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Career blogs

First generation student

A first time for everything

Recently, I became aware of the term ‘first generation student’. It refers to a student whose parents or siblings did not go to university. Typically, they have less knowledge to navigate academic waters or known and unknown options. When I started at university, I was a first generation student, a second generation immigrant, and a female scientist.

Being the first at something can be quite exciting. Such as being the first female and person with a non-Western ethnicity in your department at your first ‘professional’ job (and the second and third). It can also make you feel alone. In my case, I had the feeling that I often had to prove, to myself and others, that I deserved to be there.

During the years that followed, I realized I was not alone in my feelings or questions. Nor, was there a need to constantly battle on my own. I have learned to ask for help from a peer, or seek mentorships for specific topics, or to get coaching once in a while. This may help to get a different perspective and a different outlook on how to handle things.

A vivid memory comes to mind, when I first discovered that people in a professional work environment, are still people with emotions that may come with strict unwritten user manuals and react wildly different in high pressure situations. This was unexpected, but explained why the question ‘How do you respond under pressure’ comes up during job interviews. It was also slightly discouraging for me. However, I noticed that since I knew about it, it was also easier to deal with in the short term and could avoid issues in the long run. Please note that, next to insights from your colleagues, some trial and error is required to figure out how to manage specific stakeholders, such as your manager.

And before you know it, the tables will have turned on you; people are asking you for articles on career advice. Although I have to say that giving and receiving advice, are both very educational. So, I would encourage everyone to take on both roles at least once.

One generation plants the tree, the next enjoys the shade – Chinese proverb

Written by Anita Ye


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