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Academics vs Experience - An interns perspective

Brian Cronin, Summer Intern in Tax - Global Employer Services, Cork

Having spent three years studying physiotherapy and, having just completed my third year of a Commerce and French degree in UCC, I feel uniquely placed to discuss the never-ending “Academics vs Experience” conundrum.

Ultimately, a student’s primary role within the academic world, is to come out the other end with a piece of paper. This sheet, otherwise known as a degree, speaks universally of one’s ability to think critically – that is one’s capacity to analyse a particular situation or problem from all angles, and to make a logical, evidence-based decision to deal with it.

In this context, the academic world serves a very important function within a student’s dreaded transition to becoming a “graduate” – a word which triggers shivering thoughts of equally ominous realities such as “commuting”, “mortgages” and (God forbid) “settling down”.    

I’m often asked how much use my time in physiotherapy has been while pursuing my current degree. On the face of it, the inter-rater and intra-rater reliability of goniometric measurements of the knee joint have very little in common with the preparation of financial statements. However, when one sifts beneath the surface, numerous advantages come to light. Some benefits, academic professionals would like to hear – for instance, I’m obviously older now completing my degree, and therefore more likely to be in tune with what I really want to do.  Others, such as knowing which classes to skip (I call this “time management”), they perhaps wouldn’t.

What must be said is that these perceived benefits have come at a significant financial cost – propped up, in my case, by loans, parental generosity and wages from various jobs. Indeed, the majority of students today, within the Irish educational landscape at least, have to work in parallel with their academic studies. 

While primarily brought about by financial necessity, this has accentuated the relationship between education and experience. Indeed, perhaps this blog-post should be re-named “Academics and Experience” as, instead of being mutually exclusive, education and experience should in fact work hand in hand with one another. Like Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, their strength is not in how vigorously they compete with one another, but in the bond in which they share.

While on a superficial level, a student’s job rarely complements their academic pursuits, I still believe it prepares them for an internship or graduate position within their chosen profession. Punctuality, appropriate dress, communicating with both fellow employees and customers – these are examples of skills that I have acquired outside of the classroom and used on this internship. Meanwhile, my academic performance to date has helped me to think logically and to be confident in my ability to take on responsibility for new challenges (such as this blog!). Personally, I think employers appreciate this cocktail of real-world experience and acquired knowledge as well because ultimately, employment challenges one to apply what they have learned within this real-life context.


It’s also important not to forget those for whom the third-level education system does not serve - people, for instance, whose skills and learning methods are not catered for by our education system. While for some people, the academic and employment worlds balance harmoniously, I think it’s important to realise that for others the value of experience, and especially learning through this experience, is weighted far greater.

 

Consequently, I believe the relationship between academia and experience is a fluid one, which can tailor itself to one’s learning requirements.

To conclude, I’d like to look into the crystal ball. Will the academic framework and the jobs market continue along similar paths? What impact will funding shortages in the university system have? What impact will an increasing amount of graduates have on the number and type of jobs available? And what about advances in technology – how will this effect employment opportunities and how will the university system adapt? It’s at this point where you should question my psychic abilities as I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. However, one certainty is that the relationship between academics and experience is a dynamic one, perhaps a microcosm of the relationship we, as humans, have with the world itself at this rapidly-changing time.

That dip into the murky depths of philosophy is where I will leave this. Hopefully, I have been able to offer some insight into how my internship has helped me discover that although my academic background and working experience may individually be useful, their real value is in their fusion. This fusion is a fluid and ever-changing one – responsive to the new challenges for which we are presented with every day.

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