The Value of Experience
April 28, 2022
This may sound odd coming from an academic, but I find students sometimes focus too much on their credit-based work, forgetting about value of other experiences. Drexel is a leader in experiential education with our co-op program. And we know that our students who go out on co-op gain incredible advantages over their peers who don’t have a co-op opportunity. This experience offers advantages that translate into full-time job offers, higher salaries, etc. because students build an incredible toolbox of skills they can’t learn in the classroom. While Drexel does offer co-op opportunities to graduate students, it is not built into the academic plan of every program, as it is at the undergraduate level, but there are still plenty of “experience” opportunities available.
Unlike your undergraduate counterparts, it is more likely you have narrowed down your career focus. I encourage you to think about not just your first job out of graduate school or for those of you already working, not just that first promotion – rather, think about the skills you will need to get that next job or promotion, as well as the skills for the next one after that. Make a list of those skills, at a minimum, they should include: leadership, team building, communication, time management, strategic planning, etc. They might also include, managing budgets, marketing or promotions, analysis, etc. Whatever those skills are, make a list and forge a path forward by engaging in a variety of experiences that will give you opportunities to grow those skills.
This is not just about building your resume or CV, which is important for graduate students, it is also about learning. After all, you are in graduate school to learn. Just remember learning occurs inside and outside the classroom. So, what experiences should, or could, a graduate student look for on, or near, campus?
- Committee Experience – students get asked to sit on campus committees to represent their peers. First, this is a perfect opportunity to network with faculty and staff, even leadership, from other areas at the university. You also have the opportunity to learn skills such as teamwork, strategic planning, communication, brainstorming, project management, and even leadership.
- Student Government – At Drexel, our Graduate Student Association is an active group. The leaders of the GSA are elected and take on leadership roles, sit on other campus committees to represent the student voice, they plan and manage events, all of which provides an opportunity to learn the following skills: leadership, event planning, time management, project management, policy review, marketing/promotion/social media, communication, and budgeting.
- Student Clubs – clubs and affinity groups are certainly popular at the undergraduate level, but that doesn’t mean graduate students can’t be involved in clubs or start clubs to fill specific needs for the graduate student population. Leading or engaging regularly with a student-run club can provide similar experiences as serving in student government.
- Campus Job – for some a job is a necessity. Students who work on campus usually gain a wealth of skills. For example, students who work in the campus bookstore gain customer service skills and maybe even simple elements of supply chain management. Students who work in campus offices gain administrative skills such as use of Microsoft Office tools, communication, and organization. While the skills you will learn depend on the specific experience, administrative skills are highly transferable. Employers are reluctant to hire someone who has little to no actual job experience. A hiring manager is more likely to hire someone with administrative experience because they know that hire doesn’t need to learn basic office operations on top of other skills they will need to learn.
- Campus Volunteering – there are often plenty of opportunities to volunteer on campus. Depending on the volunteer role, you can gain a wide variety of skills, such as leadership, marketing/promotion/social media, project management, and the list goes on.
- Off-Campus Volunteering – Since Drexel resides in the City of Philadelphia, there is no shortage of volunteering opportunities, all of which will help you build upon your experience to develop skills you need to catapult your career.
Whether you are a doctoral or a master’s student, take some time to look at your career trajectory and first, ensure your plan of study speaks to those career goals, think about your elective course work and how they can broaden or narrow your focus. Then think about those skills you will need that you can’t gain in the classroom and work to build and hone those skills. And if you are still not sure exactly where you want your degree to take you, then giving yourself the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of experiences will help you narrow down options. I have always told students, an experience where you walk away thinking, “Oh, I never want to do that again,” is a great experience because you learned something about yourself and what does NOT interest you.
In graduate school learning is clearly about the classroom, but it is equally about what you learn outside of the classroom. Take advantage of every opportunity, advocate for yourself to get additional opportunities, such as committee or volunteer work. In the end, these experiences will not only give you a nicely fleshed out resume or CV, they will also give you tangible experiences to talk about in an interview, and most important, they will set you up to succeed as you embark upon your career.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor, Goodwin College