There’s no better advice than the advice you get from your peers – people who have been where you are now and have learned through trial and error how to make the most of the academic training year ( which is the first year of the formal training contract for those interested in academia).
Speaking at a recent SAICA Academic Trainee workshop about his experiences during his academic training, Zahir Mayet asked students what expectations they had of themselves for the year ahead. While the aim of your university years is to get your degree, he said, once that box has been ticked it’s time to set subjective goals for the duration of your training contract period including specific goals for your year in the academic trainee programme.
One of Zahir’s goals during his academic traineeship was to become better at time management. Being on time for a meeting is fine, he believes, but it’s ideal to be there around 15 minutes early to settle in and get prepared.
Improving efficiency in terms of how one completes a task was another subject he spoke about, explaining that making small changes to how you do things can make a world of difference to your efficiency. In order to become more efficient you need to learn how to prioritise certain tasks over others, and to keep a diary – be it electronic or in a notebook.
Teamwork and helping colleagues is another great way to make the most of your training contract. It’s about helping out a friend when their workload gets too heavy, or working as a team to solve a problem. The same goes for getting to know your lecturers – not only the ones you work with closely, but even those you don’t. Networking is important for your career.
Discipline and self-control must be managed when you’re making the transition between student life and work. Once you enter the working world there is no one around to hold your hand and make sure you meet your deadlines – your manager will simply expect it to be done. Which means that there are times when you can’t make that lunch out with your mates, because you have work to do – and it’s up to you to be disciplined about it.
Take the time to learn about all areas of the profession, he suggested, even if you’re not working in that specific field. Look to expand your knowledge and keep abreast of new legislation – these are things you’ll be expected to know when you start working at a firm. And while it may sound obvious, make sure that you’re familiar with programmes such as Outlook and Excel – they’re important tools you’ll need to work with.
As far as furthering your academic studies are concerned, if you’re interested in doing your Masters, this is the year to do it, he advised.
He cautioned academic trainees to remember that they are role models for their students. “Be careful about the comments you make – you will be surprised at how well students remember a comment you made, no matter how innocent or throw away it may have been at the time,” he warned.
As an academic trainee you are in a position of authority and will get to see tests and exams. Some students, he said, will try to discreetly find out more about the content of these tests and exams. “Your answer should always be that they should study everything, but you need to be aware that no matter how unintentional it is, there’s always a possibility that you could inadvertently give something away – so tread carefully.”
Academic trainees, he added, won’t fall behind once they are back at their respective firms. “You will know how to do the work and if there is anything you’re unsure about, ask your team. That said, make sure you get to know the firm’s processes,” he concluded.
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