Every so often someone asks me what I learned in grad school that helped me in the working world. I learned a lot about my research domain (video communications) and about how to do research. I learned a lot from my thesis advisor and from my grad student colleagues and friends. These learnings have helped me throughout my career and in my job today.
Going beyond these more predictable answers, I can say that many of my most important learnings from school came from playing team sports. My school had a women’s club ice hockey team that I played on for 10 years (as an undergrad and grad student). Over these 10 years, my role on the team evolved from a benchwarmer… to a player… to a captain… back to a player… and to an assistant coach. Many of my everyday experiences with the team turned into learnings that stayed with me and help me at work.
For example, leadership is important in the working world because achieving big things — beyond what you can do alone during your waking hours — requires you to get people to work together towards a common goal. Being a team captain helps with that. Actually, more important than being a team captain is doing whatever it was you did that made your peers and coach choose you for that role.
Being a coach certainly helps with being a manager, since my preferred style of management is coaching people to develop their skills and ability to influence and to work effectively as individuals and as team players… while keeping them motivated.
The sports view of practicing regularly and learning new skills to be a more effective player for the team directly carry over to the working world, since you need to constantly develop your skills as a worker to improve how you contribute to your work team.
A perhaps more subtle learning comes from how you make yourself a part of the team when you are the “worst skilled” player or a bench warmer. You can still make important contributions by having a great attitude, by working hard to improve your skills, by filling water bottles and picking up the pucks, and by supporting and encouraging the star players during the game between shifts and during practices, since even the stars have good and bad moments themselves. In fact, I can tell you that the star players will be inspired by you when you do these things! And, if you keep at it, then you will become a star player yourself in your own right. This directly carries over to the working world, as no matter what your skill or experience level, you can always find a way to make an important contribution to your team.
My advice to people? Students- get involved in a team sport! Workers- treat your career like a team sport!
Well, those are some of my thoughts. What are yours?