I distinctly remember how my undergrad days were. Day after day of whiling away time with friends (though I did pay attention in class for the most part), last minute cramming for exams and clearing exams with good marks (well, most of the time at least).
Cut to my postgrad days. I had two years of work experience – a year and a half in the corporate world and half a year with a non-profit organization, teaching school kids. So this time around, I had made a conscious decision to study something I genuinely enjoyed and respect my professors! Money and two crucial years were opportunity costs I was willing to bear in order to get back to studying. So needless to say, I was more responsible about my education this time around. But how did those two years of work experience help me in my education?
First of all, my communication skills had improved. Working with peer groups, superiors and people from different parts of the world had taught me crucial soft skills like communicating effectively and assertively when required. I had no qualms walking up to professors and asking them questions. In fact, most of the times, I merely felt like they were experienced peers whom I could challenge and debate with despite the fact that I respected them for their work and experience. I wouldn’t shirk away from doing something offbeat as long as I was excited about it, without worrying about what my professors would make of it.
Secondly, I began to genuinely appreciate being in a classroom and gaining knowledge after having had to learn things on the go in the corporate world on my own, stumbling and fumbling sometimes. I did not take classes for granted like I probably did back in my under graduation and I made the most out of having professionals come in for talks, sessions or seminars. It is important to give everyone the benefit of thought before dismissing someone because you think they have nothing to teach/offer you.
Third – multitasking. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to multitask and so I squeezed in a part-time job and research work into my postgrad days. I realized I loved being intellectually stimulated and that was the reason I enjoyed studying more than hanging out with friends during my masters (I know I know. I do sound like a nerd) Looking back, I realized how much time I had wasted during my undergrad days when I could have learnt some new skills or even made money by doing some work.
I have to mention how much more confident you become as a person once you have a work stint. With the humbling realization that you have a lot to learn and that each person you come across knows something you don’t, you also become more comfortable in your own skin. That kind of confidence helps throughout your life, not just in your future studies.
You also realize that learning need not be limited to just the classroom or what your syllabi entail. I began to take MOOCs (massive open online courses) on anything that sounded interesting to me, be it neuroeconomics or gender identity, as long as it interested me. You never know when such knowledge could come of use.
And finally, teamwork and networking. I know people use the word “teamwork” way too much these days. But collaborating with people who have different opinions and thoughts in a workspace teaches you teamwork (and patience as well). It helps you put aside differences and somehow work together with people who are not really in the same wavelength as you (which happens a lot when it comes to group assignments and project work). Networking, for better or for worse, is crucial as well. You come to know of opportunities you might have missed otherwise. You’ll hear MBA grads taking networking parties/conferences as seriously as any mid-term test. That’s how crucial it is. Thanks to the networking skills I had honed during my time at the office, I was able to get some good contacts and shape my academic work better as well.
Most of what I’ve mentioned might seem quite cliché. But those with work experience definitely have a different approach when it comes to further studies. Even in my classroom, the ones with work experience generally seemed more professional when it came to meeting deadlines, their body language and their interaction with others when compared to the rest of the class. (Of course, I don’t mean to imply that those without any work experience are not professional. This is merely a general statement, based on my experience). All this only goes to show that you should make the most out of whichever environment you are in and pick up as many skills as you can because those are the ones that will help you throughout, be it in your personal life or your professional one. Even if you intend to change career paths and do something drastically different later on, such skills will help make the process a tad bit easier, as it did for me.
About the Author:
Nanditha is a Masters student majoring in Mass Communication. After her bachelors in Commerce, she worked with Google for a while before teaching primary school students in Chennai for a while. During the course of her Masters, she developed an interest in research as well as development communication. She loves critiquing movies, discussing good pieces of journalistic writing and watching culinary shows apart from reading books when she does find time for them.