children · education · learning

Un-geekifying scientists

Español: Investigadores en un laboratorio de l...
What makes a career seem achievable, especially in STEM fields? Image via Wikipedia

Interesting article about making science appealing to youngsters, particularly girls:

Addressing the country’s shortfall of students in the STEM disciplines (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) begins with persuading students that scientists are people, too.

A series produced by the science program NOVA, available online, is a good place to start. The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers (tag line: “Where the lab coats come off”) features footage of scientists working in their labs and sitting down for interviews. The researchers come off as curious, playful, even goofy — people you might want to befriend, or become. The same process of humanization can work with written materials. Susan Nolen, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, gave two different statistics texts to groups of female students. One selection was written in the remote, impersonal style of most textbooks. The other struck a more accessible tone, sharing the writer’s views and opinions on the information. The text with a “visible author,” as Nolen describes it, prompted the students to engage in mental interactions with the author as they read, a process that promoted their understanding and retention of the material.

Read more: America Needs More Geeks: How to Make Science Cool

Do you agree or disagree with Paul’s assessment? Are scientists scary, unapproachable beings that nobody wants to be when they grow up?

From my personal experience I know that making that kind of job and expertise seem attainable was important to me as a high school and college student. I had a journalism professor in college that I greatly admired, Conn Hallinan. He was so GOOD at what he did; he seemed to know the history of every issue. In his provost house (not even his “real” house) he had an entire room full of file cabinets filled with clippings of stories, and somehow kept track of all of it. It was somewhat intimidating as a budding journalist. I remember thinking a couple of times “I will NEVER be this organized/dedicated/whatever. How will I ever become a journalist?” Thankfully he was very supportive of my budding talents, and I ended up writing for a scientific magazine for several years.

That being said, I think it helps to have the mask removed and being able to see the real people behind some of these professions. At the same time, probably the most helpful course I took in college was a two-credit seminar on writing professions. Each week they brought in guest speakers who talked about how they made money writing, and what they did as side-jobs if/when the writing didn’t pay enough. One journalist who’s name I can’t remember told us that she was a terrible introvert, but loved being a journalist because it gave her an excuse and a reason to talk to people. As a fellow introvert, that helped me a lot.

So, I do think it’s important to humanize jobs if we want kids to pursue them. I was going to say this is especially true for girls, but I think it’s true for both genders.

What are your thoughts? Was there a person that inspired you to get into your current career? What were they like; were they very approachable, or more legendary/iconic? Leave your story in the comments.

emotion · environment · happiness · psychology

10 Careers With High Rates of Depression –

On the Threshold of Eternity
Artist is one of the top careers associated with depression. But the most common jobs were in the "helping" professions. Image via Wikipedia

Feeling down about your job? You may not be the only one. In fact, some jobs are more prone to depression. A recent study looked at reports of depression associated with what job the individual had.

Here are 10 fields (out of 21 major job categories) in which full-time workers are most likely to report an episode of major depression in a given year. But if you want to be a nurse (No. 4), it doesn’t mean you should pick another profession.

“There are certain aspects of any job that can contribute to or exacerbate depression,” says Deborah Legge, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo (NY). “Folks with the high-stress jobs have a greater chance of managing it if they take care of themselves and get the help they need.”

via 10 Careers With High Rates of Depression – depression –

It doesn’t give an order of which careers are the most depression-prone, but a lot of the careers on the top ten were care-giving or “helping” jobs. These jobs can be draining, don’t pay very well, and apparently there isn’t much appreciation dulled back onto these workers. A lot of them are also associated with or coordinated with government institutions, which is known for its bureaucracy. Bureaucracy can also be frustrating and make workers feel futile or helpless, another key stressor and depresser.

What are some ways to make these “giving” jobs better appreciated and less stressed? There’s a lot of hoopla right now about jobs creation, but what can be done to make the jobs we have right now better?

behavior · creativity · design · happiness

“You’ve got to find what you love” » Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

Reposted from “You’ve got to find what you love” » The Business School of Happiness, and the Stanford Report, June 14, 2005

‘You’ve got to find what you love.’ Jobs says

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960′s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Thank you, Steve. RIP (1955 – 2011)

behavior · culture · happiness · Me · psychology

Study Hacks: Rethinking Passion

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What are the real keys to a fulfilling career? Image via Wikipedia

As a child growing up smooshed in between the “Me” generation and the Millenials, I have always been told that I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, and to follow my passion; pursue my dreams and the money will follow. After going to college, getting a real job, going back to college, and getting several other jobs, it started to dawn on me that this whole “pursue your dream” thing might not be the best strategy after all, (although I wouldn’t say I’ve completely abandoned the idea). So I was intrigued when I read this post from the blog Study Hacks by David Shenk, full-on condoning this sneaking suspicion I’ve had for awhile.

