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The transition to my first full-time job

Date:06 November 2020
Author:Lisa Amina El Imshati
Lisa Amina El Imshati, Austria, Master in International Human Rights Law
Lisa Amina El Imshati, Austria, Master in International Human Rights Law

From theory to practice

After what felt like a lifetime of studying, writing papers and taking exams, graduation finally came. It was a moment of pride and joy: Looking back at what I had achieved; thinking back to all these long hours I spent in front of books and in lecture halls, trying to remember all these facts and figures that only slowly began to make enough sense to pass the exam. It was the moment I had been working towards for so many years. I thought to myself: „You are invincible! Nothing can stop you now!” and I really have to say that despite the current situation, the University of Groningen made this day very special for me. So with all my new-found confidence, I left Groningen and moved back to Vienna.

In Austria, once you graduate from law school and wish to become a lawyer, you are obligated to do a seven-month full-time internship at three different courts within the country. To me, this sounded like the perfect way to enter the working world. I thought „Everybody has to start somewhere. I’ve studied hard and I have all the tools I need. It will be different than what I’m used to, but it will be fine.“ So my first day, I got up early, grabbed my bag and made my way to court. The closer I got, the more I tried to remember any courses I had taken that could be relevant to this job. It felt like I couldn’t think of one. I tried to think of a single useful thing I had learned at university that would prepare me for this but I couldn’t. I checked my bag at least ten times to make sure the documents I had to bring were there. I was so nervous. When I finally entered the building, my only thought was: „I’m so not ready for this!“ Everyone else seemed so confident in what they were doing. They all knew each other. I felt like a child on the first day of school – terrified. That is when it occurred to me: It’s not my first day at school or university or any part-time job I’ve had before, but it is just like it. I have managed all of this, despite being nervous in the beginning, so now I can master this new challenge. And then I remembered:

“Everybody has to start somewhere.“

The first task I got was a legal analysis of a case file that easily weighed 5 kilos. I had never heard of the topic and to be honest, there was a moment when I asked myself whether my supervisor and I were even speaking the same language. I felt overwhelmed, but then I took a deep breath and thought: „This is my first day. No one expects me to know everything“. So I asked my supervisor and she explained it to me, after that, the task did not seem scary at all. I realised that there is no shame in asking questions - it is deeply appreciated by supervisors and superiors. You can ask for templates or help at any time and people are happy to help you and show you anything. Think of it this way: The more you ask in the beginning, the less you have to ask later on. Everyone has had their first day at this job and they remember how nervous you can get and how overwhelming things seem. But give it time, be open, take notes and you will have your routine in no time.

„I’ve studied hard and I have all the tools I need“

The moment I took a deep breath and started working, I started to remember all these lectures, I had forgotten about before. I remembered the Articles and their legal pertinence. I remembered the specificities and where to look things up. I started thanking myself for all the parties and movie nights I missed for the sake of studying because even though I might need to refresh my memory sometimes, I never completely forgot what I had learned. I had the tools I needed and the more I asked for feedback (and made use of it :) ) the better I got and the more at ease I felt. I was entrusted with more and more complex cases and tasks and I felt more and more confident in my work. Most of all, I started to enjoy the work I was doing.

„It will be different than what I’m used to“

When I was a student, I was mostly free to live according to my timetable. I had my tasks and preparations to do, but was free to choose when and how thorough to do them. I was free to say: „I don‘t feel like studying today, let‘s take a day trip or go for coffee!“ and do these things. When I planned on studying for a day, no one will blame me for taking a one or even five hour break because I just started a new series on Netflix and I just had to know what happens next.

When you start working, this is different. You have scheduled times you spend in the office and during this time you have to work. You have deadlines and tasks need to be completed by then. But you still have breaks for lunch and coffee, where you can get to know colleagues and make friends. You have to get up in the mornings and cannot sleep in like you might have done as a student, but when you go home in the evening, you are free to do whatever you like – there is no lecture to prepare and no exam to study for, there is only you and your well-deserved free time.

Also, you are expected to work autonomously. It is very rare that, much like with your study groups, you can revise and discuss everything together. However, this does not mean that you cannot discuss with colleagues or your supervisor if you are stuck or need help. It just means that this time it is primarily about you and your knowledge. And maybe, if you try something alone, you might be surprised by the great solutions you can come up with.

Another thing that is particularly different when you work at an office is your style of clothing and your work environment. While I do enjoy wearing blazers and looking professional, I always felt like I do my best work with a little music, a hot tea, sweatpants and an oversized sweater. When you start working, this is not an option. I realised, though, that this is not necessarily a bad thing. People talk so much about work-life balance and to me, knowing that I have clothes for work and clothes for leisure time helps me keep this balance. It gives you a sense of professionalism and reminds you to do your best because your work matters. However, this does not count for home-office days...we all know what we will be wearing then.

„It will be fine“

Overall, having worked full-time for several months now, I can say that I’m fine. Change is never easy – ultimately, we are creatures of habit – but change is not a bad thing. It allows us to grow and evolve. It reminds us of what we are capable of and opens the doors to new opportunities. It has made us the persons that we are now and will enable us to grow even further.

Wherever your future will take you, no matter how scary it may seem at first, simply remember: „Everybody has to start somewhere. You have studied hard and you have all the tools you need. It will be different than what you are used to... But you will be fine.“

About the author

Lisa Amina El Imshati
Lisa Amina El Imshati
I was born and raised in Austria, where I graduated from the University of Vienna, Faculty of Law in 2019. My passion for Human Rights has always been strong and I pursued this passion in various organisations. I have, however, decided to make my passion my profession and have started the International Human Rights Master’s Programme, of which I have graduated in 2020. Have I sparked your interest in studying in Groningen? Then let me know if you have any questions about the university, a specific programme, life in Groningen or anything else. Feel free to contact me!
www.rug.nl/alumni/about-alumni/ambassadors/2020-2021/lisa-amina-el-imshati_-austria