mackenzie: (Quatchi - Papers)
[personal profile] mackenzie
When a person graduates from college (or high school, but especially college) and enters the workforce1, there are two major transitions that occur. One is social, and the other is professional. The professional transition is often much more overwhelming than the social one.

In an educational setting, everything is compartmentalized. Classes come in discrete units (quarters, trimesters, semesters). When the course concludes, the work is not directly revisited. There is time to shake out one's mind. While the content of the course will carry a student through their education, the assignments themselves will not. If a student writes a poor paper their frosh year, no one is going to approach them senior year to discuss the quality of that paper.

This isn't mean to discount the social ramifications of doing poor work in school. A student might get the same professor the next semester and end up fighting against a perception of the quality of their work. A professor might decline to write a letter of recommendation for a student who once submitted poor work. A group of a student's peers might actively avoid working with our intrepid hero in the future because he or she doesn't pull their weight. However, when compared to the workplace, there are very few professional implications to barely scraping through a class.

In the workplace, there is very little compartmentalization. Long ongoing projects intertwine with other long ongoing projects. Few things ever truly conclude. If there is an error in work an employee did six months ago, it is likely that it will eventually need to be fixed. Buggy software needs to be patched, convoluted documentation needs to be clarified, someone needs to be held accountable for errors and their correction.

There are certain college behaviors that indicate an individual might have an easier time transitioning to the professional world. As I've been thinking about how this relates to my own professional transition, I can see actions that contributed to the ease of my transition. I took 25% of my undergraduate classes with the same professor. In retrospect, I was seeking continuity and long term accountability for my ideas and development as a theorist. I remember feeling so ashamed of a paper I submitted for one class my sophomore year that I never took another class with that same professor.

Alternately, I remember seeing students who would churn out work the night before it was due because of an overwhelming workload (or just old fashioned procrastination and poor time management). They found undergraduate incredibly stressful, even if they still tended to excel. As they transitioned into the real world, they discovered that the work was easier. Unfortunately, the idea of "flawless execution" so important to businesses required a much more significant adjustment.

I think that people crave long term responsibility for our social behaviors. This responsibility forms the foundation upon which our close, long-term friendships are formed. In the workplace, this responsibility is significantly more overwhelming. There is a natural hesitation to avoid getting emotionally invested when there is money being exchanged. Also, just as in college, there is often a confusing social approval that occurs when a person talks about how much they dislike their work or how much they have to get done. For individuals just getting established in the workplace, these seas are treacherous to navigate.

1I find this conflict to be more true for college (as opposed to high school or a vocational education program), as it tends to be a time for many 20-somethings where they have significant social freedom without significant professional or financial responsibility. I recognize that education (and education with out the distraction of working to support oneself) is a privilege, but with some tweaking, this discussion could also apply to moving out of a guardian's dwelling or entering into the full time workplace for the first time.

Unlocked at the request of [ profile] dclayh.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 05:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is so true for me I cannot even begin to tell you. (Sciency grad school has similarly low compartmentalization to a real job.) I hate it so much that I'm thinking seriously about going into consulting or some other job that's divided into very discrete chunks.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 06:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Actually, may I repost this on my LJ, so that others might share in its wisdom? (Attributed, friendslocked, etc.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I wonder if this contributes to the frequency of job-hopping - closing off and creating new compartments. On the other hand, college has been that way for a long, long time.

In my experience, people fresh out of school tend to be given more compartmentalized tasks, with the more senior people managing the longer-term work, which eases the transition, probably more so than making one's office space resemble a college campus.

I think I'm going to post a pointer to this post, too.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Good God that was an awful article. High schools don't guarantee that a diploma equals basic literacy or respect for others, so we should get even more people to acquire high-school skills at great(er) expense in college!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 07:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think that's an accurate observation. Before I got my current job I freelanced and worked multiple jobs--other than the financial insecurity aspect, doing many different things on a project basis kept me from getting bored. Now working at a "real job", I find it hard to stay motivated working the same stuff every day. I suspect I may just prefer the compartmentalized setup. So far, I don't think I've adjusted to the more-fluid work structure particularly well, and it's part of why I'll probably be headed back to school this fall.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 07:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is why I've always thrived in project work. I'm a huge fan of done, and project work means that I get to do the initial big push, then hand it over to others to manage the long term maintenance. It's rare that one of my things comes back to nag at me, so it's pretty parallel to the educational world. It's a nice balance point between the two worlds. I have to build long-term people relationships, but still get to push away the content.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-31 09:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Nice post.

Some people never transition and still do last minute deadline sort of work especially since many change jobs every few years.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-01 01:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think that this is a big part of why I like teaching. It's not as compartmentalized as being a student, but at the end of the school year I get a clean slate. I might get some of the same kids again, but I feel like I get to start over. The crappy little assignments that I never did get to go in the recycling bin, and I get to reflect, tweak my practice, and go back to start.


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