How much of what I learned in school am I actually using in my career? Well, that is an interesting question and it actually does cause a bit of reflection. To be honest, from an overall percentage standpoint, I would say that I’m using a very small amount of the facts I learned but that’s just the technical answer. Since I know that the question is likely coming from those who are tired of memorizing the artists from a particular era, various chemistry nomenclature, and the like, I’m going to be honest with you. Yes, there are a lot scholastic details that I have forgotten, and rightfully so. However, on a larger scale, there’s a tremendous amount that I have learned through my academic experience that I do utilize. It may sound trite, but I’ve learned how to work with deadlines. I’ve learned how to work with people. I’ve learned how to time manage. I’ve learned how to figure things out. The truth is, what happens in school isn’t just the memorization of processes, facts and figures, but it is the strengthening of a mental muscle that will serve you well in the future.
My job as a Bridge Design Engineer might not incorporate every single mathematical theorem that I had to regurgitate on a college exam. Neither has it involved an ounce of weight training that I took as a PE course elective. But the fact of the matter is, just as those weights strengthened my muscle to be more useful in the next basketball game I played in, in the same manner, my mental muscle was strengthened through various high school and college experiences. It allows me to take a problem that’s been handed to me and figure out a way to get it done, even when there isn’t a set path in front of me. To the person who may be asking the question, “How much of this do I even need to remember for my future career?” Please remember, that it is not always about the exact thing that you study but it’s more about the process of engaging and learning that is invaluable. I like to think of school as a continuous like a big weight training class. It’s strength and conditioning for your mind, and sure, there are several non-traditional ways that you can engage in the same; I encourage those as well.
I caution anyone who is on the path to becoming an Engineer, or a Scientist, or any other STEM professional and bemoans the need to take apparently unrelated electives in their curriculum. Trust me. It’s all for a purpose. The real answer to, “How much of what I learn in school will I use in my career?” Is, “Pretty much all of it.” Pretty much all of it. Because it’s not about the destination or accomplishment, or getting every single President’s names correct. It’s the transformation that takes place while you’re engaged in that journey. Continue to give all you got at each step, and I promise you, you’ll come out much better in the end.
Nehemiah J. Mabry, Ph.D. is a structural engineer, educator, and entrepreneur based in Raleigh, NC. He is the founder and president of STEMedia, and he believes in not simply having the next BIG thing, but creating it 😉 >> https://www.youtube.com/