Seniors, it's ok to take a break

graduation
alumni
#1

Hello, I’m an alumni from 2015. I’m here with unsolicited advice, but I hope it will reach some people who needed to hear it.

As we all know, FIRST can be all-consuming, and you might be tired after a long competition season. You might feel like you have given your team your all and you have nothing left. You might also feel like you don’t know what to do without FIRST, because it has been your focus for so long. You might be relieved the season is over, or you might miss it already. And whatever you are doing next year, you have probably heard FIRST say they want you to be active alumni.

An active and connected alumni base is super important, and there are tons of fantastic alumni mentors and volunteers who love sharing their experiences and expertise with current students, and FIRST wouldn’t be the same without them. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about you, seniors.

I’m going to gently encourage you to take a break from FIRST. Not forever, not completely. Just a little. Go to college or work and make new friends. Learn how to cook. Pick up a new hobby. Learn more about yourself outside of robotics. Take care of yourself and your grades and your relationships. FIRST will still be here, and we will still need you, but it’s ok to take time to grow a little independent first.

And this is coming from my experience: In my junior year of high school, I realized I was so focused on robotics that I wasn’t taking good care of myself or my friends. I didn’t know who I was outside of being team captain. This improved slightly my senior year, but I knew I just needed a break. I went to college and decided not to mentor. I didn’t volunteer the first year, but after that I did volunteer at a couple events each year. It was weird, I really missed my team and the focus that it brought to my life. However, by taking this break I was able to excel in all my classes (my grades slid every year during build season) and I had time to just hang out with friends (as opposed to going home exhausted every night). Finally, I think I learned a lot about myself and grew as a person during my time off, and I think I am more ready to mentor because of it. I do fully intend to mentor a team in the next few years, and to continue volunteering.

I just wanted to share my experience and hopefully let people know that self-care is important and stepping away is a completely valid life choice, whether you feel burnt out or not. Much love and best of luck to everyone starting their journeys! Feel free to share your story.

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#2

I like this a lot. To add a bit, try to take at least a semester/quarter. By the time March rolls around, you might be itching to get back in it and want to volunteer at events and I think that is completely reasonable. Just give yourself at least a pre-season and a build season (if that’s still a thing) off.

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#3

This is some of the best advice I’ve seen on this site. Take some time for self exploration. There’s a wonderful world outside of FIRST for you to experience. You’ll become a better and wiser person from the journey, and when (if) you do come back, the program and students will benefit from your new expertise and wisdom.

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#4

I guess this is good advice, as I was just about to go into college and I was looking for other teams to help out with during build season on weekends. And so I emailed a team near the college I’m going to and they simply said no because education is important and they won’t let me mentor until I finish 2 years of college. I never thought of the dedication I’d need to put in if I had to mentor a team and the effort it would take.

Instead I decided to just help out my old team during the brainstorm session when I’m home for The break and go to the comps with them.

#5

I would suggest finding your college’s SAE team(s). If the real world is MLB, FRC is Class AA, and SAE (and the other collegiate competitions) are Class AAA.

It’s easy to lock into “Oh, robotics, I know what I’m doing, I’m fine, I’ll just stay there”. But… now’s a chance to stretch yourself. Learn something new–in a completely different area. Maybe two or three… You never know where you’ll find a passion you didn’t know you had.

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#6

I’m gonna join the FSAE team. I’m looking forward to it especially when the [college] mascot is a slug🤣.

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#7

Make sure you put the wings on right side up. They’re supposed to LIFT you up, not push you down!

–SDSM&T Aero Design to Hardrocker Racing (SAE Aero Design and FSAE, respectively)

1 Like
#8

Nice post!
Another 2015 alumni here.
Taking a break is very important.
I continued with my team ever since I became an alumni. In my first year of mentorship I was very active and arrived every single day through the season. It was very exsausting and did nothing except building robots all day. Not to say that it wasn’t fun and all, but we all have life out of FIRST too.
After that year I decided FIRST is a big part of my life, but I do have other things to do. And trust me, even an alumni who shows up only during weekends or twice a week is still very appreciated by the team.
Also, a thing that helps, if you are an alumni who mostly help the team in some specific fields like programming, fundraising, etc, like me, stay in touch with the team members to know when they are planning to be active on those fields during the season. That way you won’t end up like, showing up just to say “Hi” and then “Who needs a ride home?”.

#9

A strong second to this sentiment. Dialing my FRC participation way back and participating in FSAE, ChemE Car, and other collegiate competitions broadened my horizons substantially.

#10

I absolutely love this post.

