10 Things about the Working World I Wish I Knew in College

Let’s face it–each new stage in life brings dramatic changes that are difficult to anticipate. No matter how smart you can be in college, you will still get surprised by the working world.

I faced these surprises myself. I thought the working world would be hard since it lacked the freedom I had at Stanford. I was wrong. During my first job, I had much more free time than during college in part because I didn’t have to study on weekends.I encountered many other surprises along the way. In the spirit of guiding others, here are the top 10 things I learned while working…  — Presh Talwalkar (Mind Your Decisions)

After I got my BA, I stayed at the same school for my MA, so the transition wasn’t that hard.  For my PhD, I went to a different country, which involved some culture shock, but the isolation was good for my studies. Yet here I am, in my 10th year as a faculty member, and I’m still adjusting to all the stuff I’m expected to do (teaching! advising! research! meetings, meetings, meetings!).

All of Tawalkar’s tips are worth reading, but the one that really caught my attention is this:

3. You’re on a team-you don’t need to compete for grades

In college, course success was usually measured by beating the
curve. Professors often forced a distribution of grades, meaning even
very high marks could be a B grade if everyone happened to do better.

This is why the working world can be liberating. Work projects were
like being on a great team in a school project, with even fewer
slackers. People helped you in times of need, and often projects were
split across different offices.

It reminded me about my seventh grade science class. He was an
amazing teacher, and one time asked us what companies value the most.
This had nothing to do with science, but he was willing to spend time
telling us this. We spent a whole class discussing ideas, proposing
things like initiative and intelligence. Just before the bell rang he
told us the answer was “team work.” None of us believed him then, but
looking back, I would say he is 100 percent correct.

I have a few upper-level students who hatehatehate group work. Some will grit their teeth and do it anyway, recognizing that I’ll get to the advanced material more quickly if the pack is ready for it. Other students recognize that the class includes people with a variety of learning-style preferences, and accept that I’m doing my job as a teacher if I use a wide range of teaching techniques (including group work).  Still others think about group work the way I think about smoking: I accept as factual that people do smoke, but I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would find the smell of tobacco smoke — hovering in the air, clinging to clothes, lurking beneath mint-masked breath — anything other than repulsive.

Of course, I teach mostly very small classes, where I have the time to get to know each student individually. (This term is the first time in several years that I’ve taught a class with 30+ students.)  I ask for informal status reports — both orally and in writing. It’s pretty obvious when one student gives a full timeline of accomplishments and another repeats a few general lines from the proposal.

A slacker might get a decent grade on a group assignment by riding on the backs of peer-enablers, but in my courses the group assignment is never an end in itself. It either prepares the students to do the same task solo, or it’s just a lab apparatus that helps me see how students react under pressure, and how they communicate with each other and with me, so that I can see who is demonstrating real leadership potential.

Where do I do most of my group work?  Of course, it’s in those dreadful meetings! meetings! meetings! Sometimes I come home from work feeling depressed that I spent 2 hours in the classroom, 2 hours marking papers, and 4 hours in meetings of one sort or another.

But how else will I get to know my colleagues, gaining new insight from their experiences, and contributing to the university’s well-being by applying my own special talents? From my perspective as the teacher, every course is one, big, semester-long group-learning activity (even if I’m assessing students individually on the vast majority of their assignments).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *