Back to the Future: What I Wish I Could Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

April 1, 2019

Like most 20 year olds, I thought I had my whole life mapped out at that age: From my job as a TV-news producer in my hometown market of Cincinnati, I would climb to a network role in New York City.

I wound up leaving TV news for a long career in health care public relations. Later I started adjunct teaching, first for Butler University in Indianapolis, and then full-time for Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Today, I’m a PR professor at Texas Tech University in West Texas. And I don’t have any regrets.

As I chat with people who are contemplating career transitions of their own, I share the advice I wish I could have given myself before I left college. I’ve learned that whether you’re a journalist making the switch to public relations, or a PR practitioner learning a new sector or considering teaching, all of these careers have the same foundation. In any of these fields, seek to be understood and remember to never stop learning.

Build and maintain a solid foundation.

Careers in journalism, public relations and academia all require traits that are easily transferrable. You need strong writing ability, ethical standards and “soft skills” such as interpersonal communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, time management and tenacity.

When I was an impressionable high school intern, the smartest advice I received was from news anchor Nick Clooney (yes, George’s dad), who said, “Learn how to write and the technology will follow.” Today, I encourage my students to write, write often and write in a variety of different content styles. Employers continue to rank writing as the top skill they require.

Ethics are also crucial for journalists, PR pros and college professors. Every industry has its standards, but maintaining your personal and professional integrity will carry you from one career path to another. Likewise, employers are now more direct in their search for soft skills that transcend industries and job titles.

Connect the dots.

The next lesson I learned was to communicate the benefits I would bring to a new position or career. When I wanted to move into teaching, I shared how I had mentored, advised and taught colleagues during informal brown-bag lunches, volunteered as an APR session instructor and guest-lectured in a college class. Tying those experiences together allowed me to articulate a teaching philosophy that was transferrable to academia.

Always learn.

Being a lifelong learner keeps me curious and current, allowing me to better teach my students, support client goals and relate to my teenager. Formal or informal, there are many ways to absorb new information — by staying abreast of current events, reading great new books, seeking your APR, or completing a graduate degree.

Continuous learning not only helps prepare you for career changes, but it can also benefit your health and longevity.

Any transition — whether switching jobs, changing careers or moving across the country — can be a huge undertaking. But by preparing yourself and remembering that your foundational skills translate into other options, you will have a strong beginning.

Debbie Davis, Ed.D., ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

Debbie Davis, Ed.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, is an award-winning educator, communications practitioner and former TV-news producer. As an assistant professor of practice at Texas Tech University, she brings extensive communications experience from health care and Fortune 500 corporations to the classroom. Contact her at


J.W. Arnold, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Sage advice. I think the emphasis on life-long learning is so important—especially as we work within a profession that is profoundly affected by new developments in technology practically every day.

April 2, 2019

Andy Klotz, APR says:

Spot on with all these insights, Debbie. We miss you in Hoosierland, and I know Ball State does, too. Enjoy Final Four weekend!

April 3, 2019

Deborah A. Davis, Ed.D., APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Thank you, both! Miss you too, Andy!

April 5, 2019

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