Upgrading Your Skills

I’m at one of those points where I have too much time on my hands. After a period of enjoying the sloth, I eventually get to the point where I realize I should probably be doing something constructive with myself, and that’s this week’s activity. There are a few ways you can go about upgrading your skills, including traditional academia, seminars and conferences, and online learning.

Traditional academia

I took this route back in 1999, when I decided to get serious about getting a job in the space business. I went ahead and decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in technical writing through University of Central Florida. At the time, my educational background consisted of a B.A. in English Literature while my work experience was all service industry-related (retail + Disney front desk, guest letters, etc.). The time and money invested were, for me, absolutely worth it, as I had only taken a single course in technical writing while pursuing the B.A. and so was unfamiliar with the discipline. The extra degree opened a door to a defense proposal writing job in the DC area, and things progressed from there. I think the whole program cost U.S. $10-15,000. Per credit hour costs at UCF are about the same as they were then, so if you don’t feel the need to attend Stanford or something in the Ivy League, you can probably get away with a less painful student loan to pay off. And if you get the better-paying you job you want, the debt can be paid off that much more quickly.

Seminars and conferences

I’ve done this on occasion, as it’s a lower-cost, less time-intensive alternative to a full academic program. For instance, I took a five-day course in grant writing from The Grantsmanship Center and found that worthwhile. I’d already done proposal writing professionally for several years by the time I took that course, so the seminar helped me understand the details and differences in the nonprofit world. Total cost of that program was around $1,000.

On occasion I’ve also attended conferences that matched either my professional skill interests (technical writing, instructional design) or my content/customer preferences (aerospace, engineering). Conferences are usually 3-5 days of networking while also attending seminars on topics of interest to the given audience. Between hotel, air, and registration fees–most of which you can write off if you’re a freelancer or you can try to convince an employer to pay for your attendance if you can show a return on investment for them–conference can run you anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 (or more depending on your field).

Online learning

These days I’m looking for something quick to pick up specific skills. The internet’s resources along these lines have vastly improved. In consultation with my mentor D2, I was referred to several different Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) sites, including:


These are courses conducted online–live or asynchronously–by actual university professors. For an additional $50 or so, sites like EDx.org will provide you with a certificate showing that actually completed the course. The courses themselves are often free, and so can be your best bang for the buck if you just want to learn about a topic.

At any rate, I suggest keeping your skills fresh one way or another, even if you aren’t looking to change careers. Thanks to the internet, there has never been a better time to acquire high-quality information and education. And when you’re done you can go back to posting pictures of cats. 🙂


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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1 Response to Upgrading Your Skills

  1. d2rector13 says:

    CANVAS.net is another, university level instruction, very practical, grounded in solid ISD…

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