Real world experience

Ugh, I swear I had two posts written and scheduled to publish first things last Friday and today, but they didn’t. 😦 So I guess I have my post for Wednesday already written. 

One thing I’ve been surprised to find since starting grad school, is how many grad students I meet who have never had a real job. And by real job, I mean one that gives a consistent paycheck – not babysitting, pet sitting, or doing errands for neighbors. Even though it has happened more often then you would think, I’m still surprised each time. And it’s not like they’re 18, they’re usually at least 22.

I’ve worked, starting summers during high school, and even part time during grade 12. I worked part time during my undergrad (and summers) as well as a couple of co-op semesters. I took a year off to work before starting grad school. I have found that these experiences have been really useful.

In particular, my experiences working in my field (co-op and full time) have been most useful. I got to learn about working with changing requirements, having deadlines that can’t be extended for a small lose of marks, meeting and talking with clients and working on a large software system project.

Many of the grad students I’ve met who don’t have this type of experience, have had a much harder time getting settled into grad school. They are only use to things being like school – “do work, get marks.” They find it more difficult to learn how there’s not always a very laid out and specific strategy to go from assignment description to full marks. They aren’t very adept at working with changing requirements or how to deal with a lack of information.

I’m not saying this applies to everyone – there’s always some people who exceed no matter what. But, I have talked to profs who felt it was too bad that not all incoming comp sci grad students have experience with large code bases, or changing requirements. They also seem shocked when they realize they have students who don’t have “real life” job experience.

I think it’s interesting that there’s a significant chunk of grad students who will graduate with their only work experience from being a Teaching or Research Assistant. I wonder how this will or has effected peoples ability to get a job afterwards.

Did you work before grad school? Do you think having (or not having) that experience has helped or hindered you?

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