October 4, 2021

Fresher’s Week 2.0: Navigating the postgrad life

Fresher’s Week as I knew it involved sambuca shots*, foam parties and live performances from both ‘Fake That’ and the two remaining members of boyband 5ive (a highlight).

Fast forward and I am lucky to say that, thanks to Ketchum’s incredible Future Leaders initiative, last week I was back on campus for my MSc in Management and Leadership at Cranfield University.

But this time Fresher’s Week looked very different.

Working in PR means you do a great job of positively PRing your own life. But what I’m learning as I absorb content for this course is that honesty is often constructive and sometimes game changing. And the best leaders aren’t afraid to be vulnerable or talk about when things didn’t go to plan. It’s not just about the good bits.

So, I’m going to start this post with some honesty. Doing a masters on top of a full-time job, while trying to balance life and its curveballs … has not been easy. At times I’ve coped. At times I really haven’t. But I have learnt a lot already, just six months in and I’m excited to learn more.

Here are the top take-outs so far…

Take a shot
My initial reaction to being offered this opportunity, honestly, was to laugh. I didn’t think I was capable, and I definitely didn’t see myself going back into education. But sometimes you have to take a punt on a new opportunity and realise that being scared can be a good sign. Feel uncomfortable, feel unprepared, but do it anyway. As the saying goes – ‘Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game’.

 

Find ways to cut the queue
I remember the hustle involved in trying to dodge the queue outside the Student Union on a Fresher’s night out. Why join the back of the queue if you’ve not at least tried to negotiate (blag) getting to the front without waiting ages? Now, shortcuts aren’t always a good thing and they go against my usual learning style. Truth is, I’d love to know everything there is to know about certain modules on this course – but its condensed nature makes it impossible. So, being smart about shortcutting has been essential. I’ve recently discovered the Blinkist app which gives you a 15-minute summary of most non-fiction books, so you don’t need to read them all back to front. Game changer.

 

Do the rounds
In Fresher’s Week, my best friend and I used to ‘do the rounds’ every time we arrived at a club. This involved working the room to meet and mingle with as many new people as possible – an approach that can be applied to networking. I’m currently reading Gareth Southgate’s book ‘Anything Is Possible’ (which is brilliant) and in it he says he frequently encourages his team to go outside of their social comfort zones. By mixing with players they aren’t similar to, they have the opportunity to broaden their horizons, learn more and grow as a team. This was my favourite part about being on campus IRL. I spoke to people from different industries, backgrounds, geographies and in many ways, I learnt more from these conversations than I learnt in the lecture hall.

 

Break away from the dance floor
In one of our lectures we were taught the dance floor and balcony analogy created by Heifetz and Linsky to describe an adaptive leadership style. It’s simplicity really spoke to me. The theory is to never spend too much time on the dancefloor in the action as a leader… you need to spend time on the balcony to gain perspective and make more strategic decisions. It’s not always easy to do as the dance floor is more fun, right? But it’s necessary to take time to pause, observe and ultimately make more objective decisions. This is something I am trying to do more of.

 

If you start to lose your focus, it’s time to go home
When juggling two types of work that require different mindsets – practical and academic – I’ve found it far more productive to carve out the time to focus 100% on one of these at a time, versus trying to balance both in tandem. A couple of hours of attempting to write an assignment at the end of a working day hasn’t been productive compared to dedicated days of studying (with my phone out of reach). And…this is really key…when your heads not in the game, it’s important to step away. Easier said than done but it undeniably helps re-set your brain.

 

I am only part way through this experience but I’m grateful for everything I’ve learnt so far. Even more grateful for those that have been helping me on the journey – supporting, advising and mentoring.

Fresher’s Week might have been different this time. But it’s been a blast.

*Sambuca shots may or may not have still been involved…

 

Written by Jade Cooper, Associate Director, Brand, Ketchum London