Congratulations on not graduating, Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

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My Little Un-Graduation Speech, by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

One of the things that I treasure most of my five years at RMIT Vietnam is how I was able to follow my students through their university journeys. I taught hundreds first as an English teacher and then again years later as their career educator in RMIT’s Career Passport programs. Later still, I met them again when they joined career centre events as alumni guests.

Each year, my Facebook feed is filled with graduation photos. My former students are often kind enough to tag me or thank me in the captions. In 2014, I was honoured to be thanked by Nguyen Thao Vy, the RMIT President’s Award winner, in her acceptance speech. I’m always proud to have played a part, however small, in these students’ academic and career development.

This year, one Facebook graduation post, in particular, stood out from the rest.

I first met Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí as one of 16  students in an English class that I taught in 2011. Over the years, I would often see him volunteering with the Student Ambassador Team during university open days, orientations, and other events, leading a group of high school students, parents, or RMIT first-years around on their campus tours.

Trí’s post on Facebook was titled “My Little Un-Graduation Speech”. Trí wasn’t graduating with his cohort, for various reasons, but he clearly had something he needed to say, and he said it remarkably well.

Today, some of my friends
who entered this university at the same time
as I did are going to attend their graduation
ceremony.

Trí wasn’t to be there with them. He is frank and honest about why. Poor decisions he made, family issues, new starts. But Trí learned a lesson that many of his graduating classmates did not. He learned that university is about the experiences you have as much as the degree that you earn. For Trí, the Student Ambassadors Team taught him as much as or more than his classes did.

Who am I today? At this very moment,
while many of my fellows become
university graduates, I am no one with no
college degree, no work, no nothing.

I was moved by Trí’s post. I identified with Trí, as his words describe the way I felt in 2000 when I dropped out of university with a couple of semesters worth of lacklustre grades. I was proud that one of my students would have the courage and honesty to make such a post public, especially in the strongly collectivist culture of Vietnam.

But Trí’s post was not about self-pity. He showed great maturity, a level of optimism, and most importantly, pride in what he had done and learned during his time at RMIT.

It shall be a very tough career path for me
since most of this society does not always
appreciate one’s ability yet his or her
degree. However, I know that as an RMIT
student and a Student Ambassador, I can
prove them wrong looking down on
neglected people who are disoriented or
lack of luck at some points of life.

“Calculated luck” and Chaos Theory

My favourite part of Trí’s post is his conclusion, where he unwittingly references two important career development theories: Krumboltz’s planned happenstance and Pryor and Bright’s Chaos Theory of Careers. Trí has never studied career development theory, but he clearly has the wisdom and reflective maturity to articulate the key points based on his experience.

And finally, to my fellow graduates, good
luck on your career path. When I say luck, I
mean a calculated luck. Be passionate
about what you do, have good
experiences and knowledge. Magnificent
ideas will surprise you and when they do,
experiment or take action immediately
then shall come the luck.

My Little Un-Graduation Speech, by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

Trí’s calling is to be a designer, so it’s fitting that he put together a visual document to present his speech. With his permission, I can share it here for you to read in full.

Download (PDF, 6.28MB)

from “My Little Un-Graduation Speech” by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

 

Explore, Experience, Engage: Your Guide to Career Development (RMIT Vietnam)

Capture
Click on image to view the workbook

Explore, Experience, Engage: Your Guide to Career Development was one of the main projects that I led in my time in the Career Centre of RMIT Vietnam. I was the author and editor of the text and project leader of its publication.

This project came out of a desire to replace the tired old photocopied info sheets in the Career Centre with a nicely designed career education workbook that students could use by themselves, or as a kind of text book in one of our taught programs.

The title refers to the DOTS-esque three stages that RMIT University used to organise and promote their services to students:

Explore: new students, or those who aren’t sure of what they’re doing

Experience: students who are mid-program and should be starting to look for experiences which will build their employability skills

Engage: students who are preparing to undertake internships or graduate.

Writing and producing this resource was the biggest project of its kind that I had worked on at this point. The content was developed in a series of workshops I lead with my colleagues. From there, I drafted each section and sought feedback from key stakeholders. I then sketched out the main idea of the worksheets and sent the drafts to the designer. We conceived the book as a career education workbook that students could write in, using the style and layout of the textbooks used for the English language programs at RMIT.

The book was published as a spiral bound, full colour workbook, with glossy covers. We paid for the book with sponsored ads from key industry partners in the inside covers and back cover. It also helped that we were in Vietnam, so could get this printed for below $1 a copy. We also distributed the .pdf version of the workbook, both as a whole and as each section separately.

It came at a time that I had a lot going on in my personal life, so I wasn’t always as engaged with it as I should have been. The scope and intent changed quite a lot over the course of the project. Having said that, I am proud of the product and consider it an achievement.

