Taking useful short courses and workshops can be a major factor in career success. While taking full semester courses is often helpful, many times this isn't possible due to time constraints of job responsibilities or family duties. Often full semester courses contain a lot of material that isn't focused enough to be of substantial help in meeting one's career goals. Short courses offer a useful alternative to longer courses and can be more focused with less demanding time requirements.

When one uses the term "short course," one typically thinks of intensive courses one to five days long and running six to eight hours per day. These are live presentations and may be held in a hotel meeting room or, if an internal corporate course, in a company meeting room. Instructors may be outside consultants, current employees or retirees. Workshops are more narrowly focused and shorter - sometimes as little as three hours in length.

Consultants may offer their own courses and workshops or teach onees offered by professional societies. Many conferences such as national American Chemical Society meetings and Pittcon offer short courses on both technical subjects and soft skills. Courses in soft skills, sometimes called people skills, may seem easier when sitting in a meeting room than are more technical courses. However, they are harder to put into practice. It is the failure of many attendees to do so that can result in a poor reputation for some short courses.

Other types of short courses

So far we've been talking about the traditional model of a short course or workshop: a live presentation in a meeting room. However, technology has made possible other types of short courses. One is the webinar. This may be a one-way presentation broadcast to your personal computer or, by using a telephone or online software, allow for two-way communication in which course attendees can ask questions.

Another alternative is the videoconference in which the instructor's presentation is broadcast to attendees in one or more distant locations. These locations are typically meeting rooms designed for videoconferences and having one or more large-screen video monitors. Two-way communication between the presenter and the attendees is possible. Some courses are available on DVD. Students may watch them at their leisure in their own homes. Several months ago I took a 12-hour DVD course, "The Art of Critical Decision Making" and recently watched the tapes again. This course has been useful in my own work and helped me better understood how things went wrong in the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill.


When I started working for Shell Chemical Company all new employees took three-day short courses in listening skills (in the context of conversations) and oral presentation skills. These have been among the most valuable courses I have ever taken helping me in my R&D, technical service and lab management positions. Outside the laboratory, effective listening skills have helped me as a volunteer American Chemical Society career consultant working with job hunters. It also helps when working with employed ACS members is dealing with on-the-job issues. (As a writer, learning how to listen effectively and actively has helped me when interviewing people for articles I am writing.) The presentation skills course has helped me in preparing and making in-house presentations, conference presentations, presentations to customers and job-hunting and career management presentations. It also prompted me to develop a workshop on preparing oral presentations when English is your second language.