Advice for Students

Yesterday, I finally got around to turning in my graduation paperwork for the AA degree I finished two years ago along with the BA degree I just completed this past quarter (yes, I can procrastinate like a pro.) As I was heading out, I dropped in on a class called “Portfolio Review.” The class was doing a dry run for the students who would be presenting in front of a panel of industry professionals next week. I only saw the last few, but generally, the portfolios reflected nearly every other portfolio review I had ever attended. With the exception of one or two students, the rest just weren’t industry ready. I’ve heard this comment from art directors and industry professionals across the country.

So why does it happen and with such regularity? First of all, this is by no means a criticism of the particular college. In fact, quite a few students accomplish more in two years than a lot of students do in four. However, many other students squander their time at school and then blame the instructors or administration for their own shortcomings. Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve heard horror stories of bad instructors and have even met a few myself. But even then, it’s still your responsibility to the get the most out of your class.

Often, when an instructor is running late, I hear students say, “If he’s not here in 15 minutes, can we leave?” Two things go through my mind when I hear this.

1. You are an adult choosing to attend higher education, so you can leave whenever the hell you’d like.

2. Why are you even here?

I know that sounds judgey I’m not saying that I’ve never had a day when I didn’t want to be at school. I’ve definitely felt frustrated when a class seemed utterly useless to what I wanted to do, yet was still required for my degree. I’ve had plenty of those days, and taken a lot of classes like that. I realized though, that I needed to take control of my own education to get whatever I could from the information presented and find a way to apply it to my life and work. I firmly believe that this type of mindset is what separates students who are able to transition into happy, working professionals from all the other apathetic “artists” who are still blaming someone else for their inability to get a job.

So let’s break down the things you can do to get the most out of your education.

A quick sketch I made for an instructor forced students to really think. Drinking students tears.
A quick sketch I made for an instructor forced students to really think. Drinking students tears.

– Get to know your instructors.
They have a wealth of information they don’t include in their lessons. This can happen because there simply isn’t enough time, or they believe none of the students really care. Remember, they have chosen teaching for a reason, so you will often find them to be more than happy to share their knowledge with people who authentically seek it out.

– View every assignment as a job brief – even the little ones.
When you approach an instructor’s assignment in this manner, you change the project’s meaning. It takes on a different light. The end result will look far less like a school assignment and you will often discover things you never would have had you just regurgitated the instructor’s assignment back to them.

hikertentsketch

– Know your path and walk it.
If you are in a class and a project doesn’t line up with your goals, don’t be afraid to change the project to benefit you. Obviously, you should be prepared to explain your reasons. Since most of your instructors come from your desired industry, they will probably understand and may even be impressed by your out-of-the-box thinking and initiative.

– Create your own assignments.
Don’t be complacent by settling for mediocrity. Always push yourself further than you think you can go. Sometimes, it can be difficult to stay motivated, so if you can find someone as dedicated as you are, buddy up and hold each other accountable.

– Know your competition.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s likely that your competition isn’t the student sitting next to you. Give yourself a pat on the back if you are the top student in your program, but you aren’t just competing with your classmates. You are competing with all the industry professionals currently doing the job you want, not to mention the top students from every other program in the world. The Games and Entertainment field is an international, multibillion-dollar industry, that continues to grow at a ridiculous rate. Research the curriculum of other top programs around the world and extract whatever you can about what they are learning. Incorporate it into your own education. Those programs often post the best work online, so compare your work to what you see there. Start a folder of the industry professionals you most admire and compare the quality of work. Remember, you are striving to be a professional with professional level work. When you compare yourself to other students, you are only striving to have the best student work.

Anatomy Study turned 3d.
Anatomy Study turned 3d. I just wasn’t picturing the Skull properly. So I made my own reference.

– Help others.
The best lessons I have learned and the greatest epiphanies I have ever had come from teaching other people how to do something.

– Don’t put the industry you are striving for on a pedestal.
The pedestal is for things you can’t or aren’t supposed to touch. When you hold your desired industry on a pedestal, you make it something more than it really is. At the end of the day, that thing on that pedestal is still just a job. Obviously, working on games isn’t digging ditches, but it’s definitely something within your grasp.

– Network and Socialize
This goes along with not putting your industry on a pedestal. Don’t view the people in your desired industry as a whole different species of person. We all had to start somewhere. Reach out to them and most will be more than happy to talk with you. In fact, they likely suffer some of the same insecurities you do. Attend industry events and be yourself. By sharing your experience with others, you make it easy for them to do the same.

– Be passionate about what you are doing.
Most importantly, you have to love what you do. Choose projects that you are passionate about because those will ultimately turn out the best, and you will be far more motivated to work on them.

– Never stop learning
If you are passionate about what you are doing, you will never stop learning new things. You will always look for new, better, and faster ways to accomplish what you want to do.

Some character roughs for a personal project.
Some character roughs for a personal project.
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