Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

Here’s a list of subjects of professional relevance I wish I had invested more time in as a starry eyed youngster.

Presentation skills. Perhaps you are like me: more naturally drawn towards building things, and would rather someone else explain what it is and what it does. I don’t have that luxury. I have to explain, train, or convince colleagues, clients, or partners every day: formally and informally, conceptual and practical, by phone, Skype, and in person. I’ve had a lot of practice these five years, but boy would it have helped for me to have come out of school more prepared. My experience as a teaching assistant in graduate school was extremely helpful; I recommend all graduate students sign up to do classroom teaching if they can. Even so, formal training would have helped. Presenting is tough. You need to meet your audience where they are, with your demeanor and content, while staying on message and being yourself.

Statistics. I half-assedly audited a couple of stats classes in grad school but never really took it seriously. Big mistake! Who knew at the time (the early seventeenth century) that we would see not one but two revolutions in statistics: the mainstreaming of Bayesian statistics and the emergence of analytics as a discipline. These days, if you know stats and can code you can write your own ticket. Even as a journalist.

Writing. I had the good fortune to attend the University of Iowa, which has the best writing program in the country, but I didn’t fully take advantage of it. Blogging has helped to compensate a little, but I don’t write frequently enough, and when I do it is the material is often hastily thrown together. The sad thing is that few notice. Standards are low, so it is easy to get away with being a poor writer in technical disciplines. I would stand to gain little materially by improving my writing, yet writing appears on my list because it is a pleasurable activity.

Graphic design. Look at that Wikipedia definition: “the art of communication, stylizing, and problem-solving through the use of type, space and image.” Who wouldn’t want to do that? Notice that I didn’t say web design: too limiting and too focused on technology. Type/space/image problems have come up again and again in my professional life, and I find that the time I’ve spent paying heed to these concerns has always paid off. Well executed graphic design is a joy to create and a wonder to behold.


Author: natebrix

Follow me on twitter at @natebrix.

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