Last week I read an article called “In Pursuit of a Rewarding Career” in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2015). In the article, Avon J. Murphy details his rewarding career, first as a technical writing professor, and then as a professional technical writer. My initial response to this article is twofold. First, ‘This seems a bit backward,’ and second, ‘There must be a bunch of untapped resources out there that could serve as an excellent bridge between the university system and the business world.’ Note I do not use the phrase ‘real world’ because having lived in both environments, there is absolutely nothing more real outside the university than in.
I share a similarity with the author Avon Murphy, in that I never expected to become a technical writer. Like Murphy, I am a theory-head (my term) and could wax philosophical all day, given the opportunity. Unlike Murphy, I was not a technical writing professor building whole technical writing programs before becoming a professional technical writer. And while I’m not chastising Murphy for doing so, he states “I wouldn’t advice new instructors to take a technical communication teaching job before getting on-the-job experience, as I did” (364). I agree, and for much the same reason. Murphy talks about experiences he had on-the-job that he thinks about taking back into a classroom. I do this constantly. I never had a clue how crucial specific audience is to writing a technical document. Sure, I taught audience importance at the beginning of every semester, and followed up often asking my students who their audience was for their papers. Instead though, now, I might have students draw specific audience members out of a hat (the republican party, a board of retired farmers, millennial age recent college grads, etc) and write to that audience, including their audience slip with the paper. And while I’m certain Murphy was a fine teacher, as I peruse the job adds for rhetoric and composition this season, I see so many adds for technical communication professor, and I can’t help but imagine all the great things I’ll have to tell my students when I’ve built a knowledge base from the ground up, like Murphy did when he became a professional.
This thinking naturally leads me into wondering how many resources in human form both business and university are missing out on exchanging. How many technical writing professors are there with no experience in a business atmosphere who might have a blast working professionally for a few years? And how many technical communicators are there that could easily go back to school, finish their schooling and become capable and exciting professors themselves? Googling has (unsurprisingly) returned no useful statistics, and neither has a journal search in the academic databases. Perhaps it may be worth doing a statistical analysis at some point. But for now, in response to Murphy’s account of his interesting work life, I feel confident that those of us straddling both university and business worlds will find our places, however that should unfold for each of us uniquely.