When to ignore statistics

Disclaimer: this is as always a personal account, and no – I’m not talking against well balanced and well informed careers and study advice; this post is about finding a balance between sufficient and relevant information and following your instinct.

If the Key Information Sets coming in later this year would have been available, my student and professional life would have looked different – most probably worse. I didn’t study at my alma mater, I studied against her. I chose a pretty obscure combination of subjects, and everyone with a proper job (including some of our own professors) told me I therefore would never have a job. Conditions were dire, pedagogy in many instances obscure, resources scarce, and my cohort had an attrition rate of about 90%. Employment rates after 6 months – which were never measured – must have been scary. Careers support was provided for us poor sods who had chosen humanities degrees, because without it, we’d be completely hopeless. There was none for those who were studying the ‘right’ subjects – STEM subjects mostly. At a German state university of 20 years ago we were not clients or customers, we had no concept of consumer type ‘choice’, and we were often treated with contempt. Needless to say – I loved pretty much every minute of it. I did struggle, but I was freed from what I had experienced as a restrictive and conformist school system which was purely about outcomes and performance. See where I’m coming from? Only at university I learnt how to think and reflect – not because it was a learning outcome, but because I had to be able to deal with the demands of our ivory tower style professors whose focus was their research, not their teaching. There were exceptions – especially amongst the PhD pursuing assistants and lecturers – and they really helped me find my way through that jungle. I was awash with information – mostly of the contradicting kind – and I had to learn to interpret it, for which I was given time. What’s that to do with the KIS? Simples – if I had a host of prepackaged data to tell me where my university stood in comparison to others, if I had been subjected to having to interpret the ‘consumer advice label’ on my course while worried uncles and aunts would hover over me, I may have cracked and studied the ‘right’ thing. I don’t envy students who these days have to deal with this flood of tailored information, supposedly helping to make choices as a consumer. As the head of our – excellent – careers service said, it’s best to study something you care about and that will enrich your thinking. Don’t try to anticipate the marketplace years down the line, and then ignore the flood of well meaning advice based on pointless statistics.

April 4th, 2012 by