1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Being good at school translate into being good on the job?

  1. Aug 12, 2013 #1
    I've always been able to study into the night and do pretty well in school. But I'm doing an engineering internship now and I don't feel like i'm doing my best work. Part of it is because I'm EE and working on ME topics, which i'm not very familiar with, but also because I'm wondering if it's possible to the idea that being good at studying all night and taking an exam in the morning doesn't translate into being sharp and with it on a ~9 to ~5 schedule. To get homework done, I'd blast music, get real into it, and talk to myself through the problem, but I can't really listen to music at work... and I feel weird speaking out loud to myself in my cubicle to talk myself through the problem. And I just don't feel like my I'm working as effectively.

    Has anyone else experienced anything similar?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2013 #2
    Doing well in studies is not necessarily the same as doing well at a work place. That being said, cubicles are infamously bad places for actually getting work done. I don't have exactly the same problems myself but I think I see what you mean. I also extract from your post that you're an extrovert person who needs stuff/noise around to get enough energy to work. This can possibly be worked around for example by using headphones allowing you to have music on without disturbing others. Another way would be to look into possibilities of working from home for specific tasks. I know many people who solve it like that, go home and work at times when they actually need to get things done, although this isn't a possible solution everywhere.
  4. Aug 12, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Studies are specific to curricular requirements.

    Quite often, the work environment is specialized and requires skill-sets that you cannot get in a Uni. You might have to be willing to shift gears and hone your work skills. Time for some re-evaluation, possibly. I can't evaluate your situation, but there is a great difference between trying to get grades at school and developing the skills needed to valuable to your employers.

    Good luck, and check back in at PF
  5. Aug 12, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor


    I think there is a general positive correlation between school performance and work performance if you look at the population as a whole. People who do well in school tend to be more organized, better at following instructions, have longer attention spans and are willing to work through problems, can successfully navigate administrative bureaucracy, etc. - all of which generally pays off in the working world.

    But this only occurs to a point.

    There are lots of examples of people who get really good at being students, but who struggle in the working world. Your case is an example of student-specific skills /habits that you've learned that have allowed you to be successful in school that don't translate well into the work force. In the real world, you don't often have the ability to prepare for the night before for the problems you'll face. The problems don't have answers in the back of the book. They may not even have answers at all.

    So what can you do about it?

    I can tell you that the more experience you get, the better. The more projects and problems you take on, the more you'll start to develop a "working knowledge" of many of the subjects that you've covered academically. Coming fresh out of school you haven't had a lot of opportunity to develop work-specific habits. This comes with time. So don't worry too much if you're struggling right now. Just keep at it. Keep refining your skills and habits until you figure out what works for you.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013
  6. Aug 12, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I agree with Choppy; success in school and on the job have been shown to be highly correlated, since they involve many common skills and personality traits. So if you managed to do good in school, you will likely be fine. It might just require some adaption to the environment.

    To some degree you might also be able to adjust the environment to your preferred state. For example, if you need to talk to yourself to work more efficiently, you might be able to come to work really early or really late when no other people are present. I myself did this for many years, because I had the reverse problem of what you are facing: I could hardly get any work done unless there was absolute silence (of the kind you do not have if other people are present). I managed to convince my bosses that letting me work on my own terms (i.e., at odd hours) was in our common interest. You might try to do the same for a transitional period.
  7. Aug 13, 2013 #6
    Being able to plow through studies in the middle of the night is one thing. Staying sharp, learning on your feet, and coordinating with many people at a busy job site is something entirely different.

    Unlike your school studies, where a wrong answer merely results in a lower grade, the wrong answer here can maim or kill. This is why there is professional certification of engineers. You're not just playing with paper tests any more.

    You don't feel you're working effectively because you're not really working yet. They're watching you and you're supposed to be soaking up what's going on around you. When they have confidence in you (and you have confidence in them), you'll get the authority to make real things happen. This usually comes about after about 2 to 3 years of experience.

    Yes, you read that right. It takes that long before we'll feel comfortable enough to turn a junior engineer loose on their own. Some place may require more time, some places less.

    As for working well at odd hours, that's an asset if you're going to be traveling a lot. It's also an asset if you're on call. We have duty engineers where I work and they stay on call for a week at a time. That week is a major lifestyle change. You're required to be healthy, sober, and ready to respond to anything in about 15 minutes or less. It's not unheard of to have major problems during that period that keep someone on site for as much as 48 hours straight.

    Your enthusiasm is good. But you also need patience and attention to detail. As an intern, you won't be responsible for the really big, dangerous, or high dollar stuff. But you will have the opportunity to observe it. Watch the demeanor of the engineers in charge. Note where they're careful, where they look stuff up, and what they say to clients, vendors, and the like.

