I’ve been really enjoying my most recent contract position. I do technical writing for a healthcare IT company. I got this gig because I had an IT and pharmacy background, with a masters in communication. I was qualified on paper and luckily the CEO thought the same thing too. But I didn’t have any knowledge of healthcare policy, especially as it related to Medicare and Medicaid (I’m a thirty-something. I didn’t think I would have to think about Medicare for another 30 years. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!).
What I’ve been able to learn in the last month and a half has been pretty cool. And I realized based on the stuff I’ve learned so far – that you can take any subject, no matter how esoteric, and become at least somewhat educated on it in 7 days time, assuming you put in a few hours each day researching it. I don’t mean to say you’ll be able to write research papers and such (though that’s exactly what the entire term paper writing industry is about), but you’ll be “reasonably educated” to ask the right questions, know who the major influencers are and so on. You’ll know enough to deliver value to clients.
Let me explain how. I had this Anatomy, Physiology & Hygiene professor at college (undergrad) who had a rant or two up his sleeve about how pharmacy was taught. In most Indian undergrad colleges, you have to:
A) declare your major at the time you apply to college (which 18 year old is really ready to answer what s/he wants to do when s/he grows up?! But another discussion for another day)
B) spend 3 years of your life studying said subject in detail
Now my college was different. We still had to comply with requirement A, but we got a whole lot of leeway in area B. It was modeled on the American system of education, so we had a different structure. We did two years of common engineering courses (Advanced Calculus, Modern Physics, Intro to Biology etc), then spent the third year acquiring credits in our chosen major.
We could spend the rest of our credits doing any courses we liked, including ones that were completely unrelated to our majors. In America, you would call this structure your major and minor, and call it a day. In my college, we called them Cores and Electives, and the faculty somehow was never on board with this kind of “mindless” flexibility.
So this APH professor of mine used to get really worked up about this. He couldn’t believe that after 36 semester hours of instruction, we his students would know enough about anatomy and physiology that he spent 3 years of his life learning. On a surface level, its true enough. How can 3 years (assuming about 180 college days of at least 5 hour instruction per year) compare to a paltry 36 hours of instruction? I guess it all boiled down to what you meant by education. If you meant that you gave students the basics, a vast library and the tools to find out more about research, then my college was succeeding. If you wanted students who stick to the rote of what’s in textbooks, you went for the 3 years in detail mode of education.
But I’ve seen the wisdom of my college’s model of education at several jobs I’ve worked. I’ve worked the coffee-and-photocopy internship circuit where I learned about nanotechnology, Mayan civilization and deaf culture in America. I approach basic research like a many tentacled being. Read up, read the research that the research is based on, I go maybe 2-3 levels deep. And never once have I had a client complain.
Seriously it’s supreme fun being a writer. You never know what you’re going to learn next.
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