4 Things I Didn’t Learn in College (but wish I had)

ego-deflatedThis guest post was written by NU Alum Kelly (Sullivan) Good she currently works as geologist at Environmental Resources Management in Chicago. 

When I graduated from college, I was convinced I knew everything. I mean, it was right there on paper: good grades, multiple awards; let’s face it, I was a great student. And I was pretty sure I was going to ace the Real World too (cue the “wah wah” as we picture my metaphorical ego being deflated). It turns out, there were several ways in which I was very much under prepared.

Don’t get me wrong, Northeastern prepared me very well. I learned a ton about my chosen field thanks to fabulous professors, I learned time management, I learned how to craft a great resume and cover letter, I learned how to write about a variety of subjects, and most importantly I learned how to learn. I certainly would not be where I am today without a Northeastern degree under my belt.

Even so there were some subtle tips I just didn’t pick up in college. But never fear, it’s not too late to start integrating them into your life right now!

1. You can’t just look good on paper and expect others to notice you.

It took me a long time to find a job, despite having a solid resume.  Grades matter, yes, but so do a host of other factors and often it boils down to who you know. You hear it all the time: network. So start early, Huskies. Establish solid, lasting relationships with mentors at your co-op. Perfect and re-perfect your cover letter. You can never spend too much time job searching.

2. There are no grades at work

Well, duh. But this one took me by surprise. In college, there is a fairly standard metric to measure yourself on, at work there isn’t. It’s hard to know how you are well you are doing, unless of course you really mess up. At my job my supervisor gives me a task, I complete it and move to the next one. I spent the first three months convinced I was doing everything wrong because I wasn’t constantly being graded. It turns out, all I had to do was ask. This will likely vary by industry and by supervisor, but once I sought feedback from colleagues I became much more confident. Practice this at school by asking your professors and classmates to look over assignments before handing them in. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment with your professor to talk about ways you can improve, this is totally normal in the Real World.

3. You’re no longer just working for yourself

At NEU, I would pick and choose assignments to devote a lot of time to depending on how they affected my grade. I also developed the poor habit of doing all of a group project because I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it right. I did everything for myself because my grades didn’t affect anyone else but me. Not so much in the Real World. Every task you’re given has a purpose. Your company is depending on you to complete it well. Additionally, most of what you do is part of a larger project. You must learn to be courteous of others’ time, and learn that you cannot possibly take care of everything. Begin now by completing all of your assignments to the best of your abilities and by taking advantage of the shared responsibility that comes with group projects.

4. You can’t always research your way to the right answer

This was the most difficult for me to get used to. Before starting my job, I spent three straight years as graduate student researching my thesis. I was very good at reading scientific articles and even spent whole days and weeks looking for small pieces of information that would push my research to the next level. Ain’t nobody got time for that in the Real World, my friends. If you don’t immediately know the answer to a problem, start asking around. You will save a ton of time using the combined knowledge of your colleagues instead of trying to Google something that’s super industry-specific. This one is a little harder to work on while in college. Obviously, you can’t just ask your professor for the answer, and too much collaboration with your classmates can be considered cheating. So I recommend you continue to research and study the way that works best for you, but try not to forget all that information you learned. It might come in handy some day, and you may be the one your colleagues come to for answers.

In all, it’s not too bad out here in the Real World, but I do know I would have been much better off had I known these things before graduating!

Kelly (Sullivan) Good graduated from Northeastern’s College of Arts and Sciences in May 2010 with a degree in Environmental Science. She received her Master’s in Geology from the University of Utah in 2013 and currently works as geologist at Environmental Resources Management in Chicago. She can be reached at kellygood88@gmail.com

Photo: sourced from EWW­Magazine

Shawn’s Home Run: Blending Computer Science and His Love for the Sox

clockwise: NU Commencement 2008, me holding the 2013 World Series Trophy, me in the Duckboat on parade day

clockwise: NU Commencement 2008, me holding the 2013 World Series Trophy, me in the Duckboat on parade day

This guest post was written by 2008 alum (I know, 6 years later not 5, but his advice is too good!), Shawn O’Rourke, for the 5 Alums, 5 Years Later series. Shawn graduated with a BS in computer science and is now the Coordinator of Baseball Systems Development for the Boston Red Sox. 

