Experience outside classroom helpful in professional world

While still in college, students can work tirelessly in preparation for the day they finally enter the “real world” and begin their careers.

Fortunately for University students, Illinois is known as one of the top academic institutions in the country and serves as an ideal training ground for students to learn the skills necessary for success in their prospective professions. However, despite the University’s efforts to prepare its students as best as it can, even higher education has its limitations.  

As a result of the complex nature of the job market, there is no way for universities to teach students everything they will need to know for their future careers. The reason for this is simple: There is no substitution for firsthand experience, and that can’t be taught in a classroom.  

This is precisely what Chessa Kilby found out when she graduated from the University in 2012 with a degree in MCB and began her first job as a neuroscience technician at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.  

“There was definitely a learning curve at first. I had a lot more responsibilities than I ever had in undergrad,” she said. “During college, my main focus was to just complete my coursework, but at Beckman, I was required to be in charge and manage people.”

Kilby’s experience at Beckman reflects the importance of human interaction in the workplace and, in particular, the responsibilities that go with leadership. While it is possible to improve one’s teamwork skills by participating in extracurricular activities or organizations, at the end of the day there is no substitute for learning how to interact and lead your fellow co-workers in a professional environment.  

Perhaps the closest alternative to gaining real work experience before beginning a career comes in the form of an internship. One way to think about an internship is to liken it to a first date. While the internship may not be the exact job a student wants to stick with forever, it serves as a valuable learning experience to better understand what works for him and what does not. For Patrick Schultz, junior in LAS, it was love at first sight when he began working as an intern for the health informatics company Intelligent Medical Objects this past summer.

“Everyone I worked with at my internship was great. I would tell them about what I had learned about in school and how it applied to the work we were doing, and they would just sit there and smile at me,” Schultz said. “They were extremely helpful and did a wonderful job of making me feel welcome as a newcomer.”

Aside from internships, undergraduates can increase their chances of being hired by cultivating skills that are beneficial to have, no matter an individual’s academic discipline. According to The Career Center’s Associate Director for Assessment and Research Julia Makela, the skills employers are really looking for are not necessarily skills specific to a particular major, but rather general skills that all members of the workforce should have.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from on campus. There are certain skills that are important to employers across all disciplines,” Makela said. “Some of these general skills include being able to actively engage in problem solving, communicating effectively with co-workers, having strong technological skills and being able to work well in a team.”

Jed can be reached at [email protected]