Here are the three main things that I learned from leading this project:

1. Constraints are helpful
When brainstorming the content, the potential breadth and depth of the booklet was enormous. I quickly found that to get the project started, I had to impose some constraints before I could move forward. The 3Es provided a strong organisational constraint and an initial outline of the content led me to a length of 56 pages. This constraint, while somewhat arbitrary, helped me a lot when it came to excising material that wasn’t essential, as well as keeping the text concise. In my current work, I impose strict word counts, slide counts, or page counts when working on resources.

2. Solicit suggestions but make decisions

My team at RMIT Vietnam was very collaborative. Most of the time this was a good thing, as we had a lot of great ideas and diverse approaches. But in a project like this, it posed a challenge as every good suggestion could add a page or two to the length of the book. I learned that as editor, I needed to consult with my colleagues, but final decisions were mine and I shouldn’t be shy about making them. Fortunately, my team recognised this and respected my decisions even when it meant that their suggestions weren’t included.

3. Clients need to be fussy

The design of the workbook was handled by Minh, the designer employed by the student services office of RMIT Vietnam. He is a skilled designer and we worked well together. However, I have to admit that I was responsible for some lost time due to additional revisions because I didn’t describe my vision as explicitly has I should have. At the time, I thought that I was showing respect to Minh’s skill by not dictating every detail. Minh did his best to interpret my briefs, but inevitably he made decisions that didn’t suit the book or its audience. It would have made everyone’s lives easier had I been more explicit about my vision and checked in with Minh on the details more often.

Download (PDF, 2.49MB)

 

Three bad decisions that gave me happiness

Blitz

 

One of the first things I ever published as a career consultant was this article for the RMIT Vietnam student magazine, Blitz Magazine. The editors had approached the Career Centre asking us to provide an article, and I volunteered.

Around that time I had been sharing a lot of my own experiences with my classes, particularly the times when I have made decisions that seemed a little risky at the time, but which worked out amazingly well:

  • Dropping out of uni when I realised that I lacked ambition and motivation
  • Giving up the chance of an important scholarship to go chase a girl in a foreign country
  • Leaving a job that I enjoyed and was good at to go into an area I didn’t know much about

I had been reading about John Krumboltz’s theory of Planned Happenstance at the time and wanted to share the idea that career planning involves a lot of uncertainty, luck, and randomness, but also that there were several things you could do to orient yourself and make sound decisions.

I decided to write the following article, framing three major turning points in my life as “mistakes” where I made the decision that, on the face of it, was the riskiest. Some of my colleagues were worried that our students wouldn’t get the joke, but I was confident that I could get my point across without too much confusion.

I had a good response from my students, with a few emailing me to make a comment or ask a question. I also got quite a few concerned questions asking me how my wife felt about being labelled a “mistake”. Luckily, in this case, I was wise enough to run it past her first.

Unfortunately I no longer have the text of the article and you can’t copy and paste from the online magazine, so here some screen captures of the article as it appeared in the magazine.

Download (PDF, 700KB)

My career in career development education

Cuong Le and Michael Healy, part of the 2014 RMIT Vietnam career development education team
Cuong Le and Michael Healy, part of the 2014 RMIT Vietnam career development education team

I had never considered career development education as a possible pathway. I barely even knew it existed. But when I took an opportunity to become a career development educator, I immediately knew it was the right decision.

Making the jump to career development education

My discovery happened a couple of years ago at RMIT in Vietnam. I used my experience as an English teacher to land a job as a career development educator in the RMIT career centre. This was mostly out of a desire to get out of English language teaching, which was getting stale for me.

I wasn’t certain that taking the job was the right decision. I’d never been interested in the corporate world. I assumed I had to have a degree of business experience and a corporate mindset to do the job well. I was unsure  what I had to offer students who were studying to become accountants, analysts, managers, or marketers.

Like a fish to water

But as soon as I started working with students, I knew that I’d be a great career development educator. I discovered that the job entailed teaching some fundamental skills. I taught students the value of concise writing, by helping them edit their resumes down to one or two powerful pages. I gave them confidence, by showing them how to drive the conversation in a job interview. I helped them articulate their goals and their values and make sound decisions, by asking them a few key questions. My experience as an English teacher was invaluable as I distilled complex ideas into engaging lessons and resources.

Full steam ahead

In helping students choose their career paths, I found mine. I have decided to commit myself to the profession of career development education. I have consolidated my career change, securing my second position as a university career consultant, at La Trobe University in Melbourne.  I’m also studying RMIT’s Graduate Certificate in Career Education and Development to gain a formal credential.

I have plans for the future, of course. Hopefully, you’ll see them play out on the pages of this blog as I record some of my personal and professional learning as a career development educator.