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When you choose a career, there’s a natural inclination to become an expert in the field. While having such an ambition is good, it’s important to develop a wide range of skills and knowledge in other areas in order to avoid tunnel vision. That’s why electives exist not just at university, but after graduation. In life, this is often referred to as life-long learning, a self-motivated quest to better oneself and maintain a competitive edge. So before you discount electives as just a credit box to tick, consider the benefits of embracing a completely different field of study to your chosen career. Those extra skills might just make your career.
Imagine you’ve gone to an art gallery just to see one painting. Lovely as that painting might be, you’ve missed an opportunity to look at all of the different works of art around you. That’s how Deakin University Senior Lecturer in Communication, Dr Tony Chalkley, describes time spent at university without completing electives. He heads up the Communication in Everyday Life unit in the Faculty of Arts and Education and says student from nearly all of the other faculties – from nursing to architecture – enrol in the subject.
That’s because there are applications for students entering many careers. For example, nurses develop important non-verbal skills that are useful in diagnostics. ‘Electives give students different ways of thinking about the same thing,’ he explains.
While it might seem odd to take a drama elective when you’re studying finance, the idea is that you’re also learning to push the boundaries of what you’re capable of. ‘There’s a temptation to do what you already know, but I encourage students to do something that challenges them,’ Dr Chalkley says.
'There’s a temptation to do what you already know, but I encourage students to do something that challenges them.'
Dr Tony Chalkley,
The days of having one career for life are gone. With changing technology and ways of working, it’s impossible to predict what the future holds. That’s why Dr Chalkley says building the motivation and the confidence to develop new skills is just as important as gaining a qualification. And he’s the perfect example, having commenced his career in fine art sculpture, before becoming a primary school teacher and then later, an academic.
Dr Chalkley suggests that Work Integrated Learning programs can also inspire students to develop a deeper passion for their chosen field, while gathering a range of additional skills and experiences along the way. And whether completing a study tour or a placement of independently sourced volunteer work, students add another string to their bow. ‘If you’re doing a bachelor of social work, why wouldn’t you do a few hours of volunteering?’ He asks.
But the key can be to deviate slightly from an obvious choice when it comes to completing electives and work integrated learning. Why? Because there’s little doubt that an accountant who’s also studied photography or philosophy is sure to pique the interest of prospective employers. ‘Think outside the box,’ Dr Chalkley suggests, ‘Otherwise you end up with barrel-thinking.’
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