continuing the certification debate

Subject: continuing the certification debate
From: James Perkins <perkins -at- TELE -dot- NOKIA -dot- FI>
Date: Thu, 13 Jul 1995 11:04:04 +0300

I am extremely cynical about certification because of my experiences with
it, particularly with regard to so-called qualification at universities.
I don't argue that universities often provide very good qualifications
and produce excellent, well-trained professionals. But some subject
areas are somewhat neglected in this regard.

A good example is the psychology profession (my background). In
Australia, you can go through a whole degree program and become qualified
without one speck of practical experience. In general, the courses teach
you to do very little except research. Then a graduate can do their two
years' supervised work experience (for registration with the Psychology
Board) as a research assistant at a university. I am not denigrating the
quality of *some* programs (which are very good) or research assistants (who
are necessary for the research projects that go on; indeed, I have worked
part-time as one for several years).

However, although this is an extreme example, it is actually possible to
be completely certified in psychology in Australia, yet have no practical
skills or experience in practising it whatsoever. It is a joke and
embarrassment to the profession, and has certain ethical implications that
are being ignored by those in charge.

Any certified course needs to concentrate on the practical skills. In
general psychology training in Australia, this is definitely not the
case. In fact, it is the only profession I know of that does not require
compulsory work experience at the undergraduate level. Engineering,
medicine, nursing, social work, even agricultural science, all require
this experience to graduate.

In my psychological training, I learned mostly better writing skills
(particularly for scientific areas), library skills, and developed my
general research ability. I learned very few practical skills
specifically for psychologists at all (save the basics of interpersonal
communication) until postgraduate level. If you ask somebody who is not in
psychology what a psychologist does, it is unlikely that any of those things
are learned in undergraduate degree programs.

My point is this:

Now I have started on a new career (technical writing), I would be
quite saddened if it were to follow a similar path by being put in a
university as a theoretical course with meaningless research and all the
associated administrivia. I think the best thing about technical writing
is that it attracts good writers from a variety of backgrounds, providing
it with a richness rarely seen in other professions. The poor writers will
clearly be very easily discovered and weeded out when doing their work. The
evidence of a good writer is not his or her degrees on the wall, but the
finished, concrete product. This is not so easy to do in some other areas
(for example, industries where the product is the service itself).
Considering technical writing as worthless or less important just because it
lacks a degree program at a college or university is simply academic elitism.


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