We live in a fluid professional world, where we often work in fields or industries that have little to do with our educational degrees.
My first degree was a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. Today, I work as a consultant who helps his clients adopt process automation software. I often get asked (and ask myself) if my mechanical engineering degree is a waste, considering what I do now.
An essential part of learning is a process called ‘transfer’, where new learning borrows common elements from fields we are already familiar with. In this manner, the brain is efficient at learning something new without starting all over again. This is also the reason why analogies are effective tools for teaching.
From my 7 years of training in mechanical engineering, I learnt to look at systems as a medley of inputs, outputs, and their transformation. I examined how safe a system was for a given range of inputs, and how that changed with time. The methods of examining these problems are still relevant to what I do today.
The extent to which learning can be transferred is variable. One of the determinants here is our perspective – whether we embrace our past degrees as useful tools, or consider them as sunk costs. Assuming the former will have us revisit these elements and apply them to new learning. Assuming the latter will lead us to ignore them and have them gradually erased from our long-term memory.
A lot depends on our intent. Over time, it turns into a self-fulfilling prophesy.