Wednesday, December 22, 2010

American Education And Response Memos

Phoebe linked somewhat offhandedly to this article in The Economist about the oversupply of PhDs. One passage stuck out for FLG:
The organisations that pay for research have realised that many PhDs find it tough to transfer their skills into the job market. Writing lab reports, giving academic presentations and conducting six-month literature reviews can be surprisingly unhelpful in a world where technical knowledge has to be assimilated quickly and presented simply to a wide audience. Some universities are now offering their PhD students training in soft skills such as communication and teamwork that may be useful in the labour market. In Britain a four-year NewRoutePhD claims to develop just such skills in graduates.

Last year, when FLG was taking that political economy of international finance course, one of his classmates was an Italian guy who worked for the World Bank. He was finishing up one of the MA programs in the government department. FLG forgets which one.

Anyway, before class, FLG and this guy would talk. At some point, he mentioned he'd done his undergraduate work at Bocconi. He seemed surprised that FLG had heard of it. In any case, FLG asked what differences he'd noticed between his previous education and at Georgetown.

"Response memos," the guy said. "Everything is theoretical over in Italy. You're tested on your mastery of the minutiae of this or that theory. You write long papers on them and have oral exams where the professors delve into every nook and cranny trying to figure out any little thing you might not know. Whether it's applicable beyond those walls isn't important."

"Here, in these professional masters programs, it's more about response memos. You comprehend the theory and then apply it quickly. There are things to be said for both approaches, but the ability to synthesize large amounts of information and produce a 2-3 page memo has been tremendous for me at work. And I think will continue to help throughout my career. It's probably something you can do in your sleep, but they don't teach that in Italy."

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