"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Most Important Thing You Learn in Graduate School Is Learning How to Learn (Or, Is it?)

If I don’t get fired for being technologically (or otherwise) incompetent the first week, this job may turn out to be OK, at least for the time being.

In my post earlier today, I mentioned that I had some fears about this job. One of them is my woefully behind-the-times tech knowledge. You see, in academe, nobody really cares all that much if you’re using an old (i.e. 2003) version of Office to write your articles, prep for class, keep your gradebook, or whatever, as long as you get your teaching and writing done. Nobody cares if you’ve ever dealt with the calendar function in Outlook, or ever used Outlook at all, as long as you more or less show up when and where you’re supposed to and more or less keep up with your e-mail correspondence. Nobody cares if you’re still using Windows XP or that you’ve never owned a laptop, nor does anyone care that you don’t ever use your old and very basic cellphone, much less whether you have a fancy new one, like a Blackberry or the latest iPhone.

In the nonacademic world, people do care. Of course, there are academic technophiles, but I am not one of them. I learn new software and how to use new devices only on an as-needed basis. Dear readers, I don’t even really give a crap about how the technology running this blog works, as long as I know just enough to cast my words out upon the interwebs (there will be no bells and whistles or fancy gadgets running here) for your reading pleasure. But, as the technophiles among you already know, technology changes. People who work in offices tend to keep up with these changes as a matter of course. In my new role, I will be using a laptop, with Windows 7 and Office 2007 on it, and I have been assigned a Blackberry (although I probably won’t have to use that very often). In my training session today, I was a bit overwhelmed. My tasks are not all that difficult, but it is Very Important that they get done – done promptly and done right. I am essentially the Joan Harris of this office, part executive secretary and part office manager (although the office itself is much, much smaller than the one Joan runs and in a less glamorous industry than advertising). If I screw up the calendar, Very Important Person misses Very Important Meeting. If I screw up travel arrangements, Very Important Person ends up in the wrong city without a car and misses Very Important Conference. If I screw up the expense reports or invoices, people don’t get reimbursed for travel and purchases or, in some cases, paid at all. I still don’t even know where to find all the stuff I need to use in these new MS applications, and I am kind of seriously freaking out.

Now, if you’re still reading, you may be wondering, “Why the frack did they hire this person who is so clearly technologically inept?” The answer is that I have a Ph.D. in English (!) and therefore ought to be able to figure out anything I don’t already know (!!?). How awesome is that?

Truthfully, I don’t think they realize just how utterly incompetent I am, but my boss was an undergraduate English major who had seriously considered going on for a Ph.D. and becoming a professor but wisely thought better of it. The other person who interviewed me, as well as the person I am replacing, were also both English majors and both currently write fiction. The colleague has published a novel. So, it was a good interview. We talked about writing. And critical theory (seriously, we did!), not secretary stuff.

They are going to be sorely disappointed and, if they do end up firing me, will probably never hire a Ph.D. again (sorry, fellow post academics, that I may end up leaving a very bad impression of us on the nonacademic world).

In fact, there is actually more (of a personally idiosyncratic nature) to the story of my technological ineptitude, at least when it comes to laptops and Blackberries, which speaks to the differences between working in academic vs. nonacademic environments, but I will save that for another post. Perhaps tomorrow, after my second and last training day and the Fancy Lunch to be held for the person I am to replace.

This weekend, I get to take the laptop home and will be giving myself a crash course in all that I never thought I’d want to know about the latest versions of Windows and Office. We will find out if it is indeed true that the most important thing you learn in graduate school is learning how to learn.

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