I wanted to highlight the wisdom of those whom I felt truly impacted by. Cold calling? Not so fun!

The good news? It appears that quality over quantity applies to interviews as well. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Stephen Olbrys Gencarella, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this article will certainly not fail in guiding your post-graduate endeavors! 

Gencarella obtained his joint Ph.D. from Indiana University in 2003, crossing Communication and Culture with Folklore Studies. In addition to teaching numerous courses at UMass—such as The Folklore of Alcohol and Horror and Public Culture—Gencarella has put great time and dedication into honing his podcast and radio skills, appearing regularly on iCRV Radio as both a guest and co-host.

Needless to say, his unique and diverse expertise demonstrates how we can customize our careers to suit a multitude of interests. As a college student, it was relieving to learn that we are not mere prisoners to our majors but rather the sculptors who mold them.

From my favorite professor to your laptop, here are three quotes that can act as your compass while you navigate your professional life:

1. “Recall what you wanted to be when you were young and your imagination was fearless.”

In a world plagued with food insecurity, soaring rent rates, and seemingly endless inflation, it’s all too easy to develop anxiety over the salary of your prospective career. While making ends meet is important, your happiness and quality of life are equally so. When you were a child, it was likely not a particular wage calling you to be an artist or a vet, but rather the desire to do work you felt connected to. Channel that inner child while you search for your next job, and trust that your imagination will guide you to more emotional and monetary wealth than a job that you hate. 

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2. “Always trust you have talent that you can take elsewhere.”

While it’s easy for me to tell you that finding work you enjoy is the key to life, we have to be realistic about our expectations as well. No job will be perfect all the time. There will be coworkers who rub you the wrong way, assignments that make you yawn, and moments when you’re aching to use your last sick day to play hooky and skip town. According to Gencarella, “the trick is deciding whether the best parts of a career make up for the worst parts of it.” Life is a balancing act. Most of the time, it’s worth it to just pour yourself a coffee and finish that one boring assignment. But if you ever feel that your job is compromising your well-being, there is no shame in gracefully removing your hat. Money can be found elsewhere. You are skilled and talented in a myriad of ways, and those abilities will follow you wherever you go! You are your own greatest asset.

3. “Your career is not your life.”

Your career is part of your life. It is what you spend many hours doing, and many hours thinking about. But remember, as life goes on and the years begin to blend together, do not allow your personal identity to take a backseat to your LinkedIn credentials. Maintaining your autonomy and nourishing your hobbies is the elixir to a healthy work-life balance. 

While you journey to become an established professional, bear in mind the following question: If you lost your job tomorrow, who would you be? 

And one tip from me? Never underestimate the power of effort and enthusiasm. Sure, my brief stint as an interviewer didn’t go quite as planned. Instead, it turned out even better than I imagined. Thanks to my professor’s effort and enthusiasm, one response was all I really needed! To translate — I’d venture to say that a hiring manager will be more impressed by an infectiously passionate candidate with GPA of 3.0 than one with a 4.0 who doesn’t seem all that interested. Luckily for Gencarella, though, he’s got an impressive resume to boot. 

Good luck out there, ladies! You are immensely capable, and I’m proud of you. 

“You might have many jobs and even a few careers, but you will have only one life. Never forget that.” 

– Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

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Katherine Fillion

U Mass Amherst '24