How to Study at University

Practical tips and general thoughts on how to study at a Western university

Find out your future playing Gypsy Queen Slot Machine with high stakes.

Practice doesn’t make perfect

Posted on | December 28, 2011 | No Comments

Point: Prepare for tests by practising writing answers

Exams test two things.

They test what you know; and they test what you can do with what you know.

Most students – and maybe you – prepare for only one of these two aspects of tests. They – and maybe you – work very hard to know as much as possible. That’s great. Learn as much as you can before the test.

But a test is something you do.

Your lecturer is not going to open your brain and look in to see what is there. I hope!

In any case, simply having knowledge is not much good if you can’t do things with it.

So your lecturer asks you questions, and you respond.

Practise practising

Which means, of course, that when you prepare for a test you not only learn as much as you can but you also practise responding to questions. Don’t you? Yes, of course, you do. You would be silly not to.

Just to be clear, by ‘practise’ I mean you sit down with a question and you write an answer in the same time you will have in the exam.

In order to do this well, you will have to do a few things first.

  • Find out how long you have to answer an exam question. (Ask your lecturer.)
  • Find some typical exam questions. (Look at past exam papers, or ask your lecturer.)
  • Find a quiet desk that you can occupy for the right length of time.
  • Have a watch or some other way of keeping time.
  • Have a strong enough will to do it and to stick to the allowed time.

It’s obvious

When you think about it, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? You don’t prepare for a tennis match just by reading about tennis. You also practise. You don’t prepare for a driving test just by learning the road code. You also practise. And you don’t prepare for a history or mathematics or engineering or sociology test just by reading in those subjects. You also practise.

Don’t worry that you might write a bad answer when you practise. The main point of the exercise is to get used to the conditions of the test. Do your best, of course, but there is another benefit of practising writing tests. You learn what you don’t know.

After practising a test, you will put your pen down and say to yourself, “I should have done better. I didn’t know enough about X or Y or Z.” And then you will go away and learn more about X, Y and/or Z.

That’s efficient study, isn’t it!

They say practice makes perfect. They may be right, if you have loads of time and you practise a lot, but even then I can’t guarantee it.

I say practice makes better.

And that I can guarantee!

(akeeris)

My one hundredth

Posted on | December 16, 2011 | 4 Comments

Point: A few thoughts on life

This is my one hundredth post.

So I’m going to go a little crazy and celebrate. And the way I am going to celebrate is to have a few big thoughts. Crazy, eh! Perhaps I should get a life.

In academia we spend so much time looking at details – for good reason; I have nothing against details; well, not much anyway – that we can forget to let our minds float. To let them rise up and look down on what we are doing. To put our life and study and work into perspective.

So here goes.

Big Thought Number 1

My first big thought is that we very rarely find what we are looking for.

Okay, if you lose a pen or your purse you may find it if you look for it. But think about this: If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, were you looking for him or her – exactly that person – when you found him or her? If you did have an image of your future lover, I bet it wasn’t of your current boyfriend or girlfriend.

If you say you were looking for love and you found it, I will say, “Is the love you have now exactly how you imagined it would be?” Can you say, honestly, that it is? Or is it even better?

What about happiness? Do you find happiness by looking for it? Or do you find it by forgetting about it and then realising that it had arrived while you were doing something else? Something that occupied all your attention, such as playing or watching sport, or reading a novel, or helping someone, or doing your work or study to the best of your abilities.

This is not uncommon. Many of the big discoveries that changed our lives forever were never meant to be big discoveries. They were small ones meant to solve small problems (pasteurisation; post-it notes; stainless steel). Or they were accidental discoveries made while the searcher was looking for something else (penicillin; the microwave oven; America).

Big Thought Number 2

Here’s my next big thought. The future you can imagine for yourself is so much less interesting than the future that you will actually have.

The future you can imagine is based on what you know. It’s a version of your past. But the future you will have is based on what you don’t know. And, believe me, there is a heck of a lot you don’t know! Especially about the future.

Big Thought Number 3

So my third and last big thought – at least for today – is that while you have to plan for the future and look for what you can imagine, keep your eyes open for opportunities that you could never imagine, and be prepared to change your plans to grasp those opportunities.

