Is “Student” a Dirty Word?

I started thinking about this just this morning when one of my professional friends, who I greatly admire, respect, and trust, was explaining to me how I don’t necessarily need to emphasize my inexperience when talking about my skills. In other words, my bio doesn’t need start out with “Alex Priest is a senior at American University…” and all my “first time” experiences don’t necessarily need to be labeled as such.

I agree, for the most part, but it got me wondering… is “student” a dirty word in today’s world of professionalism and networking?

I think that it kind of is, but I don’t think it necessarily should be.

I’ve been lucky. Despite my labels–“student,” “intern,” “young”–I’ve still been, for the most part, treating with the same respect and courtesy as my colleagues and fellow professionals. This could be partly because of the crowd I hang out with, who are generally fairly young (although not always) and very progressive (but again, not always). It could also be because of the field I’m in, marketing and communications, which is a field in which young people are pioneering in ways the veterans have simply not.

That said, I do wonder–do the people who follow me on Twitter interpret my tweets differently because I am still a student? Do the people who read this blog take my advice and my thoughts with a grain of salt, because I lack the experience many other professionals have? To what extent should “experience” determine an audience’s expectation of quality?

Now I realize I’m throwing out more questions than answers here, but I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, especially in the fields of social media and marketing. I would hope that, given the nature of the industry, someone would see the label “student” and expect to learn more. I would hope they would jump at the opportunity to learn from someone with such a different and new perspective than the vast majority of their colleagues. And I would hope that my own, youthful and new experiences could be just as much a learning opportunity for those in my network as they are for me.

As I move into the “real world” it will be an interesting shift away from this. I wonder how people will view me differently, or how the opportunities offered to me will change. Will people reach out to me more because they know I have a title with two degrees? Or will they reach out to me less because they think opportunities are already there, and they’d have to pay me more to do work for them?

“Student” is a unique label. It’s one that defines experience, age, maturity, location, and professionalism. But I’ve never been a fan of labels. So what if we started considering “student” a title instead of a label? What if we started looking at the word “student” like we do “communicator” or “marketer”? What if we began to look at the unique benefits that title implies, instead of the often incorrect assumptions associated with it?

What if we made sure “student” was never mistaken for a dirty word again?

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