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This guest post is from Jenna Farmer, an M.A. student in the Mass Communications area

Last week I had the opportunity to attend “Reality Public Relations: A Workshop for Prospective Practitioners” hosted by Cookerly Public Relations, a mid-sized PR agency located in Buckhead. The workshop brought together 15 public relations and communications students from universities across Georgia and Alabama to hear directly from working professionals about daily life at a PR firm. The workshop was designed to highlight the distinction between public relations as a field of academic study and a day-to-day professional practice for students that have very little (or no) practical experience in the field.

This is where I diverged from most of the group. I’ve had the sometimes overwhelming but always valuable experience of attending graduate school in GSU’s Department of Communication while working fulltime in the marketing and public relations field. Perhaps because I’ve always operated simultaneously in these two worlds, I couldn’t help but recognize a lot of overlap in what I’ve deemed essential to my success as a graduate student and the “real-world” lessons the Cookerly PR staff shared with us during the workshop.

As I listened to the advice of these practitioners, I was struck by how applicable their guidance was for navigating through life as a working graduate student as well as the daily operations of a PR firm, whether they knew it or not:

  • Cultivating Relationships

From the standpoint of the Cookerly PR staff, relationships among the agency’s clients, members of the media, stakeholders and other various publics require constant finesse because they create the foundation for how their clients are perceived.

Just like the Cookerly PR team, I am constantly assessing the state of the relationships around me as a graduate student; have I been a good team member to my fellow students? Did I send that email to my professor when I said I would? Am I spending enough time as a wife/friend/family member/employee as the semester winds down and I have a three page to do list?

These questions are not meant to overwhelm, but to help me set clear expectations and check in with the people around me that have become my support system. Though it may sometimes feel like it, being a working graduate student doesn’t only affect me, but everyone I’ve formed relationships with both inside and outside of the classroom.

  • Thought Leadership

Shaping the public perception of its clients as industry thought leaders is one of the tenets on which Cookerly PR’s corporate philosophy is based. This practice pushes beyond the boundaries of what many consider to be “typical” PR activities like writing press releases and managing events, to instead empower individuals and organizations to change the conversation entirely.

As graduate students, this is what we are also charged to do. We are no longer aggregators of prior research, but the source of new thoughts, theories and questions instead. Throughout my grad school career, I have been the most satisfied and fulfilled when I push beyond my own comfortable boundaries to take on research areas that are unfamiliar and even daunting. It is only through these experiences that I have developed the critical and analytical skills necessary to question, challenge and reposition what I may have previously believed or assumed to be true to become a leader in my own right.

  • Knowing the End Goal

This is self-explanatory. Determining feasible, quantifiable goals is a part of any good public relations plan, and each of the workshop speakers touched on the importance of goal setting and results-driven communication strategies in their work.

The same can be said for taking on graduate school. What is the endgame? At first, my goal was simply to graduate, and for a long time that goal was enough. Committing to that goal got me through times when I thought of taking an extended break, dropping a class or withdrawing altogether.

However, as I’ve approached my final semester in the program, my goals have begun to shift. Now my thinking revolves around how I can relay my overall body of work and the knowledge I’ve gained to better market myself and land my next great job. Time has allowed me to reconnect with the larger picture of why I entered grad school to begin with. No matter whether the goal is to have your research published, present at a conference or simply to make it to class next week, establishing attainable goals is a crucial motivator.

My experience as a communications professional has undoubtedly enriched my work as a graduate student, and vice versa, so it only makes sense that a candid conversation attempting to distinguish the differences between public relations theory and practice ended up accomplishing the opposite for me. Though I have questioned it in the past, the Cookerly PR workshop reinforced my decision to pursue a graduate degree for career gain. Pursuing a Master’s degree hasn’t only given me the skills and knowledge I need to advance in my field, but it’s changed the way I think about and interact with the world around me, and I know I will be a more valuable employee and conscientious person because of it.