New York Times Insider has a fascinating piece by Gretchen Morgenson on how she broke into journalism, switched to a Wall Street job, and parleyed her “workingman’s M.B.A.” into a position as a finance columnist for the Paper of Record. It’s a model of the job-hunt process I described this week to students pondering their futures.

In my last week as a journalism teacher at Auburn University this week, I advised my students about how to hunt for journalism jobs. The venn diagram for this is one circle consisting of “Great jobs” and another consisting of “Great places to live.” One hopes you’d be able to find a job where the circles overlap. If not, you have to decide which is more important and work your way toward a position in which you are able to have both.

How do you get a job at the New York Times? Your first option is to be so good they can’t ignore you right now because you have your professors’ highest recommendations, you’ve had one or more prestigious internships, and have the skills, talent and drive to succeed at the Times right now. If you haven’t done all that, then you need to become so good they can’t ignore you. That includes finding out where the Times hires from and what skills and experience they want you to have, then do all you can to attain them.

Building a career in journalism works a lot like a baseball player working one’s way up through the minor leagues to the majors. If you’re pretty good but inexperienced, you can move from Single-A to Double-A to Triple-A to the Major Leagues incrementally. For me, that meant a few years in Double-A (papers with circulations between 20,000 and 42,000) to Triple A (a paper around 80,000 circulation) to the majors (where I finally started earning something approximating middle-class pay).

It also helps to start with the goal in mind.

When I started out, I wanted to work at the Des Moines Register or the Oregonian. So I found out the “feeders,” papers that were stepping stones to them, then made it my mission to get good enough that my work would be noticed and I could move up.

Funny things happen on the way to your destination, though. Your goals can change.

I discovered I liked being a big cog in a smaller machine in a more laid-back Western culture rather than a little cog in a big machine in a more formal work culture. Realizing that led me to leave Des Moines after I got there as a senior copy editor and go to the Santa Fe New Mexican, which I sincerely believe was the best community newspaper in the United States in the years I was there. When an editor at the Oregonian asked if I’d like to work there, I was too in love with what I was doing in Santa Fe to leave.

So you never know how your goals will change. Doing well for myself was important to me from the start, but doing good for others through journalism became too important for me to want to leave New Mexico at that time.

The American Dream is to better one’s condition throughout life. Morgenson shows you can do a lot of good for others while doing well. Her example shows you don’t always arrive at your ultimate destination on your first try. Life is full of transitions.

Speaking of transitions, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge one of my own. I taught my last sessions at Auburn University this week, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my great students and colleagues at Auburn University. It’s been gratifying to see how much so many journalism students have grown in my time here.

For my next chapter, I’m on my way to the Motor City to take a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at Wayne State University, where I’ll be joining some old friends from my M.A. days at the Missouri School of Journalism and making a whole bunch of new friends in a program that’s deeply committed to hard news and diversity. Detroit has a great, innovative culture, and in teaching Multimedia Journalism this semester, the innovation bug bit me HARD.

Thanks, Auburn, for hiring me out of my doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and giving me the opportunity to grow as a teacher and scholar. I’ll always have a warm place in my heart for the Loveliest Village on the Plains.