Learning as You Go

By: Coco Liu

We are almost half a year into this uncharted territory of COVID-19 pandemic. Time flew by so fast that chatting on the deck six-feet away from each other has become the new normal. As a junior in college who had not done much remote work before, delving into online learning and internships also became part of this new normal. Much like how we all learned and adjusted quickly to mask-wearing and building relationships virtually, my experience at Plaid is of a similar path: exploring and developing skills as I go.

While working with Plaid, I have had the opportunity to be involved in several projects with topics that I had not focused on previously in my studies or other jobs. It seemed daunting at first – jumping into a pool of foreign concepts – but isn’t the whole point discovering the unknown? Especially as a student, thanks to Plaid, I’ve had the chance to explore topics related to higher education and organizational management, giving me a clearer picture of where these aspects fit into my future career path. During my time with Plaid, what I’ve found to be one of the most important skills is to efficiently learn on the job. 

The first project I worked on consisted of organizing large data files with the objective of distinguishing any possible statistical trends that would be helpful to a client. I had learned plenty about data analyses inside of a classroom, but it was different receiving an unfamiliar file of unknown numbers. Initially, looking at the numbers was like watching a movie in a different language – I knew what each individual number was but had little idea of where to start unpacking its meaning. After much brainstorming, pulling together related in-class notes, researching, and with the guidance of my supervisor, Dawn Wiese, puzzle pieces from my classroom and this real-world project came together. Eventually, I not only successfully ran the analyses, but also learned to prioritize the importance of each trend from the client’s perspective. 

In a similar vein, I worked on another project with Dawn where we aimed to better the efficiency of survey studies. Like how I learned data analysis in a classroom setting, I had learned the essential points that would make up a “good” survey. However, the new component with this project was troubleshooting based on specific structural and organizational needs by discussing with the organizations’ CEO’s. Ultimately, we turned an extensively long survey that was time-consuming and difficult to analyse into several concise surveys that were more fitting to the organization’s purpose. Both of these projects were a process of developing skills on the job and applying my previous knowledge to a novel environment, empowering me to be an adaptable problem-solver. 

Moreover, not only was I better trained to adapt and learn on the job through data analyses and survey design during my time at Plaid, I further strengthened these skills through several research projects. The focus of one of the research projects I worked on was to study the impacts of leadership programs on organizational outcomes. While there were overlaps between the focus of this current project and my past research topics, few were directly related. After learning more about relevant concepts by conducting extensive literature review with the support of my supervisor, Meghan Grace, and my research partner, Kathleen Stedman (Kenyon, 2020), I deciphered some of the essential points to be highlighted in the project and ultimately drafted a manuscript for publication. From jumping into a pool of unknown academic theories to completing a research paper, this was certainly a journey of learning on the job and applying previous knowledge, making me a better researcher. 

Without a doubt, “learning as you go” is an essential skill that will serve one well in the pursuit of many career paths. Learning how to develop skills on the job while using my previous knowledge as a solid basis for problem solving at Plaid will assist me in confidently combating difficulties with persistence. As such, when we encounter tasks that we had not previously seen, what will let us thrive at what we do is figuring out how to use our existing knowledge in combination of developing new skills to problem solve. Like how we had to adjust to life due to COVID-19 by wearing masks and social-distancing, take a deep breath and know that it’ll be ok because we will learn as we go. 

Author Bio: Coco Liu is a junior at Kenyon College studying Economics and Psychology with a minor in Spanish. She is interested in how human behaviors are shaped by their surrounding environment and plans on pursuing Organizational Behavior as a future career path.

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