pen and paper

Remember those college essays? They helped you learn how to do great at work


In the spirit of graduation season, let’s talk academic papers, essays, lab reports… All the lovely, different types of writing done in college.

Currently I’m reviewing my boyfriend’s master’s thesis. While I am a little lost on the content – electrical engineering with an emphasis on materials science/thin films. Or something. I don’t know. – this editing work has reminded me just how valuable the experience of drafting academic papers is in non academic settings – most importantly, your job.

It’s easy to block the memories of those late nights spent hunched over your laptop extrapolating on the use of limited third person narration in a Henry James novel (what up, English majors).

But for those of you soon to graduate (congrats!), still in school, or out for a while (*raises hand*), revisit those times, because you learned valuable lessons! If it hasn’t already, your academic writing will positively impact your career:

  1. You learned to manage deadlines. Paper’s due at 4 on Friday? Then you turned it in by 4 on Friday, full stop. Deadlines don’t go away in any professional environment, so learning to respect them and manage your time in whatever way that looks are skills you won’t soon lose.
  2. You learned when to ask for help. Whether it was your colleagues in the class, a family member you vented to, librarian, writing tutor, a different professor or the instructor, there’s a good chance you figured out that you couldn’t go this alone. People give you ideas or specific help on the content and mechanics of the paper. Just like in school, you also probably don’t work in a bubble. Reliance on others for support in whatever way that means is something you likely picked up in school.
  3. You learned about the importance of formatting, structure and clean copy. Times New Roman size 12 font, one inch margins, double spaced. Page titles, section headings. Minimal errors. Not every item you’ll write in the future will have these strict requirements, but think of the writing you may do (or have already done): reports, proposals, grant requests, award nominations, memos… Not all look alike or have the same purpose but you know that some of these materials need to look a certain way. The structure isn’t as important as the content but veering from the structure can distract a reader and lessen the credibility of the writer. Those misspellings aren’t the end of the world but they don’t do you any favors.
  4. You learned when to produce high quality work and when to BS. Sometimes you just need to wing it. Was I an expert in Lacanian theory in my first year of grad school? F*** no. Did I drop some literary theory into my papers? Yup. There is a point when you just needed to put some words on a paper. An inability to take action did you no favors in school and certainly doesn’t in the professional world.
  5. You likely came to understand the difference between Perfect and Done. One of the faculty in my master’s program would say, “The only good thesis is a finished thesis.” Deadlines, client needs, business demands, politics… these things require us to complete projects. Is your boss interested that you’re not happy with a sentence in a report to the point that you’re prepared to hold up the entire project? Nope. She wants it done. Did you ever not turn in a paper because it wasn’t perfect? Probably not, even if the need was there. You learned that you had to get the damn thing done. Just like your grade depended on the completion of a paper, your job often depends on the completion of projects. So you did it… and moved on to the next assignment. Kind of like at work, right?

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