Moving Beyond APA Style

My graduate program recently switched us from having in-hand books to having online sources. I miss printed books and taking notes in the margins, but I’m glad that the information we’re using is readily accessible from all of my devices.

So I’m trying to work ahead on week one and see the usual note that requires us to do APA citations for our references. I have no problem with referencing and giving credit where it’s due, but since everything that’s assigned to us now for reading isn’t a textbook, why can’t I just use hyperlinks or footnotes with the full URL?

The syntax for citations required by APA is based upon academic traditions that do not apply to this course. It’s designed to facilitate the review of printed text in preparation for publication in an academic journal. Even if I did write something this semester worth submitting to a journal, the price of converting it to APA would be something I do after the base article is written. Even then, I’d be outsourcing most of the brain work to one of the many citation websites out there.

At this point, I view the formatting requirement as having a negative value to the true goal of educating the students on the principles of project management. The two articles I got published last semester didn’t need to be APA format, and PMI doesn’t subscribe to a particular referencing standard. I understand that the university may have a policy for APA for academic reasons, but our program is less academic than most others. The PM program is largely designed around the external requirements set by PMI for accreditation.

So, can I just hyperlink and focus on the content?

Beyond A Single Bullet

With a small exception, Staci and I haven’t managed to have our path’s cross since we both graduated college in 2008. When we met I was a two-time Iraq veteran and father of two on a military scholarship and she was a former Disney Cast member. On campus, our paths would cross all the time and she and I would often walk to class together. In those five minutes of travel from one building to the next, we’d often talk about the material that was due. These little chats were mini rehearsals that allowed us to contribute to the classroom conversations that were part of our grades.

One day I caught up with Staci at the library just prior to class. We had a paper due and a quiz scheduled for the beginning of class. My paper was literally in my bag. Staci was still putting together her bibliography. This was in the days before websites did it for us. I could she that she’d be a bit late getting to class and asked if she wanted me to stall the teacher. She agreed and I walked to class solo.

I arrived early and so did our professor, a lean woman with dark hair and a wonderful smile. The professor believed that a low power distance environment in the classroom lead to a better education and she encouraged us to call her Jen. I looked at the clock to see that class was due to start and Staci had still not arrived. The papers we all had to write were forming a pile on the table at the front of the class. Once the clock signaled the start of class those papers would go in Jen’s bag and the quizzes would get handed out. Any paper given to her after the pile was in her bag was late.

I could see the moments were getting shorter. So I raised my hand and asked a question. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember that it was the sort of question that would lead to a healthy conversation. With the class watching and evening chiming in now and again, Jen led us through her thoughts on the subject. I kept the dialogue going with follow-up questions until Staci arrived, put her paper on the pile on the table. I then said something to signal that I was good with where the conversation had ended and that my question was answered. I could see Jen was somewhat surprised by this because she hadn’t finished explaining it to the level of detail she wanted to. The moment where she noticed my abruptness passed and she issued the quiz. Staci was safe and the class proceeded as normal.

Staci and I weren’t just friends. We were co-conspirators and this was the “worst” of our shenanigans. As far as our memories of college are concerned, it was also one of our finest moments.

This past week our paths were set to cross once again. I was on a trip for work in the same city where she’d been making her living since graduation. Since she was a local I asked her to pick the restaurant and she recommended an eatery on the first floor of the historic and lovely Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City. I arrived early and poked my head into the establishment. I was sure Staci’s endorsement of the chicken pot pie was accurate, but the atmosphere was off for what the evening needed to be. My co-conspirator didn’t just deserve me paying for good food. She needed the best and the best experience in town. Luckily, I was already in the building that provided that experience.

On the top floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building is a restaurant called The Roof. It’s a significantly upscale establishment with a view of the spires of the Salt Lake Temple. I called and made a reservation and had 15 minutes before it began and the got us in. The nice lady on the phone asked if we would be celebrating anything. “Yes, I said. We’ll be celebrating a successful reunion of two college co-conspirators after a deployment to Afghanistan and years of making a business successful and Staci’s engagement.” I’m sure she had hoped I was just going to say birthday. They put birthday cards on the tables and the pianist will play happy birthday as you sit down. The cards looked nice but weren’t big enough for the words I used to describe what we were celebrating.

