Tuesday, 27 March 2012

To degree, or not to degree, that is the question.

This is probably going to become an old topic fairly soon, but I do think it is one that bears examination.

Let's start from the premise from The Advertiser today.  Expert argues uni degrees overrated.

In short, the writer vacillates between extolling the virtues of university degrees and landing on the fence of tafe/uni. The writer seems determined NOT to come up with a position, but sound like he is promoting a vital piece of information.

How about this:
"The Federal Government wants 40 per cent of Australians aged between 25 and 34 to have a bachelor degree by 2020. Skills Australia has estimated that in the five years to 2015 Australia will need an additional 2.1 million people in the workforce with a vocational education qualification at Certificate III level or higher."
"Great!" I thought, "he is going to talk about the value of bachelor degrees, or the use of other vocational training and proffer a viewpoint!" But no, he just started quoting people who had got jobs in menial trades (bricklaying) or who MIGHT be able to get a job in a patisserie. But that is beside the point.

Ok, so let's look at the current view point.

You are fresh out of school. You didn't do particularly well, and you aren't thrilled by the thought of studying something that no one else wants to study at uni, like Shoe Polishing, or Basket Weaving. Your options?

Many people will assume that since they couldn't get into uni, they are doomed to a life of hard manual labor, destined to end up on the pension when your body gives out. If you are lucky, that will be within 5 years so that you can spend your remaining youth dole-bludging. 

This viewpoint, however irrational, is backed up by a societal distaste for non-university qualifications. Studying at TAFE is not looked upon as a path for an intelligent, ambitious person. I think I could dedicate an entire essay to why this is, starting with the old-school Oxford prestige.

Whatever the reason, many of our bright-but-not-scholarly youth will leave school with no idea how they are going to get a job doing something more interesting that digging holes for the council, and as a result, most of them end up digging holes for the council. Some of them even do it voluntarily. 

However TAFE, or other vocational based training centres, are a far more useful educational tool than most people realise. TAFE offers courses in things such as Paralegal training; it sure isn't a LLB, but my secretary knows more about Family Law than I do after 3 years studying part-time at TAFE. 

TAFE also offers business management courses that are far more practical than commerce, economics, or similar bachelor degrees. I mean, sure. If you have a bachelor of Business Management and Commerce, I am sure you can read the stock market like a pro, but do you have any idea how to hire and fire?

Then you have the snobbery associated with university degrees. There are some things that should never have been taught at university, but have become the sole possession of the unis. Nursing, for example, should never have been a uni subject. The practical aspects of that training would be far better taught at a vocational institution like a TAFE. Similarly, Teaching. Sure you want your child's teachers to be well educated, but surely a 3-year course at TAFE would be better than a rushed post-graduate course in one year at a uni?

There are other considerations, such as cost/benefit: most TAFE courses are far cheaper to run than uni degrees. 

So what needs to happen is that universities need to dump degrees that are purely vocational and stick to their traditional professions; IE engineering, law, medicine (but not medical sub-roles, such as nursing, etc). That way high school graduates will not go to uni to do a useless degree because they thing they are expected to, or because they think they will get a job out of it. Instead they need to be encouraged to look at what they want to do, and find more practical ways of achieving that. If a kid is a jock and wants to be a PT, don't make him study medicine or anatomical biology or even human kinetics, get him to attend a Personal Trainer course at a TAFE where he will be working and enjoying his job within 2 years.

And the writers at The Advertiser need to stick their thumbs out and come to a god damned conclusion once in a while!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The law and your health

There are plenty of cliches about stress leading to an early grave, but there are other concerns as well.  Perhaps the biggest one is obesity.

I spend most of my day sitting at a desk typing away.  Occasionally I drive to see a client, or spend 30 minutes pacing in a courtroom, but otherwise my only excursions are to get food. I tend to eat out at least one lunch per week, usually two or more, and I tend to eat pretty badly on the weekend as well.

I also note that almost all of the lawyers that I know (male especially) are at least marginally overweight.  Some are more than marginally overweight.

The cause is pretty obvious; we are paid well, but we are expected to spend a lot of time working. Even if that isn't expected, by the time we get home from work, we are totally wiped and just want to spend the evening in front of the cricket/computer/gossip girl.

I have a few solutions to avoid the bulge while not spending too much time or effort.

1:  Choose a hobby that gets you out and about.
Whether your hobby is a round of golf every weekend, or a game of netball on a Sunday night, choosing a sport to become involved in can get you moving and active.  More importantly, choosing a team sport, or a sport where you play in company, means you are more likely to continue. Although I run fairly regularly, I never feel any pressure to run, and so if I am tired, I just don't do it. However since I started riding with a group on Saturday mornings, I have been doing it reliably every weekend. Similarly, when I was playing netball, I would attend every game, partly for the fitness, and partly because I loved playing with the team. So pick something you can stick with, and stick with it.

On that note, choosing your hobby needs to be a considered decision.  If you aren't at all fit, don't start riding through the mountains on your first trip. Don't jump in to training for a marathon; you just won't get there. Instead, join a cycling group that rides 20km once a week, or a sporting team that has an 'F' grade. You might move up quickly, to 100km rides and A grade cricket, but at the least you will be able to play regularly and comfortably.

