After a bit more than one year working full time in the industry, I have come to realize the immense value of a particular skill that we, as academics, may unconsciously develop in our research programs.
Undoubtedly, writing is a fundamental skill we acquire during our master’s and Ph.D., as it could contribute to our ability to reason about things and to communicate effectively.
Researching is paramount when you do not how to solve a problem, while discovering innovative solutions.
Curiosity and perseverance are also well-known as key traits necessary for delving deeper into topics and meeting paper deadlines.
However, I want to focus on a skill that tends to be overlooked, one that I had taken for granted until now — the ability to sit down and study.
The never-ending need for continuous learning in the software tech industry may not come as a surprise.
Each day brings both mundane and extraordinary advancements, from the introduction of new libraries and frameworks to groundbreaking technologies that reshape entire fields, such as ChatGPT.
Staying up-to-date with these developments is crucial.
Study is hard work
Regardless of what you want to keep track, the point is that it is important to develop a process that allow you, along with all your daily demands, to learn continuously.
As my mother often said when I was a teenager:
"you just have to sit down and study"
Unfortunately, the "just" in the above sentence is a bit harsh, because it suggests that sitting and studying is an easy task.
In fact, studying can be quite challenging, in particular because it envolves several other skills and abilities.
It involves grabbing loads of information, sometimes convoluted, in an attempt to fit them all into our minds. We encounter sentences where we recognize each word, yet struggle to grasp the overall meaning.
It requires patience as we read and re-read until clarity emerges. It demands focus when faced with overwhelming subject complexities.
Studying goes beyond mere memorization; it requires critical thinking to analyze information from diverse sources and synthesize it coherently.
Unfortunately, in the era of TikTok and endless scroll, studying becomes a battle against all these temptations.
Study is hard work.
Research forces you to study hard
The research journey, in particular, forces us to embrace long hours of solitary work.
Translating an idea into a well-researched publication demands weeks, months, and perhaps even years of dedicated and deep study.
Pursuing a master’s or Ph.D. — if fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so full-time — provides a unique window of freedom to devote substantial time to studying. It is during this educational journey that may researchers establish their studying routines.
Of course, those who haven’t pursued formal education can also train themselves to become exceptional learners. However, the research process inherently enforces and strengthens this ability. As Richard Feynman once said, "I was an ordinary person who study hard."
Interestingly, despite the advancements in technology like ChatGPT and its counterparts, our studying process still closely resembles that of scholars who conducted research long before the age of computers and the internet.
Studying remains a process that demands time, focus, and discipline.
However, it is crucial to note that studying today may be even more challenging due to the constant interruptions we face. The overwhelming number of distractions can make it difficult to find dedicated study time.
Nevertheless, like riding a bicycle, the ability to study is a skill that endures.
Studying outside the research bubble
While the dynamics may differ in other disciplines, the tech industry presents a tough challenge when it comes to devoting uninterrupted weeks or months to study.
Its fast-paced nature demands collaboration and constant interactions, leaving little room for prolonged periods of personal study.
Yet, the pressing need to stay updated with the latest advancements in the field is undeniable. Software practitioners must absorb and master new knowledge while maintaining the current workflow.
In a rapidly changing environment, the ability to study complex topics and master new skills becomes a significant advantage for one’s professional growth. But the process of studying is still hard.
My final and personal take here is: for academics, it might be easier to start studying.
I'm not saying that those with an academic background do not procrastinate or so. But it seems that the barrier to literally sit down, open a book, and start reading is lower.
In a competitive, fast-paced environment such as the tech industry, this is a great skill.
Are you in the tech industry and looking to broaden your knowledge? If so, the ML4SE (Machine Learning for Software Engineering) newsletter might interest you.
In this newsletter, written in Portuguese, delves into how developers can leverage machine learning techniques and models to enhance their work.
Join us if this sounds fun!