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Off The Beaten Path: Lessons Beyond The Classroom

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As an academic, I care deeply about the quality of the curricular experience. In fact, I remember reading a quote somewhere that said that curriculum is the heart of teaching and learning, and I believe that to be true. However, having said that, I don’t want students to be complacent about what they learn in the classroom that isn’t connected to curriculum because those lessons are just as valuable and transformative.

So what does a student learn inside the classroom that has relatively nothing to do with the curriculum? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Lesson No. 1 – Faculty Are Like Bosses

In the course of earning a graduate degree, you can have somewhere between 12 and 18 faculty. Faculty are akin to bosses in a corporate setting. Faculty make demands of you; they ask you to do things a certain way, and they evaluate you. Faculty, like bosses, have leaderships styles. Some are visionary and give assignments with a specific direction or definition; some are coaches rooting you on to the finish line; some want you work in teams; some are democratic and are inclusive to a fault; some are pacesetters trying to see how far they can push the class; and some are just flat demanding. It is likely in the course of your career that you will have bosses that reflect these same styles. Learning how to be successful with each of these styles will help you when you become fully employed and are navigating through your career.

Lesson No. 2 – Working in Teams Helps You Excel in Your Career

Students often think that faculty assign team projects to reduce individual grading, when that is not the case. Working in teams adds a tangible value to your academic journey because it amplifies the learning process. Faculty, despite their amazing academic prowess, can’t give a student what a teammate can. Students benefit from the learning from others; students take tangible lessons from their classmates that enhance the curriculum; and students learn to manage working effectively with others. Employers today want students who can work in teams, and they expect students to be able to negotiate difficult or combative situations with colleagues. This is the primary reason why employers expect to see demonstrated work experience on your resume and expect you to discuss your effectiveness during an interview. So the lesson is, don’t run away from team assignments and don’t make a minimal contribution when the returns can be enormous.

Lesson No. 3 – Learning to Deal with Praise and Criticism – Two Equally Important Tools

Having worked in higher education for a long time, I know that students value praise and hate criticism. In reality, students should welcome criticism and question praise. Learning to welcome criticism may be the most important life lesson a graduate student can learn. Employers want to hire people that they know are coachable and who will welcome feedback and crave opportunities to improve. My most defining moments in my life have come from times when I was open to criticism. Of course, the challenge in receiving criticism is avoiding a defensive posture, but that can be done with practice. Sure, it is hard to be criticized, especially when you have worked very hard on a paper or project, but criticism helps you improve your performance and excel in life. As for praise, it feels good to be praised and to know you are doing a great job, but working for praise alone can result in work that doesn’t necessarily help promote your value or good judgment.

Lesson No. 4 – Learning to Prioritize Pays Dividends

When you are in school, it is imperative that you learn to prioritize, make expedient decisions and learn where to invest your time. Sometimes you have to make choices regarding what is the most important thing you need to get done that has the greatest impact or significance. When making that choice, you have to learn to be comfortable with completing some tasks at a less-than-perfect level. When you are a manager, the same is true. You cannot be a perfectionist at everything, and being a perfectionist at everything means you can’t prioritize and you are wasting time. Learning to make those decisions is a wonderful lesson that can pay dividends beyond the classroom and for the rest of your life.

Good luck, and remember that getting a degree is not supposed to be easy. More importantly, what you learn is sometimes far more important than the grade.

What do you think?

Monica Powell

Monica Powell

Monica S. Powell, PhD, is the associate dean of Graduate Programs for the Naveen Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas. In her role as the associate dean, Dr. Powell is responsible for 4,000 graduate students in 15 academic degree programs as well as the school’s Career Management Center and Recruiting Department. Dr. Powell teaches both undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Powell has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in communications from the University of Alabama, and a PhD in higher education with a minor in communications from the University of North Texas. Read more articles

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