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Why Essay Writing Matters Beyond the College Process

Many of the majors and careers students are choosing for employment prospects may work against them.

In Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose lays out a hopeful, pragmatic vision of how humans can thrive in the machine age. He shares the secrets of people and organizations that have survived technological change, and explains how we can protect our own futures. Roose rejects the conventional wisdom that in order to succeed in the age of intelligent machines, we have to become more like computers—hyper-efficient, data-driven workhorses. Instead, he says, we should focus on being more human, and doing the kinds of creative, inspiring, and meaningful things even the most advanced AI can’t do.

What does this have to do with my work with your kids?

It has everything to do with writing essays.

Less real-life communication has made self-searching more stressful. Essay writing urges students to think critically: about their backgrounds, who they are, what they do, and the choices they make. They engage the reader in stories, then finish by reflecting on how the stories define them. What other experience encourages this level of self-examination? Applying to college means presenting their value to admissions officers, an extended form of an interview, a pitch, a desire to connect with a goal in mind. Whatever fields students pursue, communication skills will be crucial to success because no one works in a vacuum--even those working in labs.

Over ten years ago, actor Alan Alda observed that the public is hesitant to accept scientific findings because scientists are not trained to communicate well. His theories were tested and the Alda Center for Communicating Science was founded at Stony Brook University. Scientists can earn certifications in communicating different areas of Science as well as earn an MS in Science Communication.

Last month, I spoke to Tony Munro, manager of International Recruitment and Partnerships and Judene Pretti, director of the Work-Learn Institute at the University of Waterloo, Canada. While working to create future-ready students, they stress the value of a solid STEM education. However, they also state that engineers must develop better communication skills to work better within their companies and to successfully take their ideas out into the world.

Next week, I’ll explore the categories of jobs students who have strong communication skills may consider to remain AI proof.


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