In the video we saw during class, Dan Pink talks about higher rewards leading to worse performance on cognitive tasks. However, he doesn’t describe the experiment well enough to understand why/how higher rewards impact cognitive skills. His other video does a better job with the candle experiment. In this one, he describes that the higher reward narrows subject focus so much that they can’t think outside the box to solve the problem. This matches with the quote used by Alfie Kohn :
A student asked his Zen master how long it would take to reach enlightenment. “Ten years,” the master said. But, the student persisted, what if he studied very hard? “Then 20 years,” the master responded. Surprised, the student asked how long it would take if he worked very, very hard and became the most dedicated student in the Ashram. “In that case, 30 years,” the master replied. His explanation: “If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task.”
I didn’t register the impact of Pink’s work until I read Kohn’s. Then I got hit by memories of finals time with friends calculating what grade they needed to get grade X in each class. While I’d like to say I was above this practice, that I didn’t feel those needs because I would rather be studying instead, such words would be a lie. In the classes that I enjoyed, I don’t think I ever calculated a theoretical grade, but in the boring or disinteresting classes there was a lot of “I could probably accept a lower grade in exchange for my sanity…”. What’s worse about this is how focused people are on only grades.
Students want a degree to get a job, and think that grades will affect their job chances. The truth is that your professional network and your ability to interact with people will pull far, far more weight in the job market. However, students feel more compelled to study than to attend networking socials and conferences. I have a terribly hard time getting students to attend events for my club (when they’ve already told me they are interested) because they’re afraid to take time out away from the lab or studying. I offered a free week in Detroit to eat food and network at the largest and most important conference in my field, no presentations required, and no one would take me up on the offer. That is insane to me. I basically had to force close friends to go because I had already booked housing with university funding. I’ll do the same thing next year too. Students are so focused on finishing degrees or getting good grades that they miss the opportunities that make life good. It’s a sickness at this point, and I blame this need to keep an eye on your grade/end goal. Finishing is important, but if you enjoy the journey you’re far more likely to make it out alive.
With this in mind, what are some opportunities you’ve missed because you were afraid of setting yourself back or getting a lower grade? What experiences have you enjoyed at some cost?
Edit: With the vast interest in this conference I’m “dragging” people to, I thought I’d give a little context. The conference is the annual conference for the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), know as ANTEC. Last year it was in Orlando, this year it’s in Detroit, and next year it is apparently in San Antonio. My advisor is the club advisor so I kind of got guilted in signing up for a leadership position when my lab mates wanted to step down. Since starting I’ve started to love the opportunity and I want to give it a bigger presence around campus. VT has an amazing polymer/plastics program and that makes it a great place to use a club/organization like SPE to dispel the many misconceptions about plastics (yes they stick around forever, but they are so efficient to make it makes paper bags look like hummers – you win some, you lose some) and teach amazing things (like plastic eating fungi)! Anyhoo, to make an impact I applied to a bunch of funding opportunities through VT and SPE and got some. I’m also tabling for my department at their career fair/expo thing, so I got some support from the Macromolecules Innovation Institute to talk up VT to anyone considering grad school in the polymer field. So if you’ve got any vague connection to plastics you want to take advantage of, hit me up for next year’s conference (or come to the SPE meeting on March 1st).
Also, for anyone interested in a cheap local conference, in 2020, VT is hosting the National Graduate Research Polymers Conference (NGRPC2020) through ACS. It’s a great time to learn about how plastics affect you. And currently, we plan to offer VT students a discount…but that is still being worked on.