Is life a journey? No, not really. A journey has a plan and a destination. You may think you know your life plan and destination but because of Big Ideas Numbers 1 & 2 above, your thinking is almost certainly wrong.

No, life is an exploration. If you stay awake you will discover new things every day. Be prepared! Expect to be surprised. Stay nimble. Expect to change your plans. Learn to know the difference between small distractions and real opportunities.

So, I hope my floating mind made a little sense today.

If it didn’t, then all I basically want to say is …

This!

I really wish you all the best with your studies, your future, and your life!

And don’t forget to enjoy the exploration!

(graur razvan ionut)

Being human – Part 2

Posted on | November 28, 2011 | No Comments

Point: Use theories to explain facts

In Part 1 I gave you two introductions to an essay* and asked you to decide which was more academic. The question was Why did Japan and Germany become allies in peace and war?

I wanted you to think about the focus of each introduction. Was it on the facts, or on how theories or people view the facts?

I will give you the paragraphs once more to save you the bother of going back to Part 1 again. (You’re welcome!)

Introduction 1

Japan’s foreign policy from the beginning of the 20th Century until the early 1920’s was principally based on its alliance with Great Britain. Although a partner of allied powers in the Great War, its role was not appreciated at Versailles. The Japanese were denied rights to migrate to the USA and Australia, their exports abroad were restricted and in 1921 Britain broke its alliance with Japan. These facts coupled with the decision of the Washington conference to reduce the Japanese Navy to 60% of American and British fleets developed not only bitterness in Japan but also a feeling of isolation. These were some of the underlying reasons why they chose to enter into an alliance with the Germans.

Introduction 2

Was Japan’s alliance with Germany inevitable? On this question, historians have offered very divergent interpretations. Some have argued that the ideological developments in the two countries in the 1930’s naturally brought the two countries together to form a powerful and aggressive alliance. Other accounts, however, have viewed the creation of the axis as the consequence of the failure of Western diplomacy, particularly of Britain and the US. In this essay, I will analyse the events leading to the formation of the alliance and will argue that it was principally the West’s disregard of the interests of an emergent Japan that more than anything else led to its fatal joining with Nazi Germany with all the tragic consequences this would subsequently have for the world.

And the winner is …

I am guessing here, but you probably picked the second introduction as being more academic, right? (Even if you didn’t, say yes anyway.)

But can you explain why?

There is a lot I could say about these two passages but I’ll restrict myself to only two points.

My first point

Look at what the sentences are about in each paragraph. In the first paragraph, the sentences are about such things as Japan’s foreign policy, Japan’s role in the First World War, Japan’s exports, and Britain. In other words, they are about facts. (In fact, ‘these facts’ are actually mentioned as the subject of one sentence!)

Now look at the second paragraph. What are those sentences about? They are about Japan’s alliance with Germany (a fact) but then they are about what ‘historians’, ‘other accounts’, and ‘I’ say. In other words, they are about people and viewpoints.

Look back at the first paragraph. What kinds of actions are described? They are mainly actions related to the real world, to facts; forming and breaking alliances, denying rights, restricting exports.

What kind of actions appear in the second paragraph? They are mostly actions of the mind, or mental work; interpreting, arguing, viewing, and analysing.

Your lecturer knows the facts. He or she also wants to know if you know the facts. But more than that, your lecturer wants to know if you know how different people and theories interpret the facts.

So my first point is: An academic essay is usually about how theories and people interpret facts.

My second point

Did you notice the little word ‘I’ in the second paragraph? Are you surprised? Have you been told not to use this word in your academic essay?

But have you also been told to have your own stance or point of view on an essay topic?

How can you express your opinion without using the word ‘I’?

Good question.

I will now make two preliminary points to my second point.

My first preliminary point to my second point

Students are told not to use ‘I’ because when they begin to write essays at university they tend to do it too much. It is important to learn how to express an opinion without using ‘I’.

My second preliminary point to my second point

If you look at Introduction 2 again you will (I hope) notice that the actions that ‘I’ does (analyse and argue) are similar to the actions of ‘historians’ and ‘other accounts’ (interpret, argue, view). In other words, you are simply naming yourself as doing similar things as others. If you can name others who argue, why can’t you name yourself as arguing, too? (Good point!)