November 2nd, 2013:  Thousands gather in celebration around the city of Boston. On Boylston Street specifically, where just six and a half months earlier, one of the most tragic events of the city’s history took place. The Championship Trophy stood proudly on the Boston Marathon Finish line, draped with the numbers “617” and words “Boston Strong” around it.  I will always remember exactly where I was at that moment: riding in a Duckboat, hand over my heart, singing “God Bless America” in unison with the thousands in attendance.  Remembering the victims and their families and the courageous efforts by the first responders, I couldn’t help but get emotional.  It was one of those moments when you realize how truly fortunate you are. A moment that makes you recognize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. Part of the healing process. One of Boston’s Strong.  My name is Shawn O’Rourke.  I’m a 2008 graduate of Northeastern University and Coordinator of Baseball Systems Development for the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

You may be wondering how a NU Alum with a Computer Science degree finds himself riding in a World Series parade with the likes of David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. The answer is simple – networking, patience, passion and hard work. As an undergrad in 2007 I was fortunate enough to be in a class where the then Red Sox Director of IT (also a Northeastern Alum) happened to be a guest speaker. After class, I introduced myself, handed him my resume, and a few weeks later had myself a co-op in the IT department. Throughout my six months running around Fenway Park fixing computers, printers, phones, and a/v equipment I was able to meet people from all different company departments.  These connections would ultimately help me land my dream job after graduation. But it did not happen right away.

I remember driving back home to my parents house the day after my graduation ceremony in May 2008.  College was officially over.  No more classes, no more homework, no more finals.  It felt great, however, I also didn’t have a job and didn’t have any money (aside from graduation gifts).  It was a very scary feeling.  So what do you do as a broke graduate with no job?  You join your friends on a month-long backpacking trip around Western Europe, obviously!  Turned out to be the first great decision of my post-college life.  Remember – you have six months before you have to begin to start paying off those college loans and the rest of your life to work on building your career.  So first piece of advice is, if you have the time and the money to travel – DO IT NOW! Just remember Liam Neeson won’t be there to save you (sorry bad Taken reference).

Two days after returning from my trip, I received a phone call from a connection with the Red Sox with an offer to work as a consultant doing software development.  It wasn’t a full-time position, and it wasn’t exactly my dream job, but I took a leap of faith knowing that, over time, I could network my way to where I wanted to be.  Remember – just because you don’t get your dream job right away does not mean you won’t ever get there.  Patience is truly a virtue.  At the company Christmas party in 2008 I had a conversation with the Director of Baseball Information Services in Baseball Operations – the department that I desperately wanted to work in.  Two months later, I was hired full-time by baseball operations to work exclusively on baseball systems – my dream job! I’ve been there ever since.  My patience, networking, and hard-work had paid off!

Now, maybe you don’t quite know what your dream job is right now – totally fine.  My advice for those who are unsure is to start by finding a place to work that does something you are passionate about – even if your degree or major doesn’t directly apply to it.  My degree was in Computer Science – but my lifelong passion was baseball.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that have degrees in subjects that have almost no relevance to what their jobs are today.  The truth, at least in my experience, is if a company can tell that you are a hard-worker who is passionate about what the company does, they can and will teach you the necessary skills as long as you’re willing to learn.

So congratulations, my fellow huskies, on completing this chapter of your lives.  As you prepare to start your next one, just remember that above all else, it is yours to write.

Shawn O’Rourke is the Coordinator of Baseball Systems Development for the Boston Red Sox and proud NU Alum.  Feel free to contact him at sorourke@redsox.com or tweet him at @Shawn_ORourke