Bridging the academic and professional

Having crossed from the academic to the professional side of the bridge at the start of my career, I have since gone back over the bridge and for the past twenty years have been a student, lecturer and researcher with The Open University. I found similarities and differences on the two sides of the bridge. On both sides I needed to meet the needs of stakeholders, whether they were clients or examiners. On both sides I had to manage my time, meet deadlines and produce quality work. Ethics and professional judgement were as relevant on both sides. But on the academic side I came across techniques such as literature reviews and research methodology, and concepts such as epistemology and phenomenology. Words such as validity, generalisability and reliability suddenly had very particular meanings. So it did seem that I had entered a different and rather strange world, one whose ethos and culture took some time to understand. Life and the language used were very different on the two sides of the bridge. 

Meanwhile employability is a critical issue and the higher education sector needs to help students cross over the bridge from academia to work. The employability records of universities affects where students choose to study. And, when they are at university, students will always be trying to look for a link between any assessments they have to complete and how they will be able to use what they are learning in the workplace. Giving students the right balance between academic and professional experience is critical. The two are like the hot and cold tap in a bath. You can’t just use one or the other – to get the right balance you need a mixture of the two. But if students cannot put their academic skills into context in a job interview we are missing a trick.

We need to help students change how they describe their academic knowledge and experience so that it resonates with employers. Instead of saying they can do literature reviews, students need to explain that they are good at identifying and understanding the background and context to an issue. Instead of saying they understand about research methods, they need to be saying they can apply appropriate techniques to the analysis of problems. Instead of talking in detail about their dissertation, they need to be emphasising how they have explored all aspects of an issue and then come up with reasoned, informed recommendations. And they need to stress how they have learnt to complete agreed tasks, to meet deadlines and to summarise and write succinctly.       

The bridge between the world of academia and the world of the professional workplace needs to be as easy as possible to cross. Those of us who are helping people make this transition need to be able to speak fluently the languages on both sides of the bridge. As educators we have two key responsibilities: to talk in the right language at the right time and to help students with their ‘translation’ skills as they cross the bridge from higher education into the workplace.

I would love to hear of any examples where you have been able to do this.

What has worked well? What challenges have you come across?