We sat down for dinner and had a meal that continued to tease one’s palette at every bite. The conversation was fast-paced, witty, and wonderful. We talked about everything, Staci’s wedding plans and how my oldest has her driving permit, my work, her work and then we went back down memory lane and talked about college and how it helped us get to where we are. I was pleased to report how my communication degree helped me navigate complex situations in high-risk environments. Staci relayed how she’s had to travel six weeks so far this year. I only nodded. “No Jake, 6 weeks. So far we’re only 12 weeks in!” I made sure to do more than nod. That amount of travel indicates how valuable she is to her company and how well the company is doing. Their success has obviously increased, and Staci knows she’s helped build that success.

In each of our job’s we’ve done well by identifying the root causes of problems so I posed the question, “what was it about our college experience that set us apart?” Staci was highly active in student government in school. I was active in a variety of projects that ultimately had me being awarded the Man of the Year award. We each had our own paths but had both done more than just get our degrees, we leveraged our time on campus to get the most rewarding experience possible for our future.

While we can certainly credit our school for facilitating the experiences that have led us to be successful, a large part of it was the attitude we had when we approached school. Most of our fellow students were looking to get a single resume bullet “Bachelor’s Degree from…” Staci and I were there to seek out experiences. We left with our degrees and quite a few resume bullets. She leveraged her experience with student government to be successful in her profession, and I walked away with the Man of the Year Award.

I hope every parent preparing to send their kid to college has a chat with them about focusing on more than one resume bullet. The time at school will likely be rich with life changing experiences. It’s not too hard to choose those experiences that you won’t mind putting on your resume instead of living the ones you have to delete later on facebook. If Staci and I could do it, anyone can.

Writing Past the Professor

It’s late. You’ve been at it for hours. You got the assignment weeks ago. On this one you didn’t procrastinate. You started compiling notes. Now you’ve now been writing for hours. You look at the clock on the computer screen you’ve been staring at. Is that what time it is? It was easy to lose track about something you cared about. Finally after reading and rereading you’re done. Your logic is on point. Even the bibliography looks flawless. There’s no way you’re going to loose any points on this thing.

You turn it in.

A few days later you get your grade. A+. Congratulations!

And then a few moments later you’ve got a knot in your stomach. You thought the A+ was what you wanted, but now you realize that it’s just the nail in the coffin, and your paper is dead.

No one will ever read it again.

By the time the professor finished grading you wonder if she even remembered your third point. The one that really sold your thesis. You found it life changing and now that you’ve got your grade you know your insight wont be changing any more lives. Reality is a difficult weight to bear.

Of course just because this is a story you’ve probably lived with doesn’t mean it has to be a story you keep on living with. You’re the author of your own destiny. So change it. Take ownership and hack your school experience. Instead of using your professors as the final step in the life of your work use them as an editing service and take your work beyond school. Give someone else a chance to read what you found so helpful.

The easiest way to start this is with a blog. Squarespace.com and other hosting services offer student discounts. I don’t want you thinking that this is the road to popularity and self sustaining income, but it does give you a place to post your thoughts and give them a chance at another life. This small blog averages a few readers a day, but it really does much more for letting me practice my communication skills. Those skills are part of what helps me earn a paycheck. As they get better, the jobs I do get easier and it’s easier for my teams to do better as well.

If you’re confident about your work submit it to another site for their consideration or be really bold and submit it to an academic journal. This part could feel like a bit of a mine field, but with some effort you should be able to find an outlet for your thoughts. I’ve gotten lots of rejection. It hurts, but it’s part of the process. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

There are two reasons for doing all of this. One is taking charge of your brand. YOU! You are a brand.

There are several popular reality TV shows who’s popularity is solely based on the ability of the people being filmed to manage their branding. You can do the same. You don’t need your blog to be popular. In fact you only need one person ever to read it. That’s the person that is going to hire you. You’re going to get googled. When that happens what are they going to find? You can take charge of the answer to that question by putting some of your well constructed thoughts onto the internet.

The second reason I do this is because when I write beyond the professor I write better. I’m more passionate about my subject. I research more. I work harder. It’s paying off. My posts now appear fairly regularly at FreedomPenguin.com and I’ve even had an article published at OpenSource.com. I’m also getting better grades than I’ve ever gotten in my life. I use a professor’s comments not as the final word, but as the last round of editing prior to publication. By the way, they happen to be good at giving constructive feedback. Isn’t that what you’re paying them for?

You don’t have to live with giving life to great thoughts only to watch them die when a grade gets attached. Don’t let your grade be a nail in the coffin. Let it be the feedback right before publishing. Let it be a launchpad for something great. Otherwise you’ll be stuck asking yourself why you put in so much effort in the first place.

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