Putting that degree to use, but just how?
April 27, 2014 9:02 PM   Subscribe

What are some ways by which you keep current in your professional field? How do you find ways to put your education to use and to continue learning?

I have an MBA and work as a project manager handling a variety of projects.

I finished school in 2012 and am finding it difficult to apply some of the more interesting things I learnt during the MBA program to my daily work.

For example, I'd like to apply a lot more of the Management Science/Quantitative Decision Making theories I learnt to my project work (example coursework can be found here)

My questions are these:
1) How do you seek out and find ways to incorporate what you've learnt in school to your day to day work?

2) What are your sources of inspiration (professional) that help you re-introduce stuff you may have learnt, but have now forgotten - an example may be The Harvard Business Review which highlights a case about a company that uses quantitative decision making theory to save $100 Mn over 2 years for example.

3) How do you create time to learn the skills that you want to use and improve - for example I am finding a hard time setting aside time to create projects in excel that can teach me VBA. I'd also like to apply a lot more of the monte-carlo simulations I learnt to my work, but can't really seem to connect my day to day work to the use-case scenarios of the theory.

4) In other words, how do you keep learning (and create the time to learn) even when you are no longer in school or in a formal academic environment?

I am interested in knowing what you read on a regular basis (professional, high quality journals/research papers/magazines. The field doesn't matter as long as you get something out of it - an example of what is acceptable - HBR/MIT Management Review. Not acceptable - GQ/Men's Health), that helps further your professional knowledge and makes you smarter/better at what you do, than those who don't read it.

PS: How do I get free access to the Informs Journal?
posted by rippersid to Education (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this would apply to your situation, but I try to learn new things in IT by doing it as a hobby. It's actually more fun (usually) to do computer-related hobby projects than to do IT as a job. And the things I learn at home can sometimes transfer to work projects.
posted by alex1965 at 9:10 PM on April 27, 2014

I think a big mistake I made in my first few years of accounting, and the reason I started out hating my job, was that I expected my schoolwork to turn out to be a lot more applicable than it really was, and didn't focus nearly enough on what really mattered at the end of the day, which was a lot more about how to get things done and how to get other people to get things done. Of late, I've spent a lot more time getting into the productivity stuff, which can definitely end up with a lot of wheel-spinning, but it's well outside the stuff I ever learned in a formal educational setting and important to actually get that theoretical stuff applied to concrete situations.

Of course it's not really hard to find that sort of thing on the internet, but finding stuff that's really useful can be harder--archives from older blogs like 43 Folders, Getting Things Done which is ancient, a lot of it's really about just reading little bits here and there and trying to sift wheat from chaff.

Otherwise, in my industry, most of the continuing ed stuff is pretty codified since a lot of people have required hours they have to put in, and so it just winds up being "go sit in class and learn about tax updates" and that's not very exciting. I do read the AICPA's magazine and I think that's usually got good stuff in it. I think unfortunately the dirty secret of most of those complicated-seeming classes they make you take for b-school graduate degrees is that a lot of it is padding. I built an accounting system in Access once across a whole class, which was an interesting project but has never proven relevant since.
posted by Sequence at 9:26 PM on April 27, 2014

I'm a lawyer. I've found that once I mastered the basics, it was easier to be thinking about higher level applications of knowledge. I also go on very specific kicks. Recently, I've been really into constructing stronger narratives in my cases, so I've been reading on that topic and really focusing on that (and wide-ranging reading seems to work well, like reading books about writing good screenplays). Next maybe I'll work on filing more of a particular type of motion or something. But I find it much easier to limit yourself to one particular thing and "allow" everything else to remain as it is.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 9:40 PM on April 27, 2014

Learning for the sake of learning does get more difficult when you are an adult with a real job. Throw in a spouse and a couple of kids and it will border on impossible. I think you are going to need projects with an end goal. If you need to learn VBA to make a spreadsheet that does X you will find it much easier to carve out time, versus learning VBA just for the hell of it.

Also, I also have an MBA and I think you might be a little unrealistic about how applicable the stuff we learned in school is to real life. I view it as a framework for decision making, not a template.
posted by COD at 5:08 AM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with COD and Sequence. I have an MBA, and I found that the vast majority of my coursework was utterly irrelevant to me in my subsequent career. I get a bit depressed, actually, when I think of how much time, effort, and money went into my degree -- and how little benefit I received from it.

Most of what I needed to know I learned on the job. Also, the two most-important factors influencing your success are your ability to get along well with people, and your ability to manage your time effectively. Neither of these are taught at all (at least, not directly) in school.
posted by alex1965 at 5:56 AM on April 28, 2014

I too have an MBA, and thank God I'm not trying to put that class in Total Quality Management into use.

The thing about business is that it's as fluid as everything else in the world. The MBA is supposed to prime you to think about business as an interconnecting web of all of the different crap you studied.

That said, there are all kinds of continuing education classes you can take. I did a few workshops, but what I found was that it was better and more useful to take classes in things I actually used in my day to day work life.

If you like a subject, nothing stops you from pursuing it as a hobby. But there are things that easily become outmoded and fall by the wayside too. With good reason.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on April 28, 2014

It's a challenge for sure. I've been a practicing dentist for 25 yrs and my license requires that I take 20+ hrs of CE every year. Consequently, there's a big aftermarket for dental CE. Even so, the range of interesting topics gets pretty narrow as the years go on. New ways to market, the latest materials, how to save for retirement, blah blah blah. It's hard to find 20 hrs of something truly interesting year in and year out.
I just fell into a pattern of rotating among the disciplines: One year I will make into a refresher on the basics of restorative dentistry -- materials science, some new techniques, some tried and true techniques; the next year I move to oral surgery, take a hands on class in technique, review suturing, etc.
This year it's oral medicine. I've had to search high and low to find interesting classes, and had to stretch my definitions to get all 20 hrs in that disicpline, but it's never been a hard and fast rule anyway.
Still I find learning and keeping current to be stimulating, and traveling to CE can be fun too.

Good luck.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:39 AM on April 28, 2014

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