Re: Obsession with University Degrees?

Subject: Re: Obsession with University Degrees?
From: Elna Tymes <Etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 1996 12:54:00 -0700

Stuart F. Swain (actually Kathy) wrote:

> 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.

The biggest problem with hiring a newly minted graduate is whether they
can translate what the learned in college into the rather pragmatic
needs of an operating business. There are a lot of situations where the
ivory tower attitudes of the college campus simply don't work in
business, and I can well understand how businesses wouldn't want to hire
someone with those attitudes.

>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.

For pure research, that would be the ideal situation. Unfortunately,
there are few of those jobs available, outside of institutional

> 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.

In my experience, the folks who are teaching technical writing are doing
so for one of several reasons: (1) They simply love teaching, and will
take less money than they could make by writing just so that they can be
teachers. (2) They are part-time teachers, supplementing income they
make otherwise, sometimes as contract writers, sometimes as something
else. (3) Full-time teaching has some rewards, such as lower-stress
work environments (in general) and fully-funded pension plans, that many
technical writing situations can't match. And there are others.

As a business owner, and one who hires newly minted college grads all
the time, I can tell you why a degree is important to us: we figure
that we can hire someone who has proven they know how to do research and
to write in some limited ways, and teach them the tools they need to
learn within the first year. The key is not just the degree -- which
demonstrates to us that they know what it's like to set a goal and work
toward it -- but the demonstrated writing ability. We aren't strict
about the degree, either - we'll hire someone with some college if they
have the right attitudes.

We assume that our entry-level people won't know much more than MS Word,
and that on a fairly superficial level. However, we have a committment
to teach our people the tools they'll need, and to that end we have a
year-long education program that is pretty intense, but gets some
terrific results.

Teaching someone how to use a tool is trivial, in our experience,
compared to the perspective that a good education can provide. Since
most of technical writing involves the writer learning some new tool,
such as a software program, and then writing about how to learn it, we
figure that knowing *how* to learn is more important than the tools

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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