What is the likelihood you will successfully complete graduate school?

September 21, 2011

Not Dan Janzen.

What are good predictors of success and how do we use them to reach our life goals? One of the best pieces of advice I have received for success in academia came from Ecologist Extraordinaire, Dan Janzen. “Always be finishing something”.

So here’s the deal. An elite prep school and a charter school in New York both confronted the same problem. Students with every economic advantage and/or that were intellectually gifted would be admitted to elite colleges upon graduation but quit before they completed their college degree.

In a fascinating article in the New York Times magazine, Paul Tough reviews how both schools are turning to the work of U. Penn psychologist Angela Duckworth.

People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to acheive that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this aquality, and she chose the word “grit.

Duckworth’s simple 12 question “grit” score has exceeded other, more complex tests, in predicting success. For example, West Point, the U.S. Army’s elite office training school, pitted their test against the Grit Scale. The simple Grit Test was better at predicting who will finish the arduous “Beast Barracks” that begins a students time at West Point.

Grit, apparently, is it.

Dan Janzen has grit.

Importantly, these educators believe, grit can be taught. And they are adjusting their curriculum to highlight examples of grit in history, literature, and civics. Moreover, they are monitoring student progress with a “character report card” that assigns grades in personality traits like zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. You can imagine how many of those traits would be good ones to cultivate.

So take the Grit test. And for the more senior readers of this blog, post your score if you dare.

I scored a very respectable 4.1.  I suspect anybody scoring a perfect “5″ would be an absolute joy to share an office with.

Download the grit test here.

See also:

Will you earn your Ph. D.?


QoTD: On boredom

February 9, 2008

“Being bored doesn’t mean that “there’s nothing to do,” as children imprecisely complain to their parents on a rainy day, dragging their feet on the rug and kicking the sofa. It means that something big–whether it’s rain, other people, or our own hot-to-the-touch-fears–is keeping us from doing what we want to do, from playing outside, from expressing ourselves, from moving forward.”

Nancy Franklin, critic for  The New Yorker


Five sensible steps to increase your productivity

September 13, 2007

Steven Covey’s Four QuadratsI’ve got a date with a tropical rain forest for the next 12 days or so, so posting will be light. What follows is my basic system for deciding what to do, day by day. It is accrued, accreted, and amalgamated from GTD, 7 Habits, and lots of trial and error.

The basic idea: combine strategic planning with a simple rule that guarantees you do stuff daily that promotes your long-term academic fitness. Its simple and professor-proof. Here’s the gist:

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Then, there’s always caffeine…

December 28, 2006

coffeeThen there’s another take on beating procrastination.
Take a swig and let’er rip.

Tasty Research summarizes an interesting study in Psychological Science (PDF) that suggests folks tend to build in their own procrastinating tendencies when setting deadlines. To thine ownself be true, I suppose.


5 ways of breaking the procrastination habit

December 27, 2006

Sinking ShipProcrastination is a one of the most odious behaviors simply because we watch ourselves do it. Like a bad dream, we watch ourselves piddle at something that is at best marginally useful even as something we know is useful (Covey’s Type II tasks) languishes. And the oddest thing is that we tend to procrastinate most about the things most important to us.

In fact, think about the activity that you most procrastinate about. Often times, that is the very thing you most want to do, that you know will help you achieve a major life goal.

How crazy is that?

Everybody procrastinates. But the most productive of the creative types learn to manage it. Here’s how.

Understand the psychology of procrastination.
Procrastination is bound up in some of our most negative emotions.

  1. Perfectionism. Academics want to do well in the eyes of their peers. And making a mistake in a manuscript, or in front of a group of people, especially when it is pointed out by a peer, can be almost physically painful. But if you are productive, no matter how careful you are, mistakes are going to creep into your work. It’s inevitable. Perfectionism is even more pernicious if it creeps into our conceptual work. If we chose projects that are guaranteed with success, we will do very…normal…science.
  2. Anger. If you have an unresolved issue with a prickly colleague or committee member, it feels natural to put off dealing with it. But would you rather get it over with, or feel that regular pang of guilt/remorse?
  3. Frustration. Good science is hard work, and, if you’re doing it right, will frequently lead down dark alleys, some of which are dead ends. If you really loathe being frustrated, perhaps research science isn’t your bag. Remember, almost any truly creative endeavor is like washing that roasting pan that gave you that holiday turkey (hhmmmm…..turkey…….). That pan is going to look a lot worse before it looks better.
  4. Self-loathing. There is a common script among creative people that turns every success into an opportunity to beat yourself up. It’s the “OK, I’ve fooled them this far, but the next project, well, they’ll figure out what a fraud I am.” This must, IMO, be limbically hard-wired so that our ancestors never rested on their laurels, always strived to crank out one….more….offspring. Regardless, it’s out there.

Well, this has gotten a bit morose for the holidays, hasn’t it? Luckily, there is hope for the procrastinator in all of us.

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