Developing Professional Skills in Unexpected Places

My daughter got married this fall and, because she and her fiancé were getting married in Philadelphia but live in Canada, I helped them with a lot of the organizational activities, including creating, refining and using the master invitation list. At the start, it became apparent to me that, in order to do this most efficiently, I should learn how to use Excel.

Younger readers to this blog will think to themselves, “Doesn’t everyone know how to use Excel? It’s so basic.” I’m of the older generation who started using computers in my second professional job in the late 1970’s and bought my first personal computer in 1983. And while I have learned (and forgotten) a whole raft of programs over the last three decades, I stayed away from Excel, partly out of fear – it looked too complex and numerical for me — and partly because my office mainly uses Access for data management.

I’ll never be an expert but, in addition to being able to make mailing labels for the invitation, I was able to keep a running tally of who was coming on which side and create files for seating arrangements, dietary preferences and escort cards
I’m telling you this because you need to remember that what you do outside of class, the library or the lab may help you in your job search or, if you’re already employed, do better in your current job.

Undergraduates are very good at including extracurricular activities on their resumes along with the GPAs, but graduate students (the group I work with at Career Services) are less likely to think of them as opportunities where relevant strengths are developed and demonstrated. In fact, many will say, “I don’t have time for anything extracurricular!”

It doesn’t have to be organized activities and you don’t have to do anything big or be very engaged in. For another example from my life, there are currently a lot of assessment activities going on in student services offices and some of the assessment methods involve using rubrics. When my children were younger their school used rubrics to assess learning outcomes and involved parents in the process. So now I may be using something I learned about in a somewhat passive way, and I imagine you have done something similar.

So, expand your thinking in regards to your skills. As the line from the “hokey-pokey” says, “put your whole self in!”

Author: Julie Miller Vick

Julie Miller Vick is the Senior Associate Director in Career Services for graduate students and post docs.