Good Mentors Are Worth Their Weight in Gold

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Luckily, in Columbia’s graduate journalism program, you will be certain to find at least one professor you really connect with. Since you’ll be working closely with the faculty as a grad student, it’s important to learn what you’re in for.

Full disclosure: I waited until after the semester was over to publish this blog post so it wouldn’t look like I was sucking up. I sincerely believe that the faculty support I’ve received at Columbia is a big part of my success so far.

Coming from a non-journalistic background prior to Columbia, I remember quite clearly our first writing assignment in Foundations of Journalism. After telling us to get started on our stories’ leads, Curtis and Suzanne said that if we had any questions to see them. My classmates took off like seasoned journalists, pulling up to their computers and pounding out a lead.

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I timidly walked over to the computers where Suzanne and Curtis were working too.

“What’s a lead?” I asked.

Without laughing or looking at me like I was incompetent for not knowing how to write one of the most basic parts of a news story, they patiently explained what a lead was and how it functioned as a news story’s introduction. They even had me find a couple examples from the Chicago Tribune sitting on the table.

This is the way they are with everything. And not just Suzanne and Curtis. Every professor I’ve worked with so far has shown a real interest in our success.

The journalism faculty members I’ve worked with have had very high expectations. They really are your editors in the grad newsroom and expect that you bring your A-game each and every assignment.

But for every challenge I’ve faced, I know that I have their years of experience backing me up. Here’s a handful of examples for starters:

-While covering an Occupy Chicago march, one of the marchers broke a big glass store window in front of me. I called my professors for their professional advice on whether to stay or go. They all picked up their cell phones.

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-My professors have been amazing in helping me define my career goals by passing on to me as many opportunities as possible, from introducing me to their contacts and sending job announcements my way to writing letters of recommendation and even finding funding for my trip to a conference in Boston. They helped me arrange a killer Grad Assistantship that gave me valuable experience in editing and teaching.

-When I mentioned that I was interested in exploring radio, my professors encouraged me by letting me submit audio assignments for class and even lending me their own audio equipment.

-And throughout the year, as I struggled with the sickness and death of a family member, they always treated me with respect and care as their colleague. I felt confident that I could talk to them about my challenges– personal or professional– and that they respected where I was in my journey as a grad student and young professional.