I had a student in the very first class I taught, Introduction to Comparative Politics in Spring 2012 who had an interest in getting a government job. He was a freshman and came to me for advice. After speaking to him, it became apparent that he was interested in studying Arabic. I suggested that he go to ALIF for the summer to get a jump start on language study and get this, he did. He spent the summer of 2012 studying Arabic in Morocco. And then he kept studying Arabic, while a student at UF.
This year he took another one of my classes, Politics of the Arab Spring, in Fall 2012. It was a difficult class. I designed it with seniors in mind hoping to provide them with a writing sample good enough to get into graduate school. The final paper assignment required evaluating the fit of a scholarly theory to a particular case. He brought me several drafts of the paper and asked for comments. I hope he won't mind me saying so, but the first draft was not very good. Neither was the second or the third, but he kept coming back. I will look at a paper as many times as a student brings me an updated draft and he took full advantage of that. By the end of it, he had a pretty damn good paper and was one of the only students to effectively integrate "data" gathered through social media. Plus he had a clever title.
During this time, I helped him apply for a grant to study abroad for a year. It was a long shot, since he is only a sophomore and in the end he didn't get it. We met for coffee a few weeks ago to discuss what to do next. And that's when he told me he was going to get a job in retail for the summer.
I was unhappy. A student who wanted a job working for the government, living in Tampa for the summer (location of US Central Command) and working in retail. I just couldn't stand it. I told him to send a resume and cover letter to every government contractor in Tampa.
I give a lot of advice, so I didn't necessarily expect him to do what I said. But yesterday I received a great text from him, saying that he had found an internship with a contractor and was really learning a lot.
This student really impresses me for a number of reasons, but his path especially highlights one thing: if you are persistent, and you follow advice, something will come together. Why? Because he takes himself seriously, and because he kept putting himself out there.
The other lesson is for professors, and I don't have time to elaborate on it now. Just remember students are taking our advice!