Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meaningful Work and Outliers

In his chapter “The Lessons of Joe Flom,” Malcolm Gladwell traces the backgrounds and experiences of a select group of people whose “world -- culture and generation and family history – gave them the greatest opportunities.” In particular, he pays close attention to the importance of ethnic background, demographic luck, and meaningful work. Given my remark that “hard work is often overrated” in the comments section of our last post, I was especially intrigued with Gladwell's alternative or refined consideration of work.

According to Gladwell, meaningful work is characterized by 1) autonomy – processes that yield senses of independence; 2) complexity – work that engages the mind and imagination; 3) a connection between effort and reward – a noticeable return on the uses of time and energy.

So rather than champion “hard work,” Gladwell makes distinctions and highlights “meaningful work,” indicating that such work heightens people's possibilities for success when they find their efforts freeing, thought-provoking, and fulfilling.

What determining factor -- ethnic background, demographic luck, or meaningful work -- did you find most compelling? Why?

Or, to incorporate a local concern, what do you think your individual department or the university in general here at SIUE could do to create a community that ensures that more students get engaged with meaningful work?

21 comments:

Chardae Gray said...

I agree with Gladwell that meaningful work has more of a reward in the long run,especially as a college student. A lot of individuals graduate college and feel as though they are not knowledgable or sufficient enough in their field of study. As a nursing student, I think my clinical instructors have done an excellent job with getting us engaged in meaningful work. We get to work with real patients which gives us autonomy and we also get to observe and learn from professional nurses. This work is meaningful because it engages our mind to make connections and gives us a sense of competence when we graduate.I think other departments in the school should have their students actually go out into their fields for a week or two throughout their college career.

Trenesa Atkins said...

I would definitely have to say demographic luck was the most compelling factor. Oftentimes, we don't stop to think about the fact that the state the economy is in or the happenings in the world, play a major role in our success. The stories about the Janklows, Borgenichts and Joe Flom really reminded me of that fact.

The success and failure stories of today is evidence the economy is affecting a lot of the would-be opportunities for people. There are college graduates who are having difficulty finding a job as well as thousands of people being let go from their jobs as a result.

Shawn C. said...

I agree with Ms. Gray previously said, and couldn't have stated it any better myself. As being a pre-med student I wonder everyday whether or not I will have the tools to be a contributing member of the medical field. I believe that if the biology department would offer more one on one time with a person in the field that a student would like to enter. By doing this the student could see that the little things such as all the hours spent studying, will pay off in the end. It wold also give a feeling of satisfaction knowing that a person in their field of study had to endure the same feelings as they are feeling now.

Ian Caveny said...

This section of the book was fascinating without doubt. Albeit, the example that Gladwell gives is a very specific one (which means it doesn't necessarily apply in every situation), but without a doubt meaningful.

I personally find the meaningful work part the most compelling, mainly due to my own background being "common, middle-class Midwesterner." As a future teacher and a future author, I am doubly reminded that it isn't about the hours put in or the "hard work" or the money received, but the joy of the work is the meaningfulness of it. Teachers and authors are not paid a lot in the least, but the work they do (and I will do) is meaningful in a far more satisfying way.

As far as SIUE goes, I feel the Education program definitely pushes meaningful work in a positive way, but many other departments are lacking that important quality. Sometimes even the Art and Music programs forget that it is not about the quantity of work, but the quality. The Science and Math areas need to remind us why we are learning what we are learning. And so on.

Daniel Shields said...

I agree with Miss Gray as well. Meaningful work has a huge payoff in the end. You get great training and awesome experience.

In my field of study(Mass Communication) Students do alot of meaningful work. Students get hands on experience and are usually required to shadow individuals in the field in which they are looking to get into. I am currently a host of SIUE's news show "Global Village". This is extremely meaningful and gives me the opportunity to get up close and hands on.

My department also stresses the importance of giving back to the community and volunteering. In a current course I shoot a video PSA for a womens shelter and met and intervied some amazing people with heartfelt stories. Experiences like these I deffinantly consider meaningful work.

Katie D. said...

When I first read this chapter I found demographic luck most compelling. I see the educational system very dependant on demographic luck. If you go to a school where they have the money and therefore the resources, you'll have more opportunities to learn and will probably be more inspired. My dad works in an underprivileged school district, so I am constantly reminded how those circumstances can hinder growth.

Tamika Glover said...

I believe the university here at SIUE is already on the right track to getting students engaged with meaningful work. The first characteristic of meaningful work, autonomy, is the whole college experience. Coming to college is a process that yields senses of independence since it is the first time most people are away from home. Even making the choice to attend college gives a sense of independence since it is a choice we are making towards the rest of our life.

Being that I am a pharmacy major I take a lot of science classes which is definitely work that engages my mind. However, I do not believe that any of my classes have work that challenges my imagination. I think the second characteristic of meaningful work, complexity, is an area that the university could improve on.

The university also shows a connection between effort and reward. For all the time and energy I put into my classes last semester I earned a 3.625 GPA. I was then rewarded by the university by making the Dean's list and being invited into the National Honor's Society.

Amanda M. said...

I feel like SIUE does a great job with engaging students in meaningful work. As a freshman in the education field, I am already teaching and observing in classrooms. This is meaningful work because it gives us the chance to improve and prepare over a longer period of time than most universities. Also, I found that reading about demographic luck was more interesting to me because I could easily relate it to the education field. It relates so well because depending on the location of a school determines the education the students get and the resources the teachers receive.

