David Kwinn, PhD '71
Dr. Kwinn has held a variety of jobs since earning his PhD in English from Cornell University. First teaching at the university level, Dr. Kwinn made numerous job transitions throughout his career,from teaching to publishing to marketing (earning his MBA along the way), until finally ending up in international industrial productivity consulting with the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Here are a few words from Dr. Kwinn:
Is there anything about your Cornell experience that has stuck with you throughout the years?
At Cornell I developed a process for learning, which ultimately proved more important than the specific things I learned at the time. The process for learning hasn’t failed me, either in my personal or professional life
Perhaps the most important part of the Cornell experience was that I had a chance to work with best in class professors who set the benchmark for me for the rest of my career. My program helped me develop the courage to undertake challenges that I might otherwise never have had the nerve to attempt. It may be selective perception, but a lot of times when look at the bio of a particularly interesting person it turns out to be a Cornell alum.
How does an Arts and Sciences degree prepare students for future careers?
A good Arts and Sciences degree should give a person strong skills in communication and logical thinking, which are central to other disciplines. Learning should encompass both education and training, which are two different and necessary things. For me education is about learning how to solve problems and make things better, in whatever endeavor. Training, on the other hand, focuses on learning to do something finite. For example, training helps me use Word to document my comments. Liberal education results in my having comments to make. A liberally educated programmer could figure out how to make the next generation of Word better, whereas I’m not going to get past Word training.
What insight do you have for graduating students of the College of Arts and Sciences?
My advice is to get some practical training in a functional area: web design, basic accounting, marketing, public policy, administration, or systems to develop some leverage in your job search.
Any other career advice?
Job interviews are about offering evidence about what you do and how you do it. I suggest that during an interview, you succinctly explain:
- Why you studied what you did
- What practical things you have been doing with what you have been learning
- What would you can do for a potential employer
Successful employment is built on continuous learning, so you should develop a plan to get certifications that matter on the job market. Some things that can help you stand out are proficiency in a foreign language, work experience in a foreign country, and clear understanding of how you more than your competition can help advance an organization’s mission.
What made you choose consulting? In your experience, is this a path where Arts and Science students excel? What should students who are interested in careers in consulting do while still in college?
Consulting success is based on listening, learning, assessment and facilitating communication, all things a liberal education should provide. A liberal education is a good platform on which to build functional skills needed to be a consultant.
For the most part, consulting firms are going to be looking for people with a strong functional background in finance, operations, engineering, process improvement, and so on.
Final words of advice for students?
My final advice is to look at the job opportunities with as wide a perspective as possible. The nature of work is changing dramatically, as are the geographic locations where it is done. I would seek to figure out where the biggest opportunities are going to be and position myself to be there. As Wayne Gretzky famously said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”