Grad School: Specialization Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

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As I mentioned in my last post, I am going back to school for a PhD at Case Western Reserve University. I predicted this would influence my blogging. Well, that didn’t take long.

My program in design & innovation is highly influenced by information systems and, to a lesser extent, marketing — two subjects which I have never formally studied, but have used heavily in my time as an analyst and blogger.

The conventional wisdom is to continue studying one discipline until you’ve conquered it at the terminal level. 

I was worried about this in my first subject switch, going from a bachelor’s degree in economics to a master’s in finance.

After that and subsequent years of experience in the working world, I realized these silos don’t exist in real life — so nor should they matter to my education.

So what’s with the drive to keep studying just one subject up the education ladder? 

This again I think is influenced by a false understanding of specialization — pick a very specific discipline and become the best at it.

I know I am never going to be the best information systems scholar — and I certainly won’t be the best marketer! 

But I can combine my experiences in economics, business analytics, healthcare finance, online training, and so forth, and do something remarkable.

I am grateful that my department sees it this way, too — I have classmates with backgrounds in graphic design, software engineering, and more.

So, if you are going back to school, do not see your unconventional path as a weakness. 

Don’t think that just because you’ve studied X before, means that you need to keep studying X — or even worse, that if you want to study Y, that it means your time in X was “wasted.”

Where does your intersection meet your new area of study? Focus on that. For me, it’s amazing how even information systems has its basis in economics. (It’s another allocation of scarce resources.)

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