For the past couple years I’ve been advancing a controversial argument: “follow your passion” is bad advice.

I’m not against feeling passionate about your work — in fact, I think this is a fantastic goal. But from my experience studying this issue, passion is not something that you discover and then match a job to; it is, instead, something that grows over time along with your skills.

In other words, working right trumps finding the right work.

This viewpoint was also supported recently in a The New York Times article by David Brooks:

“College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to.”

more via Study Hacks » Features: Rethinking Passion.

It’s nice that “grown-ups” are finally acknowledging that we’re not all going to grow up to rock stars or astronauts. That there needs to be more behind “finding your passion” in order to succeed in a competitive capitalist market structure.

However, my vision is slightly skewed, because of how many people in my family DID follow their passions. My mom, my dad, two of my cousins, my husband, my mother-in-law, and multiple siblings-in-law, all of them made money at one point in their lives (or continue to) doing what they loved, following what was their “passion” at the time. Only a couple of them have made much money doing it, and many of them eventually got “real jobs.” But still, many of my family members were able to turn their passions into a career.

So I think there IS a part of the equation where passion is important; if the subject matter doesn’t interest you, then you’re asking for a looooong slog. The difference between their success and others’ failures, I think, is that they weren’t just “following” their dream; they all actively pursued it! They wrote up business plans and proposals. They sold their cars and slept of friends’ sofas and lived off of beans and rice while they got started. Maybe they were only able to pursue it part-time because they had to take a “real” job to pay rent. When more training was needed they got it. When long nights were needed, they put them in.

I think the idea is we are more motivated to put these long hours in if we are passionate about something. However, I do think both Brooks and Shenk are also right in that it is NOT always fun, it is NOT always easy, and there is realistically more value in dedicating yourself to what you are doing right now!

Another factor is prioritizing what’s important to you, including your time. In the world of the desk job and remote access, there is more flexibility. I think it is harder to be dedicated to something than simply passionate about it. Stenk has a great post from last year about how to love your career. I’m sure I’m butchering the message, but basically it comes down to

  • feeling like you have control of your own destiny,
  • you’re making a difference (in any small way),
  • and that you’re good at what you do.

That certainly matches up with the most successful entrepreneurs in my family. They valued the autonomy over their lives, and they were GOOD at what they did, but it came from years of training and hard work.

It definitely adds some much-needed perspective to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”


Journalism vs. Anthropology

A friend asked me the other day why I was changing my career goals from being a journalist to an anthropologist. I couldn’t give her a good answer at the time. I mumbled something about low pay and a competitive drive that I just seemed to lack when it came to the written word.

But it got me wondering and really looking at my reasons why I was switching gears, and now even though the moment is passed, I’d like to answer her question in full:

Being a good journalist and a good anthropologist are actually very similar. You have to find a good question and try to answer it. You must do hours of background research and familiarize yourself with the subject. You must figure out who to ask and what questions to ask them. Then there are more hours of research and compiling your information into one cohesive picture. When you finally think you have enough information to give your readers the right message, you must write it all up in a readable, thought-provoking way, and even then only if you’re lucky will your work be published—unless you’ve been asked by your boss to do this work in which case there’s probably a ridiculously short deadline and it’s not something you particularly care about and you just slap something together and call it a day.

My Journalism teacher in college had his doctorate in Anthropology, and he was one of the best journalists I met, if however also one of the most jaded. Anthropology is the perfect accessory to an aware, mindful journalist, just as journalism and writing are essential skills for an anthropologist who wants to get their findings across to their audience.

Where the line is drawn for me, however, is somewhere among the details. The depth with which you explore the subject matter. The reasons behind why this research is being done. The pace and attitude behind the work. With Anthropology, you are (in theory) painstakingly recording people’s minute behavior and details about their situations. With Journalism you must sum up an entire world event in 1200 words or less (this is a skill, by the way, which is being taught more and more often by social science teachers). Anthropology is more interactive; you have to get to know the people you’re researching. In Journalism you are expected to keep your objective distance and not get involved in your story. To even acknowledge in the story that you were there is considered a bit tacky.

Anthropology seems to emphasize the journey, whereas Journalism emphasizes the destination. For me, an MA in Anthropology offers me the chance to study different topics I love in greater detail, and to apply them to different areas of life, not just in print or other forms of media. An MA in Journalism would have given me a better idea on how to hunt, capture, and skin the story, and not much else. For some, that’s enough. For me, the academic side of me won over the practical side and decided to give the whole researcher gig a shot.

That to me is the final kicker. I remember so often sitting at my computer, typing up all the wonderful stories I’d heard from researchers and scientists into an abbreviated article, and how I kept thinking to myself that I would much rather be the one out there doing the research and being interviewed about it than the other way around. That was why I made the leap. To get out there into the world and see what I could do, not just sit back and write about it.