Recently I was contacted by a spammer who wanted to pay me for allowing him/her to post on this site. Needless to say, I ignored them but the suggested topic about higher education did stay with me. I am currently working on translating Danish knitting pattens into English. I am working from extremely well-written and lucid knitting patterns which makes working on them an absolute joy. However, they are also written in a typical no-nonsense Scandinavian style with very minimalist instructions. The designer knows her knitters will be familiar with that style of instruction and trusts that they know what she means. The actual knitting part of this translation is very straightforward - 2r is easy to translate into k2 - but bridging the gap between two pattern traditions is the actual challenge. I want to be utterly faithful to the original pattern while also making the English version easy to understand for knitters accustomed to patterns which guide you through every step of the process.
It's a lot of fun.
I have an academic background and I often encounter people who wonder why I "wasted" eight years of my life at university when I could just have walked straight into my current freelance life. I look at it very different. I think I use my educational background every single day in everything I do.
Pattern writing? My time teaching technical writing at university taught me a lot about building structure and parsing complex information in limited space. That ability is worth its weight in gold and extends into many, many aspects of my current working life.
Translating? Listen, if you are serious about translating from one language to another, you need to understand how languages work. You also need to understand cultural and social concerns of both the original language and the target language. Your biggest challenge is to render all your hard work invisible for the target audience. Six months picking grapes in Spain will not prepare you for translating Lorca, in other words. I spent years having to learn how to tell one kind of subordinate clause from another. I am not saying I still remember them all, but I can delve into the minutiae of language as a result.
Teaching? It goes without saying that I still use all the tricks I learned whilst teaching at university and at private companies. I learned to deal with different learning styles, different skill levels, and how to make students feel confident enough to go problem-solving on their own.
Finding design inspiration? As unlikely as it sounds, I also use my education here although it was in a non-creative field. I love early 20th century culture and my two main mood boards on Pinterest reflect this. I did a lot of work on early 20th century poetry (and typography - hat tip) and these things still influence me: I attempt to pare things down and reduce design elements. I think about why I want certain designs to look a particular way and I try to maintain a certain structure throughout key designs. Maybe if I had gone to art school I would approach designing differently? More organically?
I was lucky. I went to university in the mid-90s and early-00s. I did not have to pay tuition fees and I was at liberty to pursue niche interests at great length (as weird as it sounds, specialising in modernist print culture doesn't make you hugely appealing to the private sector. Who knew?). I did not have to get a part-time job as the Danish state funded me and I have no student debts now. Needless to say, those days have gone and young people are facing uncertain futures.
My message is, though: education is never wasted. You may not end up doing anything that has anything obvious to do with your degree but if you are serious about your studies, you will end up with a set of skills that'll last you your entire life. No matter where it takes you.