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Joining a Professional Organization as a Student: The Example of STC

By Elise Taylor

Networking and professional development are words that most students have heard during their college careers. More often than not though, they remain just words instead of real experiences. Where does one start with professional development? What does networking look like? These are all familiar questions to college students. Our last fireside chat with Professor Kylie Jacobsen on the Society for Technical Communication (STC) gave us important answers to these questions. 

On October 22, 2021, Professor Kylie Jacobsen joined OPW students for a virtual fireside chat to discuss STC and its benefits for students. As the largest organization of professional and technical writers, STC is an important resource for students interested in preparing for and learning more about technical communication as a career.  While professional development and networking can be intimidating, Professor Jacobsen’s presentation on STC provided us with a perfect example of how professional organizations can become a safe and exciting space for students to network and develop professional skills before graduation.

“I did get my start in technical communication as a student and I got involved with STC at Iowa State and Texas Tech University,” explained Jacobsen. “From there I had a wonderful network and many opportunities for professional development which I think helped me get through my graduate degree and go on to the job market and talk about relevant technical communication or tools intelligently with a lot of different people with different backgrounds.” Jacobsen shared her own experiences and described how STC created a more certain career path for her and equipped her with skills that put her ahead of the curve. 

As a parent organization, STC has many available chapters around the country, including the Michigan Great Lakes chapter. Joining a chapter can be a great way to become a part of smaller-knit groups, build connections, and interact with professionals who specialize in specific aspects of technical communication. The mentor board is another great way to network. The mentor board pairs members with someone who is especially knowledgeable or actively working in a field the member is interested in. The purpose of this is to create a relationship and interact with this mentor as much as desired. 

As she described the values of joining an STC chapter and professional organization, Jacobsen emphasized how important it can also be post-graduation “since you have then that professional network throughout the rest of your life and have the access to continued learning through these networks.” While acknowledging that fees can be a deterrent, Jacobsen mentioned that STC, like many organizations, offers discounts to students. A particularly appealing perk that comes with an STC student membership is access to the job bank, which lists jobs 45 days before they are released to other job banks. This too can be a way to get a head start on the job market. 

Other perks of an STC student membership include free access to the Annual Summit where attendees get to learn about the latest emerging tools and opportunities to network with employers and professionals, as well as discounts on software products. 

Joining a Special Interest Group (SIG) is another way to maximize the benefits of professional organizations. SIGs can be great ways to network and focus on a more specific aspect of a field or profession.  For example, if you are interested in usability studies and want to learn more about the latest developments or the kind of careers available, joining the STC SIG on “usability and user experience” may be a good idea. This SIG provides a forum that promotes  usability and user experience design. Members’ experience in this area can range from a beginner’s knowledge to individuals who work mainly in this area. Regardless of knowledge level, members share information and experience with each other to develop a network. 

Speaking of SIGs and their benefits to future and new graduates, Jacobsen noted that “a working knowledge of many things is helpful but specializing in a couple areas will be impressive to the person that wants to hire you.” She added: “you should really be branching out and experiencing different types of things but if you are really into one thing really make that your thing and go for it because someone will hire you for it.” 

Professional organizations provide great opportunities for professional development and networking. STC can be a space that makes your post-graduation plans more tangible and less daunting.  We all know this anxiety that can come with graduation and entering the job market. Joining a professional organization is one way to ease this anxiety and start applying your skills outside of the classroom.  

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