What’s the Takeaway?
Last semester, back in the States, I had a professor who mentioned to our class her distaste for the word ‘takeaway.’ I hadn’t quite considered it before, but I quickly realized I’m not a fan of the word either. When I think of the phrase “So what’s the takeaway?” my mind conjures up a very bureaucratic scene of men in suits and ties, PowerPoint presentations, and coffee mugs–sending a shudder through me. The worst part of the word ‘takeaway’ is not its business-meeting-jargon-ness, but that it implies that we can ‘boil it down’–“it” being the content of a presentation, a book, an experience, etc–to a quick, quippy message that we can tuck in the back of our minds.
I know that when I consider how my time at Oxford has affected me, I will need to figure out what the takeaway is. For my resume, CV, grad school applications, and for every step in my future career-planning, my time at Oxford will need to be boiled down to the useful skills and tools I have extracted that have better prepared me for my life.
I completely understand this. I have a plan for my future: after graduating from Whitman, I plan on going straight into a PhD program in philosophy, with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor at a small liberal arts college. My research interests are largely in contemporary ethics, and this has been the focus of much of my time at Oxford. I came to Oxford knowing that I’d have the flexibility to guide my own studies. I knew that the tutorial system would train me to think more independently and hold myself more accountable for my own studies, and it has. Working with tutors one-on-one has made me more confident in expressing my ideas verbally and through writing, which I know will prove extremely useful in my graduate studies and in eventually teaching and publishing. My time at Oxford has made me a more focused philosopher, a more disciplined student, a more careful reader, and a more conscientious writer. All this in addition to the fact that just being able to say that I attended the University of Oxford–one of the most prestigious colleges in the world–will certainly make a difference in my future opportunities professionally. It is well-known that there is hardly a better place to have studied philosophy than at Oxford, where so many influential thinkers have learned and taught.
As someone who has always been success-motivated, I am entirely grateful for the doors this experience will open. Like many other first-gen students, I probably have more than the usual amount of worries about making a stable living in the world of academia, where I’ve often felt out of place. Every bit of experience makes me more confident that I will be able to make it as a philosophy professor, even though the competition is, I’ve heard, brutal. But (this is probably the philosopher in me) I worry that because of my high level of motivation, I will fall into the ‘takeaway’ trap–that I will come out of life-changing experiences ready to simply boil them down to bullet points on applications that will get me ahead in my career.
Yes, it is clear that my experience abroad has been a significant asset that will prove extraordinarily useful in my professional goals; in this sense, I could say that the takeaway of the experience is that I am a more skilled and qualified philosopher with a wider range of academic experience. But, more importantly I think, is what is left out by this statement. I’m excited by the fact that many of the emotions I’ve felt and thoughts I’ve had can’t be consolidated into some single message that would sum up my experience here. I am thrilled that when I go back to the States, I will have grown in ways that I can’t express properly just by trying to explain them to others. How I see myself has changed, and a huge part of that change is that I am starting to recognize myself as a person apart from my professional goals, apart from a dissect-able path of progress towards professional success. The analytic nature of my academic work has often made me feel as if I have failed when I can’t clearly and succinctly express an idea to another person. But the time I’ve had here has become a messy web of ideas and feelings scattered in my mind that are more personally rewarding just because they can’t be expressed simply to others, and so are completely inapplicable to the realm of the resume.