One additional piece of advice that I try to give the graduating seniors:

You’re going to lose touch with some of your friends, and that is OK. Staying in touch with people is hard. But, you’re going to make new friends and find new interests as you grow in life.

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#11

I’m a 2017 alumni who never thought I’d take a break from FIRST. I went to Kettering University fully expecting to mentor one of the teams in the community center, but ultimately decided to wait a bit. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Only after a year and a half did I jump back in, helping to start an FTC team. Taking a break is not just okay, it’s something you should do for yourself. Focus on academics, social life outside of FIRST, and having fun at college, or wherever you end up.

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#12

Hello, fellow Kettering Student. Way to go making a hard decision! Kettering is a super hard place to mentor as a student because of the semester schedule. When/if you wind up mentoring an FRC team, I hope you consider helping out one of the Kettering teams with fewer resources. I’ve been talking to some of the mentors there who say they have a really hard time getting and keeping technical mentors on their teams, while just a couple of the teams there have lots of alumni and professional mentors. I’ve just moved out of state, but if you stay around the Flint area you could really make a difference for a team like that.

#13

I was a college mentor my freshman through junior year before taking my senior year off to get my life in order. Looking back now I wish I flipped that or even took a different path. I met some awesome people while I was a college mentor and got to stay in touch with people I was friends with, but I sucked as a mentor. Like looking back at it now, adult me would have hated working with me. I think the transition from student to mentor is really hard and full of all kinds of pitfalls that you can never prepare for. I have worked with some awesome college mentors who are way smarter than me, shout out to my friend and fellow mentor @Chadfrom308. Not every college student that mentors is going to fail or be bad, but it is also very hard to provide true teaching and mentoring to students when you are just a couple years older than them.

Even after graduating it took me a while to feel like I was stable in my personal and professional life to be able to provide the kind of mentoring and support that I think mentors should strive for. I took five years off of actively mentoring and working with a team before this season. I hung around by volunteering in VEX and helping with small projects for people I had met through the program. It helped shape my sensibility and hearing people like @Ryan_Dognaux, @Akash_Rastogi, @Jim_Zondag, @AllenGregoryIV and @Karthik talk about FIRST and their involvement provided me with a new perspective on how mentoring could work that I definitely didn’t have when I was in college.

I am struggling because one of our graduating seniors is going to our local university and he is one of the brightest and hardworking students I have ever met. He will someday be a great mentor and he has mentioned that he wants to be a mentor. It is tough to turn away someone that talented but I am hoping we can convince him to take a year or two so he can get his footing and learn some things before he comes back as a mentor.

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#14

A college student coming back to mentor for their old team is even harder. It’s hard for the college student to see themselves as being in a different role than they were before and it’s even harder for the other students to see them as a mentor.

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#15

I made friends for life through Purdue FIRST mentoring 1646 but looking back I was not a great mentor in the sense of being able to teach students. I was still learning a lot myself (and I still am :slight_smile: ) I’d still do it all over again because of the kids we helped but mentoring in college isn’t for most people.

100% recommend taking time to enjoy your college experience. There’s a big world outside of FIRST - definitely take some time to experience it. FIRST isn’t going anywhere, it’ll still be here waiting for you if you decide to return.

I get the feeling sometimes that FIRST really pushes people almost in a guilt-trip sort of way to mentor or give back. Take some time for yourself. There are way more important things in life than robots, let yourself experience them.

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#16

We appreciate FIRST Alumni returning to the team as mentors. Six of our eighteen mentors were on an FRC team while in high school.
However, we require a two year break between graduating and mentoring. It gives them a break from robotics. Allows them “find their way,” and mature a little.

It’s sometime difficult for returning alumni to separate themselves from the members; to remember that they are not on the team, but mentor the team.

1 Like
#17

I would recommend volunteering for events while in college, rather than returning to your team just for events/kickoff.

You’ll be more helpful to more teams, gain an interesting perspective on the other side of FIRST, and it’ll probably take up less of your time. And it’s still lots of fun! I made some really good friends through volunteering, and learned many things I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.

Events are always looking for volunteers, and it’s a great way for fresh alums to remain involved without affecting grades.

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#18

Someone should link JVN’s blog post about mentoring in college (I can’t access it at work)

#19

This one?

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#20

This is exactly why we have a 2-year wait between graduating and mentoring.
Sometimes even a 2-year wait isn’t enough. I’ve seen alumni who feel that FRC was the best part of their school lives and want to continue that high.
That confuses and frustrates the members…is this person a mentor or part of the team membership?