Sunday, September 4, 2016

Was this part of my training?

The book "Lab Girl" by the scientist Hope Jahren takes many directions, all involving science in one way or another.

Karen's job was to apply anti-inflammatory cream to monkey genitalia, which were in need of daily soothing due to their constant and indiscriminate use.

Jahren, Hope. Lab Girl (p. 134). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Karen wanted to work with endangered species and had no idea that her internship would involve slathering salve on over-used monkey genitalia.  Work positions often involve tasks that are more boring, more dangerous, more difficult than a person would have guessed. C.S. Lewis said years ago that there was a big difference between gazing lovingly and interestedly at a passing airplane and mastering the piloting of a plane.

Part of the business of becoming a valuable asset is getting used to the conditions, timing, demands and sights of the job.  Visiting a foreign country with a different sort of life rhythm and tone than what one is used to will often produce strong feelings of surprise, maybe even revulsion or upset.  But more time there or more visits can make what is strange feel more comfortable and comprehendible.  Some writers have referred to a scene in Robinson Crusoe where Crusoe is delighted to see a ship approaching while the man Friday sees something but has no background to put the sight into anything meaningful.  Without experience and some prior acquaintance, it can be difficult to make any sense of a scene.  Similarly, I have read that Australian aborigines were unsure of what parts of the first while sailors to land on their shores were flesh and what was uniform or work clothes.  Natives seeing Spanish soldiers mounted on horseback had not seen a mounted man or a horse and were at first unclear about what they were seeing.
I like to think about training and instruction.  Many PhD's get jobs teaching freshmen with little or no training in instruction.  Because the typical doctoral program has been focused on personal mastery of the subject, there may have been very few minutes where the budding professor needed to speak to young people with limited background in the subject.  The dissertation may have required reading and reading advanced scholarship on a small area of the subject while communicating the basics to college students turns out to be a very different type of task.
More universities are supplying both training and critical evaluation of the instructors.  Many educators feel it is important to use small group activities and more ways to explore the subject than just listening.
Whether you are a policeman or parole officer or a museum curator or school principal, you may well be called on to handle a situation or solve a problem that you never dreamed you would face.  Sometimes, no one else ever dreamed you would either.  Naturally, the more broad-minded and resilient you are, the more likely you are to do well with some difficult and unprecedented situation.  Most students in training have a limited tolerance for detail. Educators have long debated the relative value of very specific training in the likely details of the expected future job versus broad training.  Besides, virtually all jobs change over time and start to include demands, possibilities and challenges unforeseen and unpredicted.  
I had to remove a big goat from the roadway to the school where I taught.  I had no training in goat removal.  I had an art student teacher complain after one whole day of teaching that he had been asked a question that very day that he couldn't answer.  Life can be tricky!

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