Specialist? Who, me?

Just yesterday I was training about 20 people on how they can provide student counselling in their subject associations. At this point I have to wonder what gives me the expertise to go around stating these “truths”. Who am I to tell others how they should handle their positions of trust?

My third year as a student union employee began at the turn of the year, and I can still remember how afraid I was when my predecessor was introducing me to my future tasks. You’re telling me I should be able to discuss with the university staff on how the students feel mistreated and tell them how to develop their education? Granted, I had already been a student representative and on the board of my guild for several years and in that way in touch with the university staff already. I still didn’t feel like that experience made me a specialist in any field.

For the entire first year I was scared that my incompetence would show in my tasks, and I still wonder sometimes whether I’m really qualified enough to do my job. Since the universities merged, occasional cases of student counselling soon turned into regular contacts. Working with them has begun to feel natural. Maybe I have what it takes after all. Each settled counselling case, regardless of the outcome, gives me more experience and builds on my expertise.

I initially joined the student union with the title Secretary for Educational Affairs. When the merger approached, the title was changed from secretary to specialist. Sure, it sounds more impressive in a résumé, but calling myself a specialist in a job I had done for less than a year sounded really pompous. Am I a specialist, what does it even mean to be a specialist, and can you become a specialist in the blink of an eye?

I still wonder sometimes whether I’m really a specialist or whether anyone should listen to my advice. But after every workday I still have the happy feeling that I’m in the right place right now. Every day as a specialist in the student union strengthens my belief that no one else but you can perfectly define your expertise. If you don’t feel like a specialist yourself, no degree certificate can help you in that. Being a specialist is kind of a frame of mind.

Finally, I’d like to say that expertise isn’t a constant. It’s a state of continuous learning that doesn’t define you but opens doors for new possibilities. Questioning your own expertise isn’t a weakness in my book either because it’s more of an opportunity to find new ways to improve. So, do I consider myself a specialist? It depends on the day and the moment when you ask me.