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Melvin Roest

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Internships are better than a full university education

I'm curious what you think. I noticed a really interesting effect in my current job (but you could see it as an internship).

When I go to university I get lectures together with 100+ students or I get practical sessions with 30+ students. So the teacher to student ratio is 1:30 at best. I read about the effect of 1 on 1 instruction, and the last weeks I have experienced it.

I have experienced 1 on 1 instruction from experts in my field, and I have experienced what it means to figure things out for yourself and only learn what's relevant for you. These are two things that university education lacks in my opinion.

On the side of university education I have noticed that if you do it in the right way, it will broaden your thinking (i.e. do an honours program). Furthermore, you will get subjects that you don't like but will like afterwards, and realize that they were really useful.

Still I do not believe these 2 qualities weigh up against 1 on 1 instruction and learning only things that are relevant to a person (qualities which my job has).

I am curious to know how you see this topic, because I could imagine that I might be lucky in having such a job, or that I'm missing the point with what university education is for.

For reference: I completed a bachelor program, and currently study 2 master programs and another bachelor program, all in The Netherlands. The funny thing with my job, it combines all three things that I'm studying right now (computer science, psychology and games).

Edit @ 24 March:
Initially when I started the conversation I wanted to reply to all your comments, because your replies prove to be a valuable learning experience. And I did read all the comments, but I am having a beginning form of RSI (especially with typing, not with using the mouse). So I did not type for the past few days. So I am quite limited in replying.

Topics: university
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    Mar 19 2014: Though I think the answer to this question depends greatly upon the field that one's looking to go into; I agree that internships and actual jobs are more existentially and practically beneficial in the general sense. Not only are practical jobs more specifically applicable, but I also find that college classes strongly require you to evaluate and cater to the teacher's method of understanding, rather than your own. Consequentially, students end up being tested on how well they understand the teacher's interpretation of material as opposed to the actual material itself.

    Furthermore, the maturation process of critical thinking is only beneficial in college for those who don't make it a passive practice on their own. Different people have different kinds and levels of maturation in critical thinking. I do not believe that college education makes independent learners, it makes them standardized learners. A student is, quite directly, learning to think the exact same way as the teacher and the rest of the class. They become one of many standardized students and lose their individual way of thinking as they're forced to take their teacher's perspective on different issues. Interestingly, I believe this specifically applies to honors programs. These programs get people thinking, but not in any original manner. For those who've taken an honors class, and I have, I would encourage them to notice how by the end of the chapter/ section everyone in the class has a very similarly-themed conclusion, if they don't, then the teacher often corrects their flawed logic, while in actuality it's just different logic that the teacher is often unwilling to entertain in a truly thought-provoking discussion. Much of these actions are caused by the mandate of following a curriculum. Now, in terms of an internship, a person is often encouraged to understand concepts however they see fit so long as they can do the job. Diverse ideas are often encouraged as they provide unique solutions.
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      Mar 20 2014: I find this an interesting stance against universities, because you address the whole point about that university should be able to teach you critical thinking. In a large part I agree with you. Although it is also my experience that my critical thinking improved a lot (after all the work that I did myself). Most of the times this happens outside the classrooms though (I speak with professors then as well), but this year I decided to take it inside the classroom. It's interesting to see when you start openly question the teacher at a lot of steps that he makes. Suddenly boring teachers become interesting, because they have to rely on their knowledge and not their powerpoint slides.

      With regards to the honours program. I only followed 1 course which took 4 months. There were no teachers, only guest speakers. There were 2 people coordinating the subject which could been seen as teachers, except they were not teaching. They felt more like coaches and peers to me. But I guess that I didn't take a normal honours course to begin with :P

      But then again as you state in your comment, it is a really good question to ask oneself: to what extent do I learn critical thinking? Couldn't I learn this better (or quicker) in another place? To what extent does a one on one mapping occur between the interpretation of the teacher's knowledge and my knowledge, are there any thinking skills really trained here instead of some interpreted and informed opinion?
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        Mar 20 2014: I would whole-heartedly agree that critical thinking can be gained tremendously outside of the classroom when talking with teachers. I do think that a lot can be gained from teachers, depending on the teacher, but it is outside of the formal structure of the university, which is the classroom. The same one-on-one experience is available in an internship and an internship or job allows you to immediately turn around and apply that information. Knowledge gained in this manner is more heavily filed away in the long-term memory and misconceptions are cleared up in the application.

        I obviously don't know where you went to college, but the structure of a lot of universities, depending on the class, doesn't sponsor further inquiry when you're interested in a tangent topic. They'll most often be happy to talk to you about it, but not for long in class as they have to get back to what they'll be testing you on. The duration to which you're allowed to talk about something off topic inside of class doesn't really allow for more than superficial covering of the topic/tangent. If pursued with the teacher outside of class to a critical-thining degree, it takes out a lot of time out of their day and your own. Many students have massively busy schedules and are unable to pursue topics within a class outside of what they'll be tested on.

        I can think of ways that many of my mentioned problems may be worked around, but the structure of the university is not what normally helps you to do that. It would take real independent study, an internship, or a more open dialogue of some kind. Aside from extremely low student-faculty ratios, a critical-thinking dialogue is extremely hard to obtain during class, unless the student hasn't thought of the topic before.

        An important factor to mention might be that I'm in the United States, and I can't say that I'm familiar with the education system in the Netherlands. A class with only guest speakers, depending upon how you're graded, sounds great.

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