    It looks easier than it really is. Like flying an airliner, it really is quite routine when you get used to it, but it is truly terrifying when things go wrong.
  8. Aug 13, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    One other comment on the difference between doing well in the university environment and doing well in the work environment. Most of the time in school you are working on your own, but to be successful in the work environment, you need to work well with others. So communication skills and interpersonal interactions become much more important. you may have a great idea on how to solve a problem, but unless you can convince others (your boss, more experienced engineers, etc.) your idea will go nowhere. Sitting at your desk with headphones on is not a great way to interact with others.
  9. Aug 14, 2013 #8
    Thanks for all the comments.

    Yes, I'm very clearly seeing that while lots of skills from engineering school do apply to work and so on, being a great engineering student and being a great engineering employee are certainly not the same thing.

    I suppose what bothers me is how much it is dependent on people. I'm not saying I'd prefer engineering to be antisocial altogether, but so many people at work that are deemed 'engineers' are constantly on the phone and doing other sorts of "paper shuffling". Maybe that's just how it is in the real world, and if so then that's something I'll have to accept.

    To zargon: I'm actually more introverted/shy, which is part of the reason I have trouble focusing at an office. Even in the nice space of my cubicle, its never as cozy as working at home. But yes, I have considered taking work home.

    Choppy: Yes, I certainly need to get more experience. I was counting on that giving me perspective.

    CGK: Actually, my internship is ending in a few weeks and I figure at this point it's just better to adapt to the 9-5 schedule for now rather than make a fuss. Otherwise I would consider trying to get permission to work at night.

    JakeBrodskyPE: A lot of what you're saying makes engineering sound awful. Travelling and/or engineering on call sound really unfun. I will probably never get a PE certification as I simply do not want that kind of pressure/load on myself, even if it means missing some shiny career opportunities.

    My current project is between me and one other person, so actually I can easily get away with not talking to anyone at work pretty easily for a whole day. It's not a goal of mine, but I start working in the morning and never really need the other person's input. Perhaps this is simply because I am an intern, but I think I prefer this? I'm not sure. I'd have to actually try a large project that required cooperation with many people to be sure I don't like it (it's quite possible I would like it, actually).

    Phyzguy: "Sitting at your desk with headphones on is not a great way to interact with others."

    Well, this is what I've envisioned doing 80% of the time at my engineering job since I was 10, probably programming something. While that may seem not very important to some people to wear headphones while you work... but to me it makes SO much more sense than just listening to dead silence.

    Is it possible I could stretch my career and start working a related technical field where the environment tends to be less "professional" and more loose? (I've heard of a some computer science companies having very lenient dress codes and work habit restrictions, such as allowing you to listen to your ipod..).
  10. Aug 14, 2013 #9
    First, If you're sitting in a silent office, you have been parked. They're wasting your time. Something should be going on around you to peak your interest.

    Second, dress code is surprisingly important. I know, it shouldn't be that way, but it is. No matter what the profession, the more professional you look, the more people take you seriously and the more trustworthy you appear to be. I don't know why this is, but I ignored this advice for a very long time before I discovered that it does make a difference. Note: That does not mean you go to an active construction site in formal business attire. There are times and places where you need steel toe boots, jeans, hard-hat, and all the extra safety gear. But when in the office, you should wear office attire.

    Third, stop putting extraneous noise in your head! Studies have shown time and time again that, despite attestations to the contrary, job performance is usually poorer with music or other distractions going on. The only case where music or audio books are appropriate is where the job is very repetitive, such as on an assembly line. If I see someone with earphones on their head, I know they have tuned out. Multi-tasking is a myth. It just means you're not focused on your work.

    Fourth, socialize! Engineering is a surprisingly social endeavor. This may sound weird, particularly to those who have already endured most of the hazing that we call an engineering education, but it is actually quite true. You work in teams. You figure out what everyone's strengths and weaknesses are. You talk to clients, vendors, managers, marketing staff, and fellow engineers. Designing something is a surprisingly social endeavor.

    Finally, concerning the PE certificate: professional certificates such as this are not what most people think they are. They are not certificates of competence. They are certificates of responsibility and liability. That said, sitting in a cube slinging designs and code for some little design that is not likely to last for long seems like a stultifying, ego-killing existence. Most engineers would like to think they're building something larger than themselves; something big that will last for a long time or at least be well known. The liability aspect of having a PE certificate is daunting, but also very rewarding.

    Don't dismiss it so quickly.

    Jake Brodsky, PE
  11. Aug 14, 2013 #10
    If by "office attire" you mean "something similar to what everyone else is wearing", I completely agree. On the other hand, if you mean "suit and tie", I strongly disagree.

    Proper dress for engineers varies widely depending on the particular discipline and corporate environment, and it's important to keep that in mind. It's a bad idea to come to work in jeans and a t-shirt if everyone else is wearing a suit and tie, but it's just as bad an idea to wear a suit if everyone else is wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook