Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Academia HAS Taught Me...

Today, I had a meeting with my boss where we discussed my impending shift to "official" full-time work. I've been working more or less full-time for quite a few months now, but since I was still receiving paychecks and health insurance from Grad U, I didn't have a need to take the benefits he offers up until now, since I could afford to miss a few hours on the job here and there and didn't need the health benefits.

But that's about to all change, so we met today to discuss the impending official shift in my job status. As a nice surprise, I actually got a small raise! (Imagine that, being rewarded in terms of a salary increase for work well done...that is certainly not typical in academia).

But more importantly for today's post, during this meeting my boss was very, very open about all of the qualities that I have that make me an employee he was thrilled to bring on board full-time.

In particular, he pointed out that I am:
  • Better than my co-workers at independently managing my own schedule and getting things done without him breathing down my neck
  • Great at identifying a problem, coming up with a strategy to tackle it, and seeing it through to completion
  • The best "trainer of new employees" he's had on staff
  • Great at communicating in writing 
  • Great at answering questions on the fly while talking to clients/customers on the phone
  • Not afraid to stay a few minutes late to finish a project or take a last phone call before clocking out
Now, of course, it was nice to hear these things about myself. I've always tried to do well at whatever job I've had, so it was great to get some positive reinforcement in my general quest to be a good employee.

But I don't relate this story to toot my own horn. Not at all. Instead, this conversation got me thinking about how my experience in academia had directly contributed to my ability to step into this job and do it well, with the qualities and skills that my boss noticed and that compelled him to give me a raise.

I mean, think about it.

Where have I learned to explain things to others (in terms of training new employees) and to answer questions on the fly? From teaching and doing academic presentations. Sheesh, if you're used to answering questions from clueless college freshmen or blowhard tenured academics, answering questions from customers who are seeking out your services will be a piece of cake!

Where have I learned to write well and to identify and solve problems on my own? Through graduate coursework and academic research, of course.

And if the insane academic work schedule is good for anything, I'd argue that it's made me a lot less concerned with whether I clock out at exactly 5pm. I will happily stay an extra fifteen minutes in the office, if it means I can spend the evening relaxing and doing what I want at home rather than working on yet more work......

I present this, then, as evidence that if you think you have no transferable skills that will help you in a job outside academia, it's simply not true. The job I do is about as far away from an academic job as you can get, but I still find myself using skills and abilities I gained in academia. And while those skills didn't get me this job in the first place, they have earned me a promotion and a couple of raises. 

You may have a hard time believing it, but trust me. You have skills. And those skills? They're valuable, and it's very likely that they will actually be recognized and rewarded outside of academia.

Don't be scared to see what else you can do.


  1. I really feel you about going to grad school. I worked and went to school full time for my MBA. I was laid off in November and have been contacting every possible company. I wasn't sure if I wanted to teach at the college level. I appreciate your input from your posts. You seem to be going through alot along your quest. Best of luck!

  2. Thank you, and thanks so much for reading and commenting! I am very lucky, in that I started in this job for some extra money while I was still in school, and have been able to shift to a full-time schedule until I find something I'd like to do long-term. I'm very lucky, because it is really tough out there. I have no idea what I'd do if I didn't have this job.

    Good luck to you in your job search!