Post Academic


From Grad School to 9-to-5 School: The RTFM Rule

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 3, 2010
Tags: ,

I read everything that was assigned in grad school, with the notable exception of “Middlemarch.” J. Hillis Miller assigned it for a class, and I wanted to be a good girl, but George Eliot slayed me. I read all of Richardson’s “Clarissa,” but the buck stopped with George Eliot.

Although I couldn’t stomach “Middlemarch,” I could plow through nearly any book in grad school, and I could write up a summary that reflected how well I understood it. This served me well when I had to learn new programs in the office. As the office becomes more computerized and the world goes online, you will encounter multiple manuals along the way.

A word of advice: RTFM. Yes, that stands for “Read the Friggin’ Manual.” Your boss wants you to change some HTML, and you can’t tell HTML from Hegel? Then you better RTFM. You can handle it because you’ve had to plow through dry reading material before, and you probably read faster than anyone else you know. You might even like the manual more than Hegel.

You’d be surprised by how many of your colleagues will skip or skim the manual. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone reads differently. But if you RTFM, your value in the office will rise. Your colleagues will turn to you, and you can give them tips. The mere fact that you’re used to reading material you don’t like will impress them.

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2 Responses to 'From Grad School to 9-to-5 School: The RTFM Rule'

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  1. Arnold Pan said,

    That’s instructive, especially for someone who (barely) skims the manual. What about WTFM or “Write the Friggin’ Manual”? There’s always talk about how post academics can become tech writers. Anyone out there know how that happens?

  2. Len said,

    I don’t actually know anyone who went from grad school to technical writing. There is a lot of talk (in New England especially, for some reason) about getting PhDs into the nonacademic “creative economy.” I’m not entirely sure what the phrase means, but I guess Caroline could say — there was a book on the topic by Richard Florida that she read.

    Maybe one thing it means is learning how to teach professional writing, which very few people are qualified to do. We have technical and professional writing programs for undergrads, but they are almost no PhDs out there who are prepared to teach it. While humanities ed shouldn’t have to be career driven, cater directly to the marketplace, or even be “useful,” I do think there is more of a place for programs like these.


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