Wielding experiential education as a tool for professional wisdom

August 8, 2023 at 9:10 PM
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Wielding experiential education as a tool for professional wisdom

By Rachel Orenstein UA’24 and Jim Stellar

In our last blog post about applying new knowledge to old routines, as well as in our prior blog post about an internship reshaping perspectives of learning, we have explored how experiential education can garner professional wisdom. In this blog post, we will explore this concept with a sharper focus by discussing your latest internship and combining the lessons of all three experiences. So, to start, what have you been up to?

This summer, my final summer between academic terms, I have been working in an industry that has always intrigued me: publishing. It also intimidated me because it seemed difficult to break into and even harder to succeed in. Now having experienced the business personally, that intimidation remains (but in a more productive way). It is a competitive industry. Those within it try very hard to succeed – so much so that I frequently questioned whether I had the passion to devote myself to my work, should I continue within the field.

Is my interest enough? Am I capable of doing well here? Is this what I want?

And I wasn’t always certain. Despite being exactly where I wanted to be, I sometimes felt unmotivated to do the work. It was terribly confusing.

Very interesting. The main lesson here may be on motivating yourself in a situation that requires you to do that.

The work from this internship primarily involved industry research using a wide variety of sources (and therefore perspectives). I also collected and organized a lot of information, in addition to partaking in a few marketing projects. My favorite part of the experience was listening to typical business meetings and conversations with authors. It was reassuring to hear how the people conducting these calls discussed things because I understood them! It definitely reduced my self-doubt about whether I could see myself in a similar position one day. Human conversation has that effect, I suppose.

While the activities themselves were quite ordinary, it was the content that I found interesting. I learned so much about publishing through this internship. It really was the perfect experience to better understand the business. I am grateful for it. And I actually look forward to implementing all this newfound knowledge in future experiences, be they in publishing or elsewhere.

I think you are right that self-motivation was the main challenge I faced, and therefore the main lesson. This motivational struggle stemmed not from laziness – I very much wanted to do this work and learn from it – but because I doubted my place in the position for a while. But questioning whether you are good enough proves you want to be good. And upon reflection of my experiences this summer, I surprisingly find that I do want to be successful in this field.

Human conversation is a very important part of this experience. What makes it human is the emotional part, the limbic system working in parallel with your cognitive (cortical) systems.

That makes sense. When I said, “human conversation has that effect, I suppose,” I was referring to obtaining confidence through listening to professionals speak. But on a broader level, conversing with people does seem to be the most effective way to understand something. As an idea is repeated, it is honed – through your own explanations, through others’ perceptions, through questions and new ideas branching off that original thought, and finally through summary of a better version. This is great for smaller, more immediate ideas like a task at work but it can also be used as a tool for reflection (like with this blog).

Also, mastering through your own effort is a great teacher of confidence, and the fact that the experience turned out to be positive is probably important as you would not have said that if you found the experience negative. To finish, perhaps we need to think a bit about the imposter syndrome where newish professionals sometimes feel that they are “faking it.” While that may be helpful to make one work harder (to not fail) it can be emotionally diminishing. What do you think of “growth mindset” as a counter? It says, “I cannot do that … yet.”  The “yet” is the part that builds with success.

I think imposter syndrome was present at the start of each experiential education opportunity I’ve undertaken. As mentioned in our first blog post together, my prior internship began with an overwhelming sense of under-qualification. I absolutely felt like I was “faking it” because I had never experienced anything similar to that work before. I did the best I could, expecting my work to be unsatisfactory, but it turned out to be exactly what they wanted from me. Then, after my semester abroad, I experienced a more personal version of imposter syndrome (which we discussed in our last blogpost). I returned to my usual routine and could no longer see the growth I expected to have from being overseas. I felt like I was “faking” my own personal development. Then I took a regional weekend trip and my new skills became obvious. And here, once again, I doubted myself in the position I held. I wanted to do well, but it took a while before I realized I could.

“I cannot do that… yet,” is a great mantra for the moments when self-motivation is a struggle. The self-confidence that comes with success is built through experience. We will be successful despite challenges because we have been successful before.

We conclude this blogpost by commenting on emotional-cognitive integration and particularly the role of professional wisdom at the start of a career. Experiential education is a vital tool to shape this wisdom because it exists at the crux between school and work. Growth mindset can be a part of building that positive emotional-cognitive integration that marks a person as having at least the beginning of professional wisdom, or perhaps simply maturity.

Perhaps most important, particularly for college students building toward the professional world, is acknowledging one’s capability for growth (and even more importantly that we are always growing from experience). That is a victory in itself.

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