Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And Now, For Something Completely Different

My major in college was finance, with an emphasis on monetary theory and financial institutions.

I have used that knowledge exactly once since graduation. However, if you ever want to talk about the history of the financial markets, the velocity of money, or the morality of profits, I'm your girl.

While my understanding of currency arbitrage might not have been why I was hired, everything else I learned to get my degree - spreadsheets, business communication, underdrinking everyone at a party while not looking like a judgmental prig - helped.

I started at my current firm ten years ago. There were three of us. First thing I did was streamline my work so that it barely filled fifteen hours a week. Then I went to the boss and said, "What else can I do for you?" He tossed piles of research at me and said, "I need you to understand grocery stores inside and out. You have a week." The following week, it was semiconductor manufacturers.

Now the firm has tripled in size, and my duties take over fifty hours a week, so I can't dabble in research anymore. But it was a lovely five years where I could surf the web all day and read as much as I wanted to about anything, as long as I could explain at the end of the week why hospitals and medical centers were likely or not likely to invest in a new imaging device, or whatever the question de jour was.

What I learned was how to gather a great deal of information, sift through it, figure out who was full of it and who made sense, and gather a few nuggets of information at the end of the process. As a writer, I use this skill all the time. There's a lot of garbage info out there. People don't bother to separate their opinion from fact. Or reality from their delusions. So finding information isn't the important part. Applying critical thinking is. Come to think of it - I supposedly learned that in college too.


  1. Hi, Kathleen,

    I tell my students that it's not the facts that are important in the long term--it is the ability to learn, and as you say, to evaluate information in the context of a problem.

    Working fifty hours a week doesn't sound like much fun, though. When do you ever get time to write?


  2. I stopped watching TV. it's amazing what a time suck television is. I don't shun it entirely, but I watch maybe two hours a week, unless a World Cup game is on. Then forget writing.

  3. Kathleen,

    Excellent post. I've got to teach some of my creative writing students about research in the next few weeks. Would I be able to quote you about the essentail skills needed to sift research material?


  4. I find it so interesting the way our other professional experiences seem helpful to us in writing -- it makes writing seem somewhat universal to me in a way.

    It struck me as I read this that the propensity to examine critically may have been in you even before the professional experience you describe called it forth. :)

    Thank you for sharing!


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