My first university’s motto was Ubi semper discimus: “Where learning never ends.” I internalized this as “We are always learning,” a paraphrase of the motto that emphasizes constancy over time, not just place.
During my first semester of graduate school, my advisor helped us locate ourselves in these phases of tertiary education:
Bachelor’s: learn and practice the field’s knowledge
Master’s: teach and apply the field’s knowledge
Doctoral: expand and challenge the field’s knowledge
It’s not as simple as the list suggests; for instance, there’s no way any student in our century ever learns the totality of their discipline. There’s too much to learn for all of us! And there’s no reason that a doctoral degree-holder can’t turn their expanded view of their field towards the discipline’s practitioner community. I’ve done it.
But it’s been useful for me to think about continuous development in terms of those three things: learning (broad study of what’s known), teaching (sharing what’s known with wider and wider audiences), and growing (increasing what’s known through original research and theory-building).
Now that I’m outside of academia and in the world of knowledge- application, I can set my own pace and process for each of these activities.
No one tells me what to study; I have questions I want to learn about and I can seek out the literature and human resources that will teach me. No one requires me to teach others; I enjoy sharing what I find out, others enjoy sharing their insights with me, and I’m energized when I can apply new learning wherever it can have practical, positive consequences for people’s lives.
It feels as good to test and challenge ideas today as it did when I was beginning to carve out my doctoral research. Back then, I had both the time and space to scan my field until I found an intersection where I could add some value. And I’ve grown there since.
For many of us, giving ourselves permission to transcend the study phase is hard. For others of us, it’s the move from teaching to challenging that’s the stretch.
If you typically lean on one or other mode, consider investing a little time each week in developing a new one. What could you accomplish if you transformed yourself into a triple learning threat?