Two places where you can use ‘I’ are in the introduction and conclusion of your essay where you state what kind of mental work you will do (or did).

So my second point is: You can use ‘I’ sometimes because you are just as human as other academics.

You have just as much right to express your opinion as they do. In fact, you should express your opinion. Whether other humans take notice of you, however, will depend on how well you present and support your opinion.

And how well you use theories!

* Excerpts and ideas taken with thanks from Moore, T. (2007). The ‘processes’ of learning: On the use of Halliday’s transitivity in academic skills advising. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 6 (50) p50-73.

(digitalart)

Being human – Part 1

Posted on | November 22, 2011 | No Comments

Point: Use theories to explain facts

We are pattern-seeking animals.

A few weeks after we are born we recognise that a certain pattern of lines and shapes is our mother’s face.

We look at the stars and see animals or figures outlined in them.

We look at events in history or business or geology or medicine or any field and find patterns of cause and effect or some other relationship. We try to, anyway. Because we are human and humans love patterns. We want order and reason in our world instead of randomness.

And the people who love finding patterns more than any others are probably academics. In that sense, academics, those people who can spend so much time and effort on the most obscure details of their obscure subject (I’m looking at you, Linguists), may actually be the most human kind of human. (I know; hard to believe, isn’t it?)

Academic patterns

The word that academics use for pattern is theory. A theory is an attempt to explain parts of the world. They are like glasses to help you see the world more clearly.

Theories come, and then go when a new theory explains the world better. Two, three or more theories can compete at the same time until one pulls ahead for awhile. And what they compete in is explanatory power, the power to explain the facts being studied and to be used to explain other similar facts.

In more applied fields such as engineering or accounting or dentistry, theories may be called best practice but best practices come and go and compete with other practices too.

Theories and you

Theories, in case you missed my point, are very, very important in academia. So they are very, very important for you.

When you are writing an essay, your lecturer doesn’t just want to know if you know the facts, or even what facts may cause other facts. Your lecturer wants to know if you can use a theory to explain why certain facts may cause other facts. It’s even better if you can find more than one theory and compare how well they explain the facts; compare their explanatory power.

I’m going to give you two essay introductions* and let you decide which looks more academic. Which essay looks like it will use theories to explain the facts being studied. The field is history and the question is Why did Japan and Germany become allies in peace and war?

Introduction 1

Japan’s foreign policy from the beginning of the 20th Century until the early 1920’s was principally based on its alliance with Great Britain. Although a partner of allied powers in the Great War, its role was not appreciated at Versailles. The Japanese were denied rights to migrate to the USA and Australia, their exports abroad were restricted and in 1921 Britain broke its alliance with Japan. These facts coupled with the decision of the Washington conference to reduce the Japanese Navy to 60% of American and British fleets developed not only bitterness in Japan but also a feeling of isolation. These were some of the underlying reasons why they chose to enter into an alliance with the Germans.

Introduction 2

Was Japan’s alliance with Germany inevitable? On this question, historians have offered very divergent interpretations. Some have argued that the ideological developments in the two countries in the 1930’s naturally brought the two countries together to form a powerful and aggressive alliance. Other accounts, however, have viewed the creation of the axis as the consequence of the failure of Western diplomacy, particularly of Britain and the US. In this essay, I will analyse the events leading to the formation of the alliance and will argue that it was principally the West’s disregard of the interests of an emergent Japan that more than anything else led to its fatal joining with Nazi Germany with all the tragic consequences this would subsequently have for the world.

What do you think?

In Part 2, I will look at these two paragraphs again and pick out a couple of interesting points. But if you look at them closely yourself maybe you will see some patterns in them first, without my help. Why not have a go! You’re human, after all. It’s what you do.

See you in Part 2!

* Taken from Moore, T. (2007). The ‘processes’ of learning: On the use of Halliday’s transitivity in academic skills advising. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 6 (50) p50-73.

(digitalart)

Cite seeing

Posted on | November 10, 2011 | No Comments

Point: Learn when to cite

 

Some of you do it too much; some of you don’t do it enough. And when you do it, most of you, I suspect, do it wrong.

