Sunday, October 06, 2013
I don’t deny that the big pond makes sense for the gargantuan talent. But for the three-dimensional person who is smart but not world-beating, “undermatching” may actually be just the thing. It’s time to recognize the value that the non-Harvards of the world offer. And my thanks to Gladwell for helping me put words to an intuition that I’ve held for longer than I care to admit.
I have no idea if Caroline Sacks should have stayed in STEM. Without knowing her as an individual I cannot comment on what path would be best for her. Perhaps this is indeed a loss for her. But as far as the wider world, there's little evidence that a kid switching from STEM is really the end of all things.
What we really want to do is make sure that people have growth mindsets so that when they're the smallest fish in a big pond they look at that as an opportunity to grow rather than a reason to give up.
Also, depending on what part of STEM she was in, she may have been much better off in another field. We don't actually need more biologists, for example. Better to find that out in college than while unemployed or under-earning after graduation.
One of the wonderful things about higher ed is the ability to just try out stuff and learn in a relatively safe way. Things might not work out or blow up in your face, but that's not really the point. The point is to get exposure and grow in the first place.
If a kid changes major out of a (lab) science than that it - it's over. If a kid changes major from economics, English or arts than they can still run a business, write and paint.
In my engineering dept at non-top-tier R1 (insert state here) Univ, there are still plenty of challenging (and required) courses that could scare away students who doubt their talents and potential. While the peer group is not the same as at Top Tier Univ, the course material remains challenging and the textbooks are often the same. Partial differential equations, quantum mechanics, and organic chemistry don't lose complexity simply because an entering average SAT score is lower.
I certainly have known of many students who were very interested in STEM but weren't good at the academic side of it. I applaud them for trying, and for sticking to their dream. It is also necessary to address why one isn't understanding material, though.
As the father of a very intelligent and very hard-working high school senior, I can think of a bunch of public institutions that might suit her particular strengths and interests. But we're not looking at any state schools, small, medium or large. They simply cost too much.
Fortunately, my daughter has achieved enough academically and otherwise that she has as good a chance at getting into a "top tier" school as almost anyone. And this is really important for us, because we've been out of work for quite a while, our cash is about gone and we have plenty of debt as it is, thank you. We probably couldn't qualify for the kind of life-crushing loans that are calculated as our "expected family contribution."
So she needs to get into one of those "top tier" private colleges/universities as they are the only schools with enough need-based and/or merit aid to make college possible for her. And I think that is an unfortunate, avoidable situation for all concerned.
What I did not know was that this was the weed-out course for pre-Med. The other students were spending 80% of their study time on this one course.
Did great in my humanities and social science courses; went on to pursue a non-science career; have benefited greatly from my scientific turn of mind; water over the dam. Might have been a different story at a different college.
Years ago I needed to hire a technical worker, fresh from university, and the HR department showed me a 6' drawer of resumes and said "pick six for interviews". Virtually every application was qualified. Most were excellent (it was a prestigious company).
So I chose candidates who had failed at least one course. I figured failing and coming back to succeed showed that they had determination.
Did Gladwell discuss the option of a single-gender college for this young woman? I haven't read much about the topic recently, but I know several professors who say that a climate without young men (loudly pretending to be experts) gave them the room to grow and discover what they could do.
Kids with really high self esteem seem more vulnerable to the dose of reality you described. Probably happens hourly at a selective school, but it happens everywhere. I'm sure that is why some students just quit at their first non-A while I regularly see Marines take on a challenge and succeed (and don't assume I mean just men).
Agreed 100% on how talent can get squandered or developed. A great deal depends on matching, but you have to include personality as well as academics. And maturity. I recall an absolute star who did a second start at our CC several years after dropping out after one semester at a university. Something clicked in the interim and her math skills and engineering insight appeared like magic.