Branding Yourself in University
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
By Celeena Mohammed
My name is Celeena and I’m a recent graduate from a five-year Environmental Studies degree at York University. I’m also an international student from Trinidad and Tobago and came to Toronto to pursue my degree. During my time at university I’ve come across many changes to my life. When I got here, I was enrolled in a totally different university and three years ago, I was enrolled in a completely different degree! These days I’ve been reflecting on the decisions that I made while I was in university and have come across many things that I wish I knew a few years ago — hindsight is 20/20!
One of the things I really wish I invested more time into is branding myself while I was in university. I was in a program where I was learning a lot about sustainability, policy, and climate change (things I find really interesting) and I always had an interest in writing, but I never took this knowledge out of the classroom. I never thought to myself that I should start doing my own research into the things that interest me and learn more about a topic that inspires me. This is what branding yourself is.
Why do you think branding yourself is important? How does it help when networking?
To me, branding yourself is a way to express and showcase your passion for something, and that something can be anything. During university it can get difficult to think about anything outside of school with all the work that students have to do every day. I get it, it can be difficult to even believe you have time to do anything else, but I think pursuing your passions is an important part of university life that usually gets overlooked. Branding yourself helps to curate your image, whether that’s professionally or socially or both. I’ve always been interested in climate change, the weather, and sustainability but I rarely ever took these interests and turned them into something other than reading the textbook or writing a research paper. I could have used this knowledge and taken it outside of the classroom to participate in volunteering, joining groups, writing blogs on my own and attending networking events or conferences to build my connections.
Having your brand comes back into play when you’re out networking with professionals or even socially. What do I talk about? Why am I here? Why has my brain stopped working? These are some of the thoughts that would go through my mind at a networking event, but don’t worry! Professionals are humans too and they’re here for great insightful conversations and to build their relationships, just like you. Having your personal brand gives you that confidence to talk about your strengths and interests and make that lasting impression.
By having your own personal touch that blends together a topic that you’re interested in with a skill that you’ve been practicing, you can launch yourself into some interesting conversations with people you’d like to network with. It’s always good to have something that you can call your own when networking, and that’s why having a personal brand for yourself is so important. It puts you ahead of the game and prepares you for your career journey, because now professionals will remember that, for example, you’re the person they met at that conference who was super into coding and design and was working on their own online game.
Is it ever too early to start branding yourself?
Branding yourself is a process you can start at any point in your life. University was when I started to have a lot of my own opinions about things and started to see my interests come alive. You have many opportunities in University (outside of class) to start something new and exciting like volunteering, starting your own side-hustle like a blog or YouTube Channel, or joining student clubs and growing a passion for something you may not have had before. It’s never too early or too late to start acting on this and branding yourself. In fact, I just finished university and I only recently started thinking about this whole process. The prime time to start however is during university, but don’t feel rushed! If you haven’t found that one thing that makes you light up when you talk about it, no worries. It can take time to develop an interest you want to act on, but when you do, follow your passion! Even if it’s outside of your field of study.
How can someone effectively brand themselves?
If you’d like to start this branding yourself process, I would break it down into three parts:
1) Find an activity/topic that inspires you and do your own research into it. Schedule specific times during your week to do this. Learn as much as you can!
2) Utilize social/digital media (Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Squarespace) and showcase your knowledge and your skills on there! If you’re getting into photography, post your photos online; if you’re into fashion and styling, start a fashion blog and write about styling tips. Social media is a great platform to showcase what you know and what you can do!
3) Stay consistent. The only way to grow your knowledge, build relationships, and become an expert is to be consistent in whatever you chose to do. Some days inspiration may be low and that’s fine! But always remember that you’re investing in yourself and you are worth it.
How has your view on branding yourself changed as you’ve gone through university? How has graduating shifted your perspective on this?
When I just started university, I used to think that I needed to finish my degree before I would be able to engage in those professional conversations. Most of my learning happened in the classroom and I never invested time to look into what I was really interested in. I sort of floated through university thinking that life would start when I graduated, but boy was I wrong! Now that I’ve graduated, I’ve learned that university is actually the absolute perfect time to invest in yourself. It’s the time to take those interesting electives that have nothing to do with your degree, join that one club, or step out of your comfort zone and join the sports team. These opportunities give you many outlets to find a new passion or build on an existing one, and start branding yourself. If your passion lies within your classes, talk to your professors! Get to know them outside of class time and see what you can learn from them and what advice they can give you. Interested in learning even more about supply chain analytics? Do that research, borrow books from the library, connect with professionals in the field, read blogs, there’s an endless amount of information for you to consume. I used to think getting my degree was all it would take to get that dream job, but it’s much more than that! It’s also about creating your own personal success, growing your confidence, forming relationships, and creating your brand.
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