What can ‘it’ be?

Talking to your mother? Maybe.

Brushing your teeth? Possibly.

Citing sources in your essay? Definitely!

If you ever learned about citing and referencing, you probably learned how to do it. You probably learned that there was a referencing style – like Harvard, APA or Chicago – that you should use. You learned how to cite in the middle of your essay and how to reference at the end of it. Even though you still make mistakes, at least you were told and you tried to learn how to do it correctly.

But if that’s all you learned, it’s like learning how to brush your teeth but not learning when to do it.

There are times when you should brush your teeth – before you go to bed, for instance – and there are times when you should not – before you eat dinner. (It’s a waste of good toothpaste to do it before dinner, right?)

When and when not to

So when should you cite and when should you not cite?

I will say first that there is a grey area where some people say Cite! and other people say Don’t cite! Which is fine. I like grey areas. That’s where the most interesting discussions happen. I’ll leave you to find out where they are by yourself.

Here I’ll look at when you should probably cite. And by when I also mean why because if you know why you cite it will help you know when to cite.

I will give you four of the 11 main reasons to cite (Harwood, 2010). Did you see what I did there? I cited! And that is an example of my first reason,

which is …

1. To credit. That is, to acknowledge that someone else had the idea or used the method before you. There are two aspects to this. You want to pay respect to that person, but you might also want to prevent your readers from accusing you of not knowing what happened before you.

2. To signpost, or point the reader to where they can find more information. You might, for example, want to use a concept but don’t want to leave the line of your argument to explain the concept in full. So you say you will use it and tell the reader that they can learn more about it in another publication.

3. To support. Sources can be used to support what you say. Remember, in your essay it is you that is speaking. An essay is not a collection of things that other people said. It is your thesis, your argument, your justification, and your conclusion. Other people are used to support you. This support comes in two main forms; research findings, and the opinions of respected authorities.

4. To identify positions. If there are different viewpoints on a topic, you may be able to refer to them by citing well-known advocates of those viewpoints. For example, you could say that, “Some people believe you should brush your teeth three times a day (Dracula, 1897; Wolfman, 1967) while others believe once a month is enough (Quasimodo, 1482; Gollum, 1937).” Then you can refer to followers of Dracula, or those in the Quasimodo school.

I know this won’t answer all your questions about when to cite but I hope it’s a start. If you want to know more, I have signposted you to the reference below.

Like a lot things in life, you will get a better feel for it as you do it more, as you write more essays. And, importantly, as you read more articles.

The more citations you see, the more you will understand when to use them yourself.

Reference

Harwood, N. (2010). Research-based materials to demystify academic citation for postgraduates. In N. Harwood (ed.). English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

(Stuart Miles)

Understanding understanding

Posted on | November 4, 2011 | 2 Comments

Point: Understand relationships to help you to remember

Do you remember things easily?

You remember some things but not others, right? That’s natural. It’s often said – possibly even by you – that people remember the things that interest them most. And forget the things that don’t.

So you remember who is in your favourite sports team, the lyrics to certain songs, how to bake apple pie, and your boyfriend’s birthday (unless you’re not much interested in your boyfriend).

And you forget to clean your room.

At university there are times when you have to remember things and, let’s face it, some of those things might not be very interesting. It happens.

So how can you remember something that doesn’t interest you much?

One way, the best way, is to understand it. Deep understanding is always better than shallow memorising if you want to remember things.

Understanding is … ?

An important part of understanding something is knowing its relationships. This also applies to people. If you know your friend well you also know about their family, who their favourite musician is, what food they like, where they live. When you meet someone for the first time you only know what you see before you. As you get to know them, you begin to learn about their relationships to the rest of the world.

Understanding things like SWOT analyses or metal strength or chemical reactions or contract law or cloud formation or semantics – anything, in other words, that you study at university – means learning about their relationships to the rest of the world. If you learn about these relationships, if you understand the thing you are studying, you will remember it far more easily.

