Sarah had achieved her dream. With a PhD in Physics, she had accepted a new position as a Theoretical Physicist.
But as the months wore on, she started to feel overwhelmed and depressed. She’d done well in school and enjoyed her classes – why couldn’t she focus on her work?
Sean graduated with honors from his engineering program. But after six months on the job as a field representative for a machine company, he was fired.
He had been an excellent student, and excelled in class with top grades and praise from his professors. In the field, he had none of that feedback, and his motivation plummeted. He blamed himself for the failure, but he couldn’t understand how all his success had collapsed so quickly.
Passion and Purpose
Sarah and Sean are just two examples of what happens every day in academia. Bright, well trained students graduate to find all of that training led to a career that didn’t live up to their expectations.
Or even more commonly, they may like aspects of the job, but other factors weigh them down. The research is interesting, but they clash with the PI, or lose motivation when the experiments don’t work.
With that data in hand, you’ll have the confidence to choose your next opportunity and maximize your happiness and productivity.
System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA)
You may have taken a Meyers-Briggs test, or some other psychometric analysis aimed at describing your personality traits or interests that could improve your career.
But, Ms. Hanson points out, those are preference-based tests, and our biases can creep into our choices and we actually select answers that don’t describe us well.
“Our preferences are not clean evidence,” she says. “They’re so impacted by our biases. Their reliability and validity are not very high, and they’re not very effective in making informed career decisions.”
The System for Identifying Motivated Abilities, on the other hand, is an “Evidence Based Assessment.” The process starts when you list achievements from your childhood onward.
You choose eight such examples – things that you enjoyed doing and thought you did well – and describe each event in as much detail as possible.
How did you get involved? What did you actually do step-by-step? What were you proud of after you accomplished this task?
Then, you or your SIMA analyst can go through those stories looking for patterns – evidence of your past successes and how you achieved your goals.
Building a Profile
Those bits of evidence get sorted into five categories that make up your Motivational Profile.
* Motivated Abilities – which of your skills do you frequently use when you’re happily working?* Subject Matter – What topics inspire you? Do you work with numbers or animals or abstract concepts?* Circumstances – How do you get involved in a project? Do you like to be asked or come up with the idea yourself? Do you prefer a deadline or an open ended engagement?
The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.
Julie Gould asks six higher education experts if it’s now time to go back to the drawing board and redesign graduate programmes from scratch.
Suzanne Ortega, president of the US Council of Graduate Schools, says programmes now include elements to accommodate some of the skills now being demanded by employers, including project and data management expertise. “We can’t expect to prepare doctoral researchers in a timely fashion by simply adding more and more separate activities,” she tells Gould. “We need to redesign the curricula and the capstone project,” referring to the PhD as a long-term investigative project that culminates in a final product.
Jonathan Jansen, professor of education at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, calls for more flexible and modular programmes and describes as an example how MBA programmes have evolved from a full-time one year course to include part-time online only programmes and a “blended” combination of the two approaches. “It’s about trying to figure out in terms of your own lifestyle what kind of progarmme design works for you,” he says. “One size does not fit all.”
But Jansen’s colleague Liezel Frick, director of the university’s centre for higher and adult education, says it’s important to remember the ultimate goal of a PhD. She tells Gould: “I get the point around flexibility but it’s still a research focused degree. You still have to make an original contribution to your field of knowledge. Otherwise it becomes a continuing professional development programme where you can do odds and ends but never get to the core of it, which is a substantive research contribution.”
David Bogle, a doctoral school pro-vice-provost at UCL, London, says it’s important to remember that graduate students are part of a cohort and community who should be respected and rewarded, not looked down on and treated as second class citizens. “At the moment there’s a certain amount of ‘I’m the supervisor. You should be looking to me as the primary source of inspiration,’ when in fact the inspiration comes from peers, professional communities, training and cross disciplinary activities.”
This is the second episode in a five-part series timed to coincide with Nature’s 2019 PhD survey. Many of the 6,300 graduate students who responded call for more one-to-one support and better career guidance from PhD supervisors.
In this episode of Talk Nerdy, Cara is joined by materials scientist, author, and science communicator Dr. Ainissa Ramirez. They talk about her new book (and winner of the 2021 AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books), The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another. From clocks to light bulbs to silicon chips, they dig into the myriad ways such groundbreaking inventions have profoundly changed the way we exist in the world, with a special emphasis on the under-appreciated figures who paved the way.
The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Cara Santa Maria, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.
Dan and James chat about how they come up with new ideas, why everyone seems to be trying to monetise their hobbies, and why it’s so hard for most labs to have a singular focus of research.
We had some problems with James’ mic so the quality of his audio wasn’t up our usual standard. To make up for this we’ve added one of our older bonus episodes at the end of this conventional episode (this begins at 54:18). These bonus episodes are typically only made available for our Professor Fancypants Patreon patrons, but now you’ll get to hear one!
Other notes and links:
The half-serious “Highlander” bounty program from Noah Haber
This week is the start of a very special three-part mini-series centered around stories about mental health, told from two different perspectives. This mini-series is guest hosted and produced by Story Collider senior producer Misha Gajewski.
The first episode of this series features a story told by a couple, chemist Xavier Jordan Retana and editor Brittany Lundberg. After moving into separate apartments during the pandemic, Xavier and Brittany each find themselves navigating their mental health and coping with a new sense of independence.