(There’s Gotta Be) More to School

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There might be times during our studies when we start questioning the purpose of studying itself. Why do we spend a lot of hours doing all the things that our professors tell us to do? As the saying goes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the demanding tasks that we have to deliver at school might become a great learning experience once we start living in the ‘real world’. In this article, I’d like to share my soft-skills learning lessons at school that I’m so grateful to have gone through, especially after I started working.

Whether you are in school or in work, you must be facing these things: having a project deadline, being an all-nighter before the exam begins, presenting your ideas to your peers and how to work on your project effectively with a time constraint. On top of that, handling the pressure of your project can be hard to manage. I found these were the things I have experienced in work and school, with different intensity and context. These experiences are common things to happen as a student, yet they can be avoidable if we can manage it better. I know you need to do readings and assignments to gain the knowledge in school, but at the same time there are also opportunity where you can develop your soft skills.

During my master study, there were classes where they allowed us to manage our own project, mostly on research. In research project, we try to answer the research question by showing some evidences. Prior to that, it should start by background study or simply say literature review. Whether in research or in any other project, there are some steps that you follow in order to achieve the project goal. Whether as a group or as an individual project, I think it would be great that we have the essential skills of project management to make our life easier. They include communication, personal organization, leadership, team management, negotiation, and risk management. They seem like a long list to practice, but actually school might be a good place to exercise.

Communication Skills
Communication is a basic skill for all us, be it at school or at work or in society, as our way to effectively convey ideas with project team or other people. Exchanging ideas with your project team can be challenging if you do not know how to explain and persuade. It also goes the same thing with presentation skill. Pitching research ideas to your professor or having this kickoff meeting with your potential partner at work: these activities require a compelling presentation to achieve your purpose. Challenge yourself to get involved in a project team and take initiative can be one of many ways to exercise your communication skill. Remember that practice makes perfect.

Personal Organization
We all know that we do not have all the time in the world to finish our project, whether in work or school in general. But what I have learned is that how we can do to be productive to achieve your goals within a time constraint. As a student, you must develop some skills on time management, given having a few classes in one semester with a lot of readings and assignments in each class. What we can practice is to try to be discipline with ourselves. Self-managing is not always easy and it is easier to find excuse to disobey.

There are some tools that you can use to manage your time. We sometimes happen to feel burnt out by having a long to-do-list with limited time. One thing that might help is using a tool on task management app. Yes, your smartphone can help you become more productive on a daily basis. By writing all the things to do (or some future plans), you train yourself to be systematic in your way of thinking. This exercise may also contribute on how you manage project management (knowing the priority list, planning things ahead, being consistent with achieving the goals within a certain due date).

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Leadership and Team Management
It is not easy, yet difficult, to be a good team player. Being able to listen to others and respecting the opinions and ideas of others are the key. In another hand, being a leader requires one essential characteristics: self-confidence. You can practice to be a leader in your class project for instance through arranging project meeting, leading the discussion and being responsible with the project itself. The simple way of reminding each other about the project task and deadline would be a good exercise. Being a volunteer in some campus activity or being active in an organization could also help you develop your leadership skills.

Negotiation
This part of communication skill has a big role in project management. Knowing how to negotiate the use of resources, budgets, schedules and variety of other compromises are valuable. For example: by negotiating your current priorities to supervisor, other less important tasks can be delegated to other team members or to be pending. All the things might be in one plate, but remember that you should identify your priority given the time constraint and the energy that you have. There is nothing wrong with saying no or later, as long as you have strong argument to support it for the sake of your project. One way to exercise it is by thinking strategically in group project management at school or organization, such as discussing on responsibility of each team member and connecting with the long term goal.

Risk Management
Basically, try to be three steps ahead in your project. Being able to predict and to identify potential issues will increase your chances of delivering projects successfully. A simple way to exercise is to prepare some potential questions that audience might ask during your idea presentations. However, it would be great if you can take the potential questions into account while working on your presentation.

Clearly, the projects, homework, and other tasks that we face as a student slowly develop a lot of skillsets that can be useful at a later stage in our life. If you are currently at this stage, trust me that the reward will be satisfying as you’d get used to it and become better without even realizing it. If you’re about to move on from college, you could even share your learning stories during job interviews and convince the interviewer that you qualify for the job that you’re applying. If you’re already working, take a moment to realize the various activities at school that must helped you gain various skillsets that you possess. I hope that after reading my story, you’d appreciate your soft skills learning process at school, and make the most out of it – during and even after college life.

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Photo by Matteo Vistocco