There are many kinds of relationships a person or thing can have. Some are

  • Causes (What caused it?)
  • Effects (What did or does it cause?)
  • Problems (What problems does it present?)
  • Solutions (What problems does it solve?)
  • Time (What else happened at the same time?)
  • Location (What else happened at the same place?)
  • Resemblance (What looks, sounds, tastes like it?)
  • Resonance (What mood or memories does it provoke?)
  • Associations (When you think of it, what other thoughts occur to you?)
  • Attraction (What likes or dislikes it? What does it like or dislike?)
  • People (Who has written or researched about it?)
  • Etc.

Come back! Are you running away from this long list? Well, don’t. You don’t have to find all these relationships for everything you want to understand. It’s just a list to let you know how many possible relationships there are, and how easy it is to find them. It’s actually a good thing.

Do this

In the centre of a page of notepaper, write down the name of the thing.

Then look at the list above and jot down whatever words they make you think of about the thing. Brainstorm. You don’t have to draw clear links between the words (yet anyway) but you might want to write words that have a closer relationship closer together on the paper.

I have done a basic one here on language learner autonomy. I did it in a couple of minutes and I can already see possible relationships that I didn’t see before.

Just the process of brainstorming – just one brain storming on one piece of paper – can help you remember better, especially if you are a visual person but I think it works even if you are not. I’m not and it works for me.

Not new but nice

This is not a new technique. Brainstorming is used in many fields for different purposes. One of the nicest I have heard of was described by the English poet Ted Hughes. He said that we have lots of interesting thoughts but they flit through our heads and are hard to pin down. We need to catch those ideas, and writing formal sentences is not the best way. He recommended looking steadily at an object for five minutes and then spending the next ten minutes jotting down everything you saw and everything the object suggested to you.

Then go and write a poem about it.

So I’ll leave you there to brainstorm and understand and easily remember your university subjects.

Because I suddenly feel inspired.

I’m off to write a poem about language learner autonomy!

(digitalart)

Imagine a perfect essay

Posted on | October 27, 2011 | No Comments

Point: Imagine your essay before you research or write it 

When you look at a red dress or a blue shirt can you imagine yourself wearing it?

When you look at a room can you imagine what it would look like with different coloured walls and different furniture?

Can you, like Robert Kennedy, “dream of things that never were and say why not”?

I sometimes have trouble doing this. When people have good ideas I usually recognise that they are good, and can sometimes – but not always – even imagine the ideas in reality. But I find it much harder to come up with original ideas myself, to dream of things that never were.

I blame my imagination. But only a little, because even imaginations – even my imagination – can be trained.

Imagine your essay

When you get an essay topic, can you imagine what the final essay will look like? Can you imagine what will be in the essay?

I don’t mean can you imagine the details – the actual facts and figures you will put in the essay. I mean, can you imagine the kind of facts and figures that you need to put there to answer the question?

Some people write an essay in this order.

  1. Look at the essay question.
  2. Do some research and find some information on the question.
  3. Write an essay based on the information.

These people do not do focussed research. They read whatever seems related to the question. Then, when they think they have found enough sources, they write their essay based on those sources. If they are lucky they might have found some good information. But what usually happens is that they try to squeeze barely related information into an essay with a quite different focus.

A much better order is this.

  1. Look at the essay question.
  2. Imagine the essay. What specific information do you need to write it?
  3. Do some research to find that specific information.
  4. Write the imagined essay.

This is focussed research. No luck is involved here. You are looking for specific information and if you don’t find it (and if you still have time) you continue looking until you do.

Imagining what a good essay should look like is a great help in deciding what research you should do.

For example …

Let’s look at some examples of steps 2. and 3.

1. Explain the differences between direct network effects, indirect network effects, and tariff-mediated network effects.

Imagine the essay. What specific information do you need to write it?

  • Descriptions of the differences between the three network effects.

So what research do you need to do?

  • You need to find discussions and examples of the differences between the three network effects.

2. With reference to the literature, evaluate the impact that a particular life stage may have on an individual.

Imagine the essay. What specific information do you need to write it?

  • Writers and theories on life stages (the literature)
  • Examples of the impact of one life stage on an individual

So what research do you need to do?

  • You need to find writers and theories on life stages. (You will then need to choose one life stage.)
  • You need to find examples of the impact of your chosen life stage on an individual.

