When I left my History PhD program, colleagues kept asking me…
“So what are you going to do? Teach?”
Turns out, yes. Though not as a History teacher.
At the time, my response was that the education I received gave me a bunch of skills I could translate to other thing.
- Teaching. Though I didn’t receive a full education in teaching until I received my Masters in Instructional Technology 10 years later.
- Public Speaking. A skill that helped with the many presentations I’ve given to conference audiences, executives and clients over the years. Always room to improve, but I am not entirely uncomfortable with this skill.
- Research. Though the topics change, and we now have widespread internet (uncommon in the early 90s), the research skills have proven invaluable. Particularly as a project manager – since sifting through old project documents and uncovering business processes (idealized AND real) leverages my experience with historical and anthropological research methodologies.
- Evaluating Sources. This skill gets a workout in a corporate environment. Thinking of information sources like books (vs people) helps me keep a bit of objective distance as I try to discern biases.
- Synthesizing and Applying Information. How to communicate large quantities of information in a way that makes sense to my audience and helps me get things done.
- Trend Identification. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana. Knowing the history allows you to identify trends. Breadth of source material and experience also helps. It’s the ability to quickly identify a trend that, in my opinion, separates novices from masters. Example – a novice auto mechanic will look at everything at random to find the cause of a problem. A master auto mechanic has seen it hundreds of times before and will go to the most likely cause first.
- Documentation / Writing. While working on my MA in History at Georgia, I wrote hundreds of pages towards my ultimate 100 page masters thesis. Later, I wrote hundreds more as I created technical documentation, training documentation, blog posts, emails etc. Yup, know my way around Microsoft Word.
- Learning Quickly. This is a result of being able to synthesize and apply large amounts of information + trend identification. Particularly when I have to learn software. I always look for the “model” path (thanks Clark) through any piece of software.
Other skills I’ve learned as a result of projects. These skills include:
- Articulate Storyline / Adobe Captivate
- Web development
- Photoshop / Snagit
- Excel and other spreadsheets
- Virtual team work
- Synchronous online delivery solutions (WebEx, Go To Meeting, Skype, etc)
- Business Analysis (and all of the skills attached to this activity)
- Project Management (and all of the skills attached to this activity)
- Enterprise Architecture (and all of the skills attached to this activity)
- Business Process Modeling
- ANY application I ever had to train. Electronic Health Records, Higher Education enterprise software, Project Management Software etc.
There might have been some formal training at some point, but for the most part – I developed these skills on the job. During projects.
There is no way that any high school or college counselor would have been able to guide me to the career I have now if his or her advice was strictly “career” based.
“Instead of identifying your job role or description, you [will be] constantly adding skills based on what is going to make you more employable,” says Jeanne Meister, The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees.
That has proven true in my life, 20 years after I left that PhD program in History.
This article from BBC.com provides a comprehensive summary of the trend towards projectized careers.
BBC.com – The Next Generation of Careers