Saleen Says: a reflection on my first year at the University of Georgia.


I started this post a few weeks ago after submitting my last final of the spring semester. I couldn’t finish it because (a) my brain was absolutely dead, and (b) I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it.

I’m ready to reflect now, and what I really want to do is map out my biggest take-aways from this year, whether those were lessons learned in class, reporting, or personal lessons. I also want to acknowledge someone whose bluntness  and guidance helped to mold me into the student that I am today: Professor Pat Thomas.

Pat helped me to get two assistantships, made me a lot more comfortable taking criticism in regard to my writing, and taught me how to work around those brick walls that we’re bound to run into as journalists.

She’s tough, she’s blunt, and she’s going to let you know when your work isn’t up to par.

I’m not going to lie. I cried many times during the fall and spring semesters. I was overwhelmed by the workload for both Graduate Newsroom and Health and Medical Journalism. However, I emerged a much stronger writer. These are just a few things I learned during these trying times.

Thinking outside the box

I’ve learned to think differently when I need information, especially on deadline.

When we went on a reporting trip to Northwest Georgia, I really needed to interview a woman who once stayed in the hospital I was writing about. She said she couldn’t meet me before our trip ended, and I thought I’d have to do a phone interview. I didn’t want to because a story of that nature needs video or photos to be more effective. Pat always tells us that people make great stories, and I wanted to tell hers in the most effective way possible.

Pat told me to call her back and ask her if I could take her to lunch or talk to her for just a few minutes before we headed back to Athens. She agreed and I got my interview. From Pat, I’ve learned that there are ways around any dilemma.

For example, I’m in a time crunch as we speak. I need to produce a video package for my “36 Hours in Prague” story, and I’ve been having the hardest time finding a source for it. I e-mailed a woman who works at an organization specializing in kid’s activities and events. She asked if we could meet next Friday, but that’s when everything is due. I thought about what Pat suggested in Northwest Georgia. I instead told the woman that I wouldn’t take up any more than about 10 minutes of her time, and asked if there was any earlier day that would work. I have a meeting with her on Tuesday!

Tip for future journalists–there may be some wiggle room if you can assure people that their time will be valued.

Now, let’s talk about how this year has strengthened my skills and abilities.

Taking criticism

With a professor like Pat, you can’t get worked up every time someone critiques your work. I can’t say I feel totally comfortable with it, but after taking two classes with her, I’m used to it now and I understand the process of listening and applying what I’ve been told.

I currently work with Sara Freeland, the media relations coordinator at UGA. She’s a great editor, and I think she often worries about hurting my feelings. My other colleague, Leigh, sometimes worries about it as well. I tell them all the time “I’ve taken Pat’s class. Nothing you say can hurt my feelings.” I’m all ears…or eyes. I can take it, and I appreciate their willingness to contribute to my growth as a writer.

Sifting through your rocks

As a journalist, you can go from having no sources to having too many in a matter of days. This was often the case for me. I’d get overwhelmed because I was unsure of which ones would better suit my story. Pat could sense this and told me something extremely valuable.

Note: I’ve paraphrased because I can’t remember it word-for-word.

“When you’re reporting, you talk to people, you gather your rocks, and then you come back and you look through them to see which ones you can keep and which ones you don’t need. You’re not going to use them all.”

This is absolute truth. Sometimes you just won’t use everything you gathered, either because there’s no room or because it just doesn’t fit the piece you’re working on, and that’s okay.

Pat taught us so many more things that I have yet to touch on, and she actually retired this year, which makes me glad that I decided to come to Grady when I did.

Learning about myself

I am a strong person. There were days where I hadn’t slept for 24 hours, nights where I stayed up transcribing, staring at the unsightly bright screen on my laptop until my eyes felt like they’d fall out of their sockets, and nights where I didn’t know how I’d get out of bed the next morning. Still, I did it, and I’m now a second-year journalism student at Grady!

Meeting good people

I met so many awesome people! I met one of my best friends (and future roommate), Joy, at Grady. The first time I saw her was at orientation. All of the incoming grad. students were there and we all introduced ourselves to the group. I heard her say she’s from Virginia and knew I wanted to talk to her. Not to mention there were only about four black people in the room, so it was nice to see someone else who looks like me there.

I also started working with wonderful people. My boss, Melissa, is amazing. She’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. It’s always a pleasure going to work and seeing her come in. I know it’s going to be a good day if she’s there.

Building my confidence

This year, my confidence has skyrocketed. I used to worry about being behind everyone else, or not knowing as much as them. However, we’re all in the same boat. I’m just as smart and as capable as those around me.

Most of my classmates and I come from different backgrounds, and we’re all taking the same courses, doing the same assignments, and facing the same challenges.

When we first started classes at UGA, we were told that as graduate students, we’d need each other. This is so true. We’ve actually helped each other a lot this semester, whether that’s through encouraging words, help finding sources, equipment, etc.

We’re like our own little team of journalists. We support one another, and I’m grateful for that.

Making the decision to come to the University of Georgia was the best thing I could’ve done. This has been a year of “firsts” for me. Athens is the first place I’ve ever lived outside of Virginia. I flew by myself for the first time from Georgia to Virginia, and also from Georgia to Amsterdam and Prague. I got published for the first time last semester as well.

I don’t want this to be the end of my “firsts” streak. There’s so much more that I want to do and see, and I’m glad I made the decision to have these experiences at the University of Georgia.

To celebrate the completion of my first year of graduate school, I have attached some of my favorite photos, complete with friends, food, mirror selfies and photos from trips home to VA!




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