This is much more focussed research. You are not just reading anything on life stages, you are only reading about the theories on and the impact of one life stage.

One more.

3. Which would you favour in terms of an antipoverty tool: an increase in the minimum wage or an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit?

Imagine the essay. What specific information do you need to write it?

  • The effects on poverty of an increase in the minimum wage.
  • The effects on poverty of an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So what research do you need to do?

  • You need to find research or authoritative comment on the two effects on poverty.

And then you need to compare the effects and decide which you favour.

Be easy on yourself

Imagination is a wonderful thing.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the brilliant German author, said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.” I wouldn’t go that far myself (although I admit I am a little less brilliant). There are some things that I can imagine that I know I will never achieve. Like flying to the moon.

But I would say that if you can imagine it, it is much easier to achieve it. So if you spend a little time imagining your essay before you do anything – imagining what information you will need, and how it will look on the page – it will be much easier to research and write it.

Imagine that!

(Idea go)

Building knowledge

Posted on | October 20, 2011 | No Comments

Point: A major purpose of seminars is to construct knowledge

Here’s a deep question: Where does knowledge come from?

Does it come from books? Or lecturers? Does it come from personal experience? Or from your rumply old grandfather, the one who lived a hard life, smokes a lot and always has a story to tell.

This really is a deep question and it deserves a full response. But I don’t have the space or time for that. (Or perhaps the brains.) What I will say is that many people believe that knowledge is constructed. It doesn’t come already packaged, so to speak. We have to build it.

If that is true (and I think it largely is) how do you think knowledge is constructed?

DIY?

You might be able to construct a new house by yourself – cut down the trees, saw them into boards and planks, tie and nail them together, unto a house. I couldn’t though you might. Just the one of you, all alone. But, just like houses, you very rarely construct knowledge by yourself.

We live in society. We do most things, especially most of the best things, with other people. And one of the best things we can do with others is to share what we know and to have ideas. Which is just another way of saying ‘construct knowledge’.

So when and where do you construct knowledge? The most important part of the construction process is interaction with other people. It can happen whenever your active mind is interacting with …

Who?

  • A writer. So read actively!
  • A speaker. So listen actively!

But interacting is a two-way process. It is not just reading and listening, even actively. You need to contribute too.

One of the best places to construct knowledge is in a seminar or tutorial discussion. You are with a group of other students who all know some things, but not the same things, about the subject. By the end of the seminar you should all know more about the subject than you did before, and almost certainly some new ideas that nobody had before, ideas that were constructed during the discussion.

A seminar is a place where you show an idea to the group and say, “What do you think of this?”

The group will look at it from various angles and say things like, “This part is good but I’m not so sure about that part.” And, “The idea would work in this situation but not in that one.” And, “If you did this to your idea it would make it better.” And, “Yeah, and then if you did this … ”

The purpose of the process

Do you see the process?

If you have ever wondered about the purpose of a seminar then this is it. It’s to construct knowledge, to have new ideas that you could never have had by yourself.

So next time you are in a seminar look on yourself as a builder of knowledge. With others. Get used to the process. Be active and contribute. Get better and better at it.

It doesn’t matter if the knowledge is old. Don’t worry if others have constructed it before. All the builders of new knowledge – Einstein, Hawking, Steve Jobs – built a lot of old knowledge first. And believe me, they didn’t do it by themselves.

(phanlop88)

The strange case of the vanishing jobs – Part 3

Posted on | September 28, 2011 | No Comments

Point: You don’t know what jobs will exist in the future

Why do many arts and science majors end up in higher managerial jobs than business or vocational majors?

This was the question I ended Part 2 with.

Not a bad question, is it?

It does seem strange that people who studied business or engineering are often not the ones managing a large engineering company, for example. It seems even stranger that the ones who are managing it are English or history or biology majors. Or some other unrelated subject.

So what’s happening?

Here is what is probably happening.

Engineering majors train how to do engineering and are hired to do engineering.

Business majors train how to read a balance sheet, how to understand the time value of money, and how to manage a project and are hired to do those things.

Of course, some of those engineering and business majors make it to the top managerial jobs. They have valuable expertise and knowledge. It would just be silly not to have some engineers and business types around helping to manage a large engineering company. 

