Last night I had the pleasure of having a drink with a former student of mine, who is now a rising star in a large and prominent market research company. He’s a great guy, who finished university years ago, but always makes the effort to keep in touch. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so it was great to catch up. Once we had finished with the important stuff (family, weddings, etc.), we got down to some serious shop talk. I love keeping in touch with former students, certainly because they are nice and interesting people, but also because they are the ones that are now out in the workforce, and can keep me up to date with changes and new trends out there in the “real world”. It’s also great to get their perspective on what they feel are the skills needed for graduating students to get their first job. For example, last night I heard my former student lament that many of the people they interview have weak Excel skills. This really surprised me, but got me thinking that, while I have some Excel-related material in a couple of my assignments, perhaps I shouldn’t take it for granted that students either already know it or can pick it up on their own. This leads to another benefit of keeping up with my GIS alumni: curriculum renewal. I am always reviewing my curriculum to see if I have the right balance of topics and in the right sequence. After our talk last night, I am going to think about adding not just more on basic Excel skills, but also Access, and even basic statistics, based on his advice. Interestingly, he also mentioned how hard it is to find people with strong analytical skills who are also strong communicators. I do try to emphasize this to my students.
It was great chatting with my former student last night. Whenever I write reference letters for graduating students, or perhaps talk to them about applying for their first job out of school, I always ask them to keep in touch (and this goes for all my students, not just those that go into a GIS-related profession), as it is really satisfying to see them continue to grow and pursue such a wide variety of careers. I certainly don’t take credit for their success, as that was all their doing, but I am fortunate to have been able to contribute to their development in some small way.