A lot of people look back on their college days with nostalgia. I miss my friends and the organizations I used to be a part of, sure – but after having worked “in the real world” for about half a year, there are some things I miss that corporate life doesn’t lend itself nicely to.
Variety – My last year of college, I took classes that were entirely unrelated to each other. I got to learn Python and C# at the same time. I spent a semester studying different types of modeling and simulation techniques and got graduation credit for a year of French lessons and a class about classical music appreciation. If I really, really didn’t want to work on a project, I had other homework I could do to get away from it and still be productive. I am extremely lucky that my job has a wide array of tasks and types of work I can do, but there is a part of me that misses being able to spend 8-10 hours a week learning about 5-6 different topics, some totally random.
Resources – I was walking to work today thinking about an undergraduate research proposal I wrote and had a bunch of tangential ideas pop into my head on ways to expand my study into a full blown analysis of women in the gaming industry. In college, support structures are in place to allow and encourage this kind of research, but having a full-time job limits the amount of energy and resources that are available to do an end-to-end longitudinal study on a topic completely unrelated to my current position. Although I’m considering business school, this research project is inching me towards a graduate degree in a tech-related field instead.
There are a ton of people like you – Making friends in school is considerably easier in school than in industry, I’ve found. In a classroom environment, you can meet people who are also working on cool side projects, with a vast variety of experiences and skill sets. You have mutual goals and are working on the same material, so you get to learn more about different ways to do things. In the workplace, most people have tasks divvied up to them and it can be hard to look at a variety of ways to tackle a problem on a day to day basis. Professionalism can also act as a barrier for friendship. I learn every day from my coworkers, but in a corporate environment at an entry-level, it’s hard to get past the shadow of HR and management when it comes to befriending your coworkers in the same way you befriended classmates. It’s also increasingly less appropriate to ask personal questions at work, which can be alienating at times and occasionally just downright awkward.
Messing up isn’t as big of a deal – If you’re like me, you probably have an abnormally high level of stress in situations where you’re expected to deliver. In the corporate world, this is normally a good thing for me: being in a situation where people rely on you creates some level of pressure, and you really don’t want to disappoint the people you see and work with on a day to day basis. In college, if you miss a deadline or an assignment, the person who suffers from that is you. The worst case scenario involves you letting a team down, but at the end of the day, a failure doesn’t tend to equal destruction. When it’s your job, though, that mistake could result in a delayed launch, negative image for the company, and you getting fired. Which is a lot scarier than failing a class.
At the end of the day, I’m glad to be done with homework, exams, and staying up until 3am on a regular basis – but there were a lot of great things about college, too!