To think

General arts and science majors train how to approach a problem and analyse it; how to indentify causes of situations, predict outcomes, suggest alternatives; how to think critically. What they think about varies a lot – language, algebra, human society, politics, history, zoology, education – but that is their training. They learn how to think.

I’m not saying that engineers and vets and nurses and lawyers and doctors and farmers and pilots and surveyors don’t think. Obviously they do. But when you are training for a job your focus is understandably on what you are studying – metal, nerves, water, trees, land, buildings, software.

When you are not training for a specific job your focus is, to a larger degree I think, on how you are studying, on how you are thinking about your subject. Can you support what you say? Are you using the best theory? Are your conclusions verifiable?

Transferable skills

What you are learning are transferable skills. And the most useful transferable skill of all, especially for middle and top managers, is how to think.

What does this mean for the two types of students?

If you are studying for a specific job, keep studying and get that job. If you enjoy your job and stay in your profession you will probably end up earning a lot of money. If you want to become a manager, you could end up earning even more. Either way, when you get your job, start and keep asking questions. One of the best questions to ask is, “Why am I doing my job this way? Is there a better way?” Develop your critical thinking skills.

If you are studying liberal arts or science, keep studying and get a job. Then treat every task you do at work like a problem in your subject. Analyse it, predict outcomes, suggest alternatives. Use your training in critical thinking.

But remember – both of you – that the people you work with are … well, people. And people have feelings and opinions and hopes and dreams. And they may be better thinkers than you.

Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be rude. Don’t be a know-it-all.

You may be right – and, hey, you may be wrong – but I can tell you now that you’ll go a lot further in your career if you’re also liked.

(digitalart)

The strange case of the vanishing jobs – Part 2

Posted on | September 20, 2011 | No Comments

Point: You don’t know what jobs will exist in the future

In Part 1 I pointed out that the first job you get after graduation may not exist in 10 or 20 years time, and I said that one way you could prepare for this is to do nothing.

Let me explain what I mean.

You are probably either studying a vocational course, such as medicine, law, accounting or engineering, that leads to a specific job, or a general course in arts or sciences.

If you are studying a vocational course, it will probably be easier for you to find a job than your friend who is studying arts or science. What’s more, your job will probably be higher in the organisation and better paid than your friend’s.

So far so good for you. Getting a good job after graduation is important. So the best way for you to prepare for the future is to do nothing. Just carry on with your studies.

So what about you arts and science students? Not only are you not training for a specific job, it will be harder for you to find one and it will be less well paid when you do. Shouldn’t you do something?

No, the best way for you to prepare for the future is also to do nothing. Just carry on with your studies.

Do nothing? Why?

Here’s why.

Twenty years after joining the massive American telecommunications company AT&T, 43 percent of liberal arts graduates had reached middle management. That’s nearly half. Not bad. One in every two arts graduates that started at AT&T were now well on their way up the corporate ladder. And getting a pretty nice salary, too.

What about business majors? After 20 years at AT&T, 32 percent of them were now in middle management. That’s only one in three. Or put another way, two out of three students who had studied business at university had not yet become middle managers, even after 20 years with the company.

And engineering majors? Remember, the engineers were probably the first to be employed 20 years before, and starting on a higher salary than the arts majors. But only one in four of them – 23 percent – had become middle managers. Three out of four engineers were still engineers, which may be great if they loved engineering. But also remember that their job will have changed a lot and they will have had to do a lot of study to keep up with those changes.

Another statistic

One more. At the time of the article I am quoting*, nine of IBM’s 13 top executives had liberal arts degrees. Not engineering or computer science degrees. Not business degrees. Seventy percent of the top dogs at IBM had general, liberal arts degrees.

They probably studied ‘useless’ subjects like history, philosophy, English, and sociology.

That’s all very interesting but why do these majors often do better in their careers than vocational majors?

In Part 3 I will suggest why, and also give some advice to both kinds of student on how to make the most of your chosen course of study. 

See you then!

* Thomas Hurka, Globe and Mail, 2 January, 1990

(digitalart)

keep looking »
  • Keep in touch

  • ... or get an email

  • Index

  • Other useful sites

  • Admin