Never ask your academic adviser for a letter of recommendation. They usually come with a catch.
Granted, not all of the catches are bad – but they’re still catches.
When I was exploring graduate journalism school options in 1993, I asked my two advisers for said recommendations. The “cost” of my English adviser’s recommendation wasn’t steep, but it wasn’t exactly conventional – he was the pronouncer at a Pittsburgh-area senior citizen spelling bee, and one of his three graduate students who had been roped into being a judge had bailed. Thus, I became the third – and a witness to one of the more bizarre mispronunciations I’ve experienced.
The other quid pro quo worked out very well for me. It landed me my first job out of college.
The Society of Professional Journalists student chapter at Duquesne University (go ahead, make the DOO-qwezz-knee joke every comic who visited campus made) had been defunct since around my freshman year. My adviser just happened to also hold that title for the chapter. She asked if I could do something to revive it from the brink of its demise.
So, with my attention not really on the task at hand, I asked: How could the SPJ make a comeback? What could it do that was relevant?
The answer: the first “Foot in the Door” program. The few members we rounded up used their connections to bring in journalists from print, radio and television to talk about their careers and how to get started in our own. It was well-attended. There were cookies. And I deemed my work done and headed off to graduate school.
Flash forward 19 months to late 1995. I had decided it was time to leave academia and start my career. That December, a month after my last credit hour, I went back to Duquesne for a visit. And to poke around for job leads.
That’s when one of my teachers told me that, coincidentally, another “Foot in the Door” program was being held that same day.
Now, while I wasn’t necessarily dressed for the job I wanted that, I still wanted one. So I stuck around.
At the event, the new media staff of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review talked about what they were doing – creating one of the first daily newspaper sites. They even had a business plan which included selling dialup internet service. And most journalists will tell you that was more than many newspapers had for a viable economic model.
After the panel, I met with Greg and Dennis. And a week to the day before Christmas 1995, I started an eight-year run as a web editor that included working for the Pittsburgh Steelers (and shutting down NASA temporarily during the 1996 Super Bowl since we shared server space somehow) and posting the first photo from the United 93 site in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.
Since then, I’ve leveraged my network to move to Chicago in 2004. And with a little luck, I’ve arrived here at the Law Student Division.
But like the adage says, “make your own luck.” Start up a networking event at your law school that can be repeated year after year. You might not just get your fellow students – past, present, and future – a foot in the door into their first legal job. It could be your own foot that you’re helping.
Hat tip to Lauren Ritter, our ABA Law Student Division liaison to the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP), for reminding me of the “Foot in the Door” sessions. You too can become a liaison by sending your application by March 15.