September 19, 2012 @ 4:13 pm
I went to a fascinating presentation yesterday by a membrane biochemist who ended up a sociologist. My kind of guy. He studies what personality traits drive people towards different careers. It turns out researchers need to be independent, have a high tolerance for failure, and not particularly care what the right answer is, because every answer is equally interesting. Medical types require schedules, success, and the right answer.
This one dichotomy explains a lot of the conflicts that I have with my students. They aren’t necessarily being lazy or immature when they get frustrated that I want them to work out a problem for themselves (although there is a lot of research suggesting that there is a progression from absolute “black or white” thinking to nuanced “shades of gray” thinking). They’re probably choking back anxiety attacks at the very idea that they have to be wrong a bunch of times before they can be right (right – OH, right, so beautifully and perfectly RIGHT!). There may even be stress-hormone biomarkers for the trait, who knows? That would be an interesting little project. . .
Of course, this opens up a whole game-theory can of worms, where if the students know what they’re supposed to say, they might try to fake it, even though it wouldn’t be in their own best interests to take a path that goes against their own personality traits.
Let me know if you’d like me to get him on the show to talk further.
Richard McGee and Jill L. Keller, Identifying Future Scientists: Predicting Persistence into Research Training, CBE Life Sci Educ 2007 6:316-331; doi:10.1187/cbe.07-04-0020