Dimitri Petermann gave an intriguing start to his presentation at the recent academic trainee workshop held at SAICA. Each person was asked to put away their notebooks and instead handed a blank piece of A4 white paper, with no further instruction.

Dimitri, himself an ex-academic trainee at Wits, is now working in auditing. He explained that he chose auditing not because it was his best subject. In fact, auditing was his weakest subject; and he chose it in order to improve on his skills in that area.

During his academic training contract, Dimitri says he never stopped learning, reading, writing, talking, listening and thinking. His advice to all new trainees: never stop learning.  

Dimitri is widely read – he has read everything from King IV to the history of management accounting and the PHD Masters Theses of other academics. His point was this: in the role of an academic trainee, get your students to read up on their subject matter. In this way, you are encouraging to embrace lifelong learning, a critical competency, rather than just giving them the answer. 

Dimitri recalls thinking and considering many things during this time. He thought about his future in accounting and which path to take. He also advised trainees to consider doing more than what is expected – offer to take on more work, talk to people outside of your division, have fun, travel, learn new skills. He also suggested tutoring part-time students – it’s likely they’re already working and you’ll learn a lot from them. This year, he said, should be about creating value: don’t teach - rather facilitate and guide students to be the best they can.

Finally, Dimitri went back to the blank paper he had handed out at the beginning of his presentation. Group by group, he asked the trainees what they used, or could use, the blank piece of paper for (besides just scrunching it up and tossing it in the bin!) Some used them for the obvious – taking notes during the time he spoke. Others doodled coconuts. There were suggestions for paper planes, making fires and writing Valentines cards.

For Dimitri, the blank piece of paper represents your three-year training contract. Yes, you can do the obvious and write on it. You could use it to make an origami elephant or write a story. The point it is, you should make your training contract period your own unique journey and spend the time wisely so that you can look back and say you did more than what was expected. 

Epic Discussion

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