2:  Do something active every day.
This one should go without saying, but you need to get up and about every day.  It is recommended that you spend at least 30 minutes every day doing an activity that gets your heart rate up, but this seems to be a huge investment of time. It should be noted that this doesn't have to be all at once.

Some things to consider are as follows;
Walking to work (or walking from the carpark out of town into the office).  You might only walk 2 km, but that makes 4km a day, or at least 30 minutes of hard walking. You might actually save time parking your car, depending on where you work. Take a change of clothes and leave your work shoes at the office.
Racing up (or crawling up) 3 flights of stairs rather than taking the lift.  Honestly, you might save time by doing this, and hopefully you will beat the suckers who waited for a minute then stopped at floors 2, 3 and 4.
Walking to the sushi-joint on the other side of the mall, rather than the one on the ground floor of your office.
Going for a swim at lunch time (if there is somewhere nearby with showers)
Going for a swim after work. IF you can find a pool on your way home, just make sure you have a towel, goggles, and bathers in your bag, and off you go. It can be a really relaxing way of exercising, and you don't have to be fit to start. Also, since I started going, I have met about 4 other office-workers who swim every night after work.  The atmosphere at that time is so much better than weekends when you have hundreds of kids in the pool.

You get the idea.  Work out what little things you can do that might save you time and still get your heart rate up.  Remember that when it comes to exercise, time and distance are more important than speed. If you can sprint for 100m, that is great, but you will get a better workout from jogging 5k at 8km/h. Similarly, sure you can swim a lap in 20 seconds, but you will have more fun if you aim to swim 1km.

3:  Challenge yourself ever now and then.
Who isn't motivated by a challenge? Pick someone in your office and make sure you go an extra step than them! Go to the gym and push an extra 100m on the treadmill every visit, and try to get your first 1km done at .5km/h faster each time.

4:  Find time.
Duh.  This is the big one.  We are all too busy, but some of us are too busy and still manage to go for a swim every now and then.  Deal with it. Put aside 30 minutes every day. Get up 15 minutes early and walk to work. Leave work AT 5.30, not just some time between then and 7pm. Make commitments to activities, and keep them. (Hell, have kids, they will sweat pounds off you!)

I recently embarked on a month without alcohol.  I am one week in, and I think I have dropped 3ks already. It was challenging the first few days, but now I don't even think about reaching for a beer when I get home. I feel better, and I actually got up at 6am and went for a bike ride yesterday!  Amazing!

Any suggestions to keep the pounds off?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Adapt or Die... or become confused

Taken from Ernie the Attorney's wonderful blog.

The Darwinian mantra for most species on Earth has been "Adapt or die." The new mantra for the tech-laden world that we've created is: "Adapt quickly, or become disoriented and irrelevant."

I laughed.  As a smart-phone-toting, laptop-using, semi-computer-literate solicitor, I often feel bewildered by technology, but not usually the new stuff.  I have found that all new technology is designed to be user-friendly.  What I struggle with is old technology that has stopped working.  (Windows 98 is still around!  Beware the Windows 98!)

Friday, 2 March 2012

I Wish I Could Go Back To College

There is a song from Avenue Q entitled 'I wish I could go back to college.'  Sometimes I think this song is a wistful rambling from some disenchanted muppets, and sometimes I really agree.

When I am enjoying my work, I can work solidly all day and into the evening without complaint.  But today I am reading some delightful cases on fiduciary duties and preparing a report for my boss; wonderful.

I remember back at Uni when I would despair of studying indoors.  I would take my laptop, my textbooks and a highlighter out into the sun and spend a few hours studying outside.  I don't know if I retained any more or less than studying indoors, but I always felt a bit better about the work.

Now, I am tied to a computer at a desk, with no surcease from the glaring fluorescent lighting.  Sigh.  I wish I could go back to uni again.


KATE MONSTER:
I wish I could go back to college. 
Life was so simple back then.

NICKY:
What would I give to go back and live in a dorm with a meal plan again!

PRINCETON:
I wish I could go back to college.
In college you know who you are. 
You sit in the quad, and think, "Oh my God!
I am totally gonna go far!"

ALL:
How do I go back to college?
I don't know who I am anymore!

PRINCETON:
I wanna go back to my room and find a message in dry-erase pen on the door!
Ohhh...
I wish I could just drop a class...

NICKY:
Or get into a play...

KATE MONSTER:
Or change my major...

PRINCETON:
Or fuck my T.A.

ALL:
I need an academic advisor to point the way!
We could be...
Sitting in the computer lab,
4 A.M. before the final paper is due,
Cursing the world 'cause I didn't start sooner,
And seeing the rest of the class there, too!

PRINCETON:
I wish I could go back to college!

ALL:
How do I go back to college?!
AHHHH...

PRINCETON:
I wish I had taken more pictures.

NICKY:
But if I were to go back to college,
Think what a loser I'd be-
I'd walk through the quad,
And think "Oh my God..."

ALL:
"These kids are so much younger than me."

"I wish I could go back to college" from the musical Avenue Q.
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.  If you haven't seen it you have been living under a rock and need to buy fares to London and go see it live.  

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Cover your face and cry

Sometimes I am just blown away by clients, and other times... well, there is a story.

Picture this:  A mother of two kids, only 18 years old, several drug charges, and now in a custody battle with one child's father, which is getting bogged down because neither party will give up their drug use. 

And hey, I am only getting legal aid funding!  This will be a fun few months.