The Student Myth and Gaining Experience

When one is a student, one is learning. When one is a professional, one continues to learn. When one is an expert, I’m delighted to inform you, one continues to learn. Unfortunately, the common perception with students is that they’re less experienced and therefore less valuable. While the less experienced claim is understandable, the idea that students are in turn less valuable and less trustworthy, and should be treated as such is rather asinine. This is a debunking of the undervaluing students—the student myth—for we are all students.

Students are taken advantage of

It’s important to first note that holding the status of a student doesn’t miraculously devalue the work that is done or give right to taking advantage of their status. Meaning, just because someone is a student doesn’t mean that they should inherently work for less. The industry at whole is flawed, we have convinced not only potential clients that students should work for less, but we’ve also taught students the same—that because they’re students they should be applying a discount rate to their quotes. This is toxic behavior, we are not teaching students how to properly understand the value of the work they’re doing.

Gaining experience as a student

Potential clients are pressuring students to work for less, and students in turn feel pressure both from potential clients and the industry to work for less for the sake of their lack of experience. Considering students are wishing to move up in the ranks of experience, they feel inclined to take on this work in hopes of gaining more experience. The issue then is, students are working for less and doing cheap work, working for people who don’t fully value or respect them, the students then don’t fully understand the value of their work, and then they continue to attract the same kind of work. So the question stands, how is one to go about gaining experience as a student?

Firstly, if you’re a student, you’re on the right track by reading this. Taking the initiative to extend your learning beyond the classroom is the first step to gaining experience, but I want to draw attention to the fact that your education is a position of experience. Let me repeat that: your education is a position of experience. Reading, listening, and learning about design is a valuable asset and grants you experience whether you acknowledge it or not. By having a deep understanding of your field, you are at an advantage of being able to pull from and learn from your learnings—that in an of itself is an undervalued point of experience.

If you’re in school, I encourage you to see if there are any business classes available to take, and more specifically see if there is one catered to your field of interest. If there isn’t then take the time to write an email to the Department Head and demand that there is one. Take it one step further and get some friends on board and start advertising the expressed desire for such a class. The reason you should be demanding a business class is because it’s important to understand not only how businesses in general operate, but how you as a creative should also operate. I don’t think we place enough emphasis or even highlight self-value in our classes nor do we teach students how to accurately measure the value of their work as it’ll benefit the clients they’re working for. It’s disheartening to see students think that $50 for a logo is acceptable, well paying, or even respectable. Students are being taught the value of research and the importance of concept, but are being taught how to research value.

Steer clear of Fiverr and crowdsourcing sites; do personal work

This plays into how students are constantly taken advantage of, they’re stuck in the experience loop and when they come across sites like Fiverr they’re susceptible to taking on cheap work in hopes of gaining experience. Sites like Fiverr actively work to devalue what we’re doing as creatives, it treats design as a commodity—as something you can simply pull off the shelf. $5 design work is just pathetic, but we’re convincing students to do whatever it takes in order to gain experience. It’s all about climbing up the ladder, right?

We need to dispel the student myth; student’s shouldn’t feel pressured to devalue their work. Students, you don’t get experienced by working for people who don’t value your work or respect your position as a student. Gaining experience begins at a personal level, by understanding the value of what you have to offer.

First, choose not to work for people that want to leverage your status as a student to take advantage of you and get a deal. Second, continue to educate yourself and recognize that your perspective and knowledge in and of itself is a position of experience. Third, create work and share it with the world. Doing personal projects that excite you, showcase your skills, and articulate your ability to solve problems will speak volumes. Students, when you’re excited about the work you’re doing and you’re excited to share that work, others will sense and feel that same excitement and you will attract that kind of work.

There’s the assumption that students are inherently less experienced, but I’ve found that to be far from the truth. Students, like professionals and experts, are in a pursuit of learning, but unlike professionals and experts, students provide a perspective that is new and challenging with a sense of naïvety (in the sense of innocence) that carries with it a child-like curiosity that is so commonly lost when venturing into the professional world. Students have a lot more to offer than people give them credit for. The myth that students are lesser is outright silly, we should all be students.