The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 10 Professionalism as a Grad Student. by Mary Hales

Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!

One of the things I’ve thought about a lot over the last couple of years - throughout starting graduate school, starting my #FluteFridays blog, starting this column, and growing my social media presence as a professional - has been balancing the worlds of professionalism and being a graduate student. I’ve touched on it several times on my blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever really said anything in-depth for the column. So here we go!

As I’ve mentioned several times before, graduate school is an odd stage of professional development - in addition to fresh-faced youngsters who started a Master’s straight out of their Bachelor’s (like I did), there are also folks of other varying ages, mostly some who worked in different jobs for a few years before going back to school for their graduate degree, or others who wanted to take time to figure out which degree path they wanted to choose. (I easily forget that some of my colleagues are already in their thirties, and others are much closer to turning thirty than I am.) As such, you’re exposed to a variety of life experiences, professional experiences, worldviews, and maturity levels - and they all rub off on you in one way or another.

I’ve been working on navigating the professional field as a graduate student for the last couple of years now, and it’s not always easy - in fact, most of the time it’s the opposite. Here are a few things I’ve learned from word of mouth, and a few of my own thoughts about being a professional and student at the same time:


  1. Know when and how to switch gears. I’ll offer up my blog as an example - it started as an offshoot of an assignment for my Career Development class, as I’ve discussed before. As I started sharing it to my professional Twitter account every week (the class assignment itself), I knew it was serving a dual purpose - both fulfilling a class assignment and helping me grow my professional social media presence. Even when the class ended and I was no longer required to make weekly posts on @MaryHalesFlute, I kept it up because I knew it could be something to help me gain traction in the professional world as more than just a performer.
  2. Think before you speak. It’s an old adage, but it became that for a reason - and it’s so important to remember in the professional world. One wrong or unsavory word, one joke in less-than-good taste, and you can find it much harder to network with your colleagues than before. As a student, you can’t afford to completely sabotage your career at an early stage. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t say anything that could be taken as even remotely offensive. In the immortal words of my mom (and probably most moms everywhere), “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” There’s enough toxicity in the world already that we would do well to not add to it, as colleagues and professionals.
  3. Think before you post. This goes along with #2, but I think it’s important enough to get its own spot in the list. In the age of social media, words travel faster and carry much more meaning - especially without the benefits of spoken word and body language that face-to-face communication provide. I read over every word of my tweets, Instagram captions, and blog posts several times before I send them off, not just to check my spelling and grammar, but to make sure that what I’m putting into the Internet is going to be productive and add something good to the flute community online, both as a student and as a professional. As a personal rule of thumb, I avoid anything that could be considered controversial on my flute account; that’s for all things flute. I leave those other things to my private accounts. (But memes are always fun.)
  4. Think before you comment. Yep, this goes right along with the last two, but again, I think it’s still worth discussing on its own. When you scroll past a tweet or an Instagram video and you want to add to the conversation, think about what you want to say. Is it constructive? Is it helpful? Is it kind-spirited? Will your comments help the person on the receiving end of them, or enrich the ongoing conversation? If you can come up with something that checks all these boxes, feel free to comment. If not, edit until it does, or follow Mom’s advice from your childhood, and just stay out of it.
  5. Separate your professional/public and personal/private presences, if you can. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I have separate profiles and logins for my professional activities (like the blog), and my personal communication with my family and loved ones. I find it helps me to have a digital space where I can let my guard down, be a student, share funny memes and posts about graduate school, and know it’s not going to cost me my career if I use any language that could be considered crass in other circles. I can weigh in on things like politics with individuals that won’t refuse to follow me or take lessons from me, even if we disagree personally.

The bottom line is this - as graduate students, we walk a strange line between students and professionals. But when in doubt, I would say it’s almost always better to edge more towards the professional side of the line, rather than the casual - especially on the Internet. Using different accounts for personal and professional business is ideal, at least for me; my balance may not work as well for other people. It’s up to everyone to find their own balance between being a professional and being a student.

Until next time!

Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance. Follow more of her writing at; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.

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