Re: Obsession with University Degrees?

Subject: Re: Obsession with University Degrees?
From: "Stuart F. Swain" <sswain -at- SPRYNET -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 1996 15:10:07 -0400

Penny Staples wrote:

> This brings me to a pet peeve: University and college technical
> writing programmes persist in hiring professors who have never
> had to make a living working as writers (at least that's the way
> it works around here). Why is this?

It's all too true. I actually know of a case in which a technical writing prof
admitted that he had never even learned to type--his wife did it for him. To
his credit, he took a semester off to work as a free intern. But I don't think
I could stand in front of a classroom and talk about something with any
authority at all if I had no experience in the field.

ON THE OTHER HAND, there's the beginning of an explanation in the
statement you made:

> Ideally, I'd want to look
> for someone with a university background AND relevant experience.
> But I'd take a writer with proven experience and no degree before
> I'd take a university grad with no experience as a writer.

I've witnessed this attitude again and again during my husband's job search.
Time and time again, he was told "your credentials are impressive, but you
have no on-the-job-experience." Or even, "you're too smart for this field;
you'll be bored." !?!?!?! Now, by hook and by crook, he's GOT the
experience, but employers still seem suspicious of the degree. And that
poor budding "perfesser"? He never got lucky and snagged a rare
internship, and how many companies want to hire someone who has already
stated that he wants to be a professor. How was he to acquire that "proven
experience"? He HAD to get a teaching job first, and get the "real" writing
experience when he could afford to do it on a volunteer basis. It's a pretty
wicked catch-22. Of course, the universities could hire people who get the
writing experience first and then decide to go on for the advanced degrees
so that they can get juicy teaching jobs, but (at least in my experience)
tech communicators earn considerably more than tech communications
teachers, so I doubt that there are all that many of them rattling around out
there with Ph.D.s.


But I agree with the person who stated that we have missed the point. The
real issue is not how to evaluate the education of an applicant, but how to
evaluate the applicant. Employers miss out on a lot of incredibly gifted
people because they go by some ridiculous checklist instead of actually
THINKING about individual applicants. And I'm frankly amazed (and
somewhat dismayed) at what is required of "entry-level" applicants these
days. It is perfectly reasonable to hire a seasoned writer over a novice who
has no more than a degree to his or her credit, but many ads call for
"entry-level" writers with 3-5 years of on-the-job experience, a degree,
AND experience in Framemaker, RoboHelp, etc. How is this "entry'level"?

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