Posted at 12:00am Jun 15, 2011 by stephaniedudek
When we go to school, or return to school, we expect to learn tangible lessons which we can apply to our lives. There’s something very valuable in learning tools which can be easily applied to situations, but all too often people complain that they’ve learned “nothing valuable” in a class, when in fact they have – it just wasn’t handed to them on a silver platter. It is up to each and every one of us to learn something new in everything we do, especially in a class. Now I admit, some professors are better and sharing and explaining information and knowledge than others. However, if you have learned “nothing,” you have no one to blame but yourself. Not everything that we learn has a direct correlation in life or the real world. Perhaps the most valuable lesson we learn in higher education is how to extrapolate knowledge and experience into seemingly irrelevant situations.
My internship this summer is pure international relations and diplomacy. What I learned in Real Options or Operations has no place in this internship. Or does it? Perhaps the tools I learned in those classes aren’t particularly applicable, but the way I learned to think in those classes is. Those who are able to think outside of the box, so to speak, are the ones who truly excel at what they do. Anyone can memorize and regurgitate facts. That involves little to no understanding. That’s the easy part. The hard part is thinking critically and logically, applying disparate ideas and knowledge sets to varying situations to come up with a novel, unique way of looking at a situation or solving a problem.
Growing up, I was never a stellar math student. In fact, I doubled up on band classes in high school to avoid taking advanced math classes my senior year. However, my now-fiancé has two masters degrees in math – this came in handy when it came time to study for the GREs and GMATs. One thing he always told his calculus I students was that yes, calculus is a set of tools, but it’s more than that – it’s a way of thinking, of looking at math problems and real-world situations. In high school, or even college, I wouldn’t have understood this. But he’s right. And that lesson is applicable to many disciplines and situations. You can choose to memorize, or you can choose to learn.
Prior to attending JHUCBS, I was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Delaware. For those who might be unfamiliar with academic education (as opposed to professional education), much of the emphasis is on manners of thinking. One of my chief complaints at the time was that we spent so much time discussing theories, but no time discussing areas of policy. What I didn’t know at the time, but figured out later through reflection and experience, is that discussing theories is often times more useful than discussing policies. Theories allow you to apply many differing frameworks and lenses to the same situation, allowing you to understand it better and from more perspectives. Discussing a policy often leaves you with the same set of ideas you started the discussion with. Personally, I think the best approach is a little bit of both, but the importance of learning to think broadly can never be underestimated. Maybe I’m not using the “stuff” I learned at UD in my JHUCBS classes, but I’m certainly using the methods of thinking that I learned at UD in my JHUCBS classes.
I often get asked why I’m pursuing an MBA. After all, I want to work for the federal government on international relations issues. I’m using this experience to gain valuable skills that are all too often missing from the repertoires of other (aspiring) federal employees. I market myself as an “IR person with management skills.” I have no interest in pursuing a stereotypical MBA career in finance or Wall Street, but I want to learn the management skills and the way of thinking that accompanies an MBA education so that I can apply them to the career I chose, to give me a broader skill set and a better understanding of the situations which cross my path.