NACA BLOG - #QuarantineGradGoals: Eight Virtual Tips for Strong Supervisor/Graduate Assistant Relationships - 4/28/2020

NACA Board and executive director

April 28, 2020
Deanna K. Wicks - Saint Vincent College (PA)
Victoria Dean - Widener University (PA)

You’re over halfway through your academic year, you’ve finally bonded with your graduate assistant or supervisor, and you’ve found your working groove. Then, the unthinkable happened, a pandemic that’s shuttered our campuses and sent many of us to work from home. The partnership you’ve cultivated through dedicated face time has become a partnership only through FaceTime. We’re doing more than ever before, and rebuilding ourselves and our offices, all while dealing with unprecedented personal worry. When so much pressure is put on a partnership, how can you help that partnership grow in a meaningful way, especially when you’ve lost the personal touch?

With our personal and professional lives being uprooted without warning, positive supervisory relationships can make or break a virtual semester. Through our personal experience working together as supervisor and graduate assistant, we’ve learned much about support, care and kindness, and have created eight tips to help strengthen these kinds of relationships, especially in a virtual world.

For Supervisors

  1. Connect with Your Graduate Assistant. As a busy supervisor adjusting to virtual life, you may think it’s faster and simpler to complete tasks and projects by yourself. However, your graduate assistant possesses a technical know-how and a social media literacy that you need. When you allow your graduate assistant to create and have an impact on the work you are doing, it’ll help to improve the capabilities of your entire department and cultivate a stronger relationship. Your graduate assistant will feel trusted in a time of need and this will strengthen your partnership more than ever.
  2. Mentor Your New Colleague. You’re working with a graduate student who is entering your profession very shortly. Right now, so much of their future is unknown, especially for second-year students. It’s your responsibility to be present with your graduate assistant, support them endlessly, and offer resources and assistance in this tumultuous time. By taking the time to mentor and help prepare for their future, you’re shaping the future of student affairs. 

For Graduate Assistants

  1. Trust Your Supervisor. During this pandemic, the most important thing you can do is trust your supervisor. They’re doing everything they can to continue working normally in a time where normal doesn’t exist. Remember that they’re answering to their supervisor, too. They might not have all the answers right now – that’s okay. Learn to trust this new normal and you will find the value in what they’re able to share.
  2. Remember that Support Isn’t One-Sided. Everyone is overwhelmed right now. You moved to an online semester, have assignments and papers, and need to learn what your job is in a virtual world. While you’re trying to find your new balance, your supervisor is in the same situation. They may be working as hard as possible while teaching children, helping relatives, supporting the department fiercely, and simultaneously trying to manage their own emotions. As a student, you have access to a support system through your colleagues in class who are learning the difficulties of this transition together. Unfortunately, your supervisor may not have that luxury. They need your support. Offer it by helping with projects, being positive, or reminding them of why they chose this profession. Showing support strengthens your working relationship and brings you closer.

For Graduate Assistants and Supervisors 

  1. Envision the End Goal. You’re both working toward bettering your virtual student community. Even if you disagree, learn to put it aside and do the best you can to help your students adapt and succeed. You’re both striving to do what’s best for your students, but your respective approaches to that goal may differ.
  2. Set Virtual Expectations. How often do you truly communicate with each other? Communication doesn’t end because you’ve moved to remote work. Now, communication is more important than ever, so make a plan to communicate often. As things continue to change and adapt, you will too. With open and honest communication, you can help each other grow while still meeting essential goals.
  3. Be Authentic. Now, more than ever, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Showing who you truly are creates a stronger bond. Share how you’re feeling. Find something you both love and dive in. It can be as simple as playing virtual Clue or hosting a virtual movie night. You might be cautious about virtual team building at first, but the faster you dive in the more connected you’ll feel!
  4. Appreciate Everything. Your relationship needs to be deeper than Zoom, so fully invest in one another. It’s time to take a step back and notice the things you didn’t get to recognize during busy workdays. Identify each other’s value and continually acknowledge why you’re grateful for each other. Learn from your experiences together, leaning on the other’s strengths. The stronger your relationship becomes, the more natural this virtual experience will feel.

We’re struggling to redefine our jobs and ourselves. By following these guidelines, you’ll help each other grow and develop as colleagues. Even in a virtual world, there’s no better work environment than one filled with care, kindness and support.

Deanna K. Wicks is director of Campus & Multicultural Student Life at Saint Vincent College (PA), where she has also worked in Residence Life & Student Programming. She led an educational presentation at the 2018 NACA® Mid Atlantic Regional Conference and she advised the Saint Vincent College Activities Programming Board, which was named the region’s Outstanding Programming Board in 2018 and 2019. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary instruction and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Saint Vincent College.

Victoria Dean director of Student Organizations at Widener University (PA). After serving as Wicks’ graduate assistant, she also presented at the 2018 NACA® Mid Atlantic Regional Conference. In Fall 2019, she received the Outstanding New Professional award at the NACA® Mid Atlantic Regional Conference. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stockton University (NJ) and a master’s degree in student affairs higher education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Related Professional Competencies: Supervising, Experiential Leadership Learning 

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