When am I ever going to use this?

When am I ever going to use this?

Some people scoff at History, English, and other liberal arts majors for not having much “practical” use, compared to engineering and the physical sciences. Often I would hear this indelible question from my high school and sometimes college peers: “When am I ever going to need to know this?”  The truth is not everything I’ve learned in a classroom is applicable to practical matters, but there were several instances while working that I found myself using skills I had developed at my university. My most invaluable skills were concise writing, editing, and quick composition.


•    Concise writing—I had a history professor who made us condense entire primary documents into 1-2 sentence summaries. I found myself replicating this assignment when my boss asked me to summarize 20+ articles into a few sentences for our monthly newsletter. Then I had to reuse this same skill when I summarized 30+ publications I had uploaded on to my organization’s website. As much as I disliked the assignment from my history professor, the concise writing became my most used skill. I will admit that I don’t always practice this skill when writing blog pieces.


•    Editing—Whenever I turned in a paper, my professors expected it to be a “final draft.” Depending on when it was due, my “final” draft could be anything from my first or fifth draft of a paper. Though it wasn’t obvious when I edited papers, each time I became more aware of errors in grammar, syntax, or factual claims. The ability to edit assignments for work (sometimes having 10+ drafts of a document) made it easier to complete tasks. Since there were less grammatical and syntax errors for my supervisors to correct, whenever they reviewed my work we would discuss the content and tone of documents rather than basic errors.


•    Quick composition—I’m fairly accustomed to “all-nighters,” when you rush to prepare a paper or project the day before it is due. It is terrible for the psyche, and it usually doesn’t result in the best product. Regardless, it proved very useful when my supervisor, on a whim, told me to prepare a social media report for our boss, who would be presenting a larger report to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. I had two days to complete the report, which encompassed three months of social media use for one of my organization’s projects. Preparing a little ahead, I assembled all of the material I would use—something I normally do when I need to rush a paper. Then I spent two days composing the report, editing it several times before the final draft. It felt like writing an “all-nighter” paper, requiring nothing but complete focus and a disregard for everything else—I even asked a co-worker to get me lunch so I wouldn’t leave my desk. There was definitely an adrenaline rush as I neared my time for completion, and a great sense of relief once I had finished.


The importance of certain classes or assignments may not be clear when you’re a student. But once you start applying certain skills in the workplace, you might become aware of the benefits of those classes. So far, skills from my most practical classes in college (chemistry) have been utilized less than my seemingly unpractical classes (logic, history, philosophy). I’m sure if I had interned at the FDA, I would be saying otherwise, but I’m sure the above skills would still be valuable.


My upcoming pieces will wrap up my thoughts on a semester spent interning and participating in TWC programming. You'll also hear from some other TWC peers who I interviewed.

Experience a Day in the Life of an Intern at The Washington Center

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