Precious Wu said...

I found that the “meaningful work” Gladwell wrote about was the most compelling for me. “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.” This statement really hit home. I found it really hard to be satisfied with my college journey when my motivation was money. I found myself drowning in the hard work of school without gaining fulfillment. When Gladwell writes about having the choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year or working in a tollbooth for $100,000, I think this a good example of how money can only be temporarily fulfilling. Sooner or later working at a tollbooth would get tediously dull and make the days seem long. Learning new things, being creative, and having a productive skillset are all things that I believe are more important to one seeking satisfaction in their career.

I find that many college students fall into the same rut that I did. Maybe having students go through a freshman seminar as one of the general electives would be a way to expose ideas to incoming, young students. This class could incorporate an exploration of different career fields, how to utilize the school and outside resources, and have readings such as this outliers book to help guide students on what to focus on when choosing a career path. There are so many students that have switched majors, so this may be what some students need. Just a thought though!

Adriana Romo said...

In regards to this university, I also think that most departments are doing an excellent job ensuring that more students get engaged with meaningful work. Since I am enrolled in the pre-pharmacy program, I happen to know about many extra programs that they have to offer. There is a pre-pharmacy association where many students are given the opportunity to participate in this field and volunteer around campus. Also, in the summer, I attended a pharmacy camp that the current students from this pharmacy school held. This week- long camp helped me with my transition into college.
All of these programs are obviously triggered to help the students who are interested. I think that programs like these motivate students to continue to do their best and acknowledge the fact that they are not on their own and that there are other people in their field that feel the same way they do. Students just have to be curious and willing to find these programs for their fields. They are available: they just have to take the time to find and get involved with them.--Adriana Romo

Adriana Romo said...

In regards to this university, I also think that most departments are doing an excellent job ensuring that more students get engaged with meaningful work. Since I am enrolled in the pre-pharmacy program, I happen to know about many extra programs that they have to offer. There is a pre-pharmacy association where many students are given the opportunity to participate in this field and volunteer around campus. Also, in the summer, I attended a pharmacy camp that the current students from this pharmacy school held. This week- long camp helped me with my transition into college.
All of these programs are obviously triggered to help the students who are interested. I think that programs like these motivate students to continue to do their best and acknowledge the fact that they are not on their own and that there are other people in their field that feel the same way they do. Students just have to be curious and willing to find these programs for their fields. They are available: they just have to take the time to find and get involved with them.--Adriana Romo

Anonymous said...

Teresa G.

The most factor for me was the demographic luck due to the direct application that it has for today's society. If the conditions are such that there is little demand for new employees or layoffs are numerous, then many people may lose their window of opportunity before ageism impedes their chances of success. I had never thought of time of birth as playing a significant role in success, but it is clear that it can be a large determinant in someone's legacy.

I am not aware of the structure of all of the programs at SIUE, but the sense of meaningful work is almost always fostered by pairing book knowledge with real-life application. I believe that any opportunity to stray from multiple choice tests and courses taught with the use of only the textbook, should be taken frequently.

Cassandra said...

As Katie stated, after reading the chapter I also found demographic luck to be the most compelling. I recently completed a paper that analyzed why low-income students were far more likely to dropout of college compared to students growing up with an average household income or more. Reasons included lack of financial support and family support (since the majority of low-income students are from single parent households). Many low –income students attend poorer, underfunded high schools that receive minimal property taxes. What does this mean for the students? Some of them don’t even have textbooks or access to computer s in or outside of school. Generally they are not prepared for college; therefore, it is no surprise why some of these high schools have a 50% failure rate. Some students from these underfunded schools attend college and are not prepared and do not succeed. Why? Because they do live in a wealthier neighborhood that offers the surrounding children a good quality education.

As far as SIUE providing its students with meaningful work, I feel the university is doing as much as they can. There is only so much hands on activity you can really receive in a classroom. As some students stated that they were already doing, I would encourage people to get as much hands on experience as possible even if its not in class or on campus at all. I am a pre-pharmacy major and so WERE many of my colleagues. I emphasize on the word “WERE.” I have been an inpatient pharmacy technician for two years. My experience, shadowing and speaking with pharmacist motivates me to do well in my classes. Whereas some of my colleagues had no experience in the field so when things got tough… they bailed. There was no motivation for them.

Robin Caffey said...

I agree with Gladwell also that"meaningful work" has more of an effect than "hard work" because you can work ard at anything, but it is useless work if you are not gainning the reward that you wanted.
I have recently been accepted into the school of business and from the class outline my next 4 semesters will be very carrer based. I believe that will be "meaningful work" while the process to get accepted took "hard work". Therefore, i believe "hard work does pay off but "meaningful work pays off more.

Laura McCulley said...

Gladwell states that meaningful work over time is far better than the what we coin "hardwork". This is true because just because one works hard doesn't mean they will make it to the top it depends on what they are working hard on. If one works hard doing something that will benefit them or that goes toward a goal then yes thats meaningful and makes more sense then pushing toward something that will not matter in the long run. When it comes to departments here at SIUE I feel that there should be more hands on work out versus book work and classes should be focused on ones major only. Yes liberal arts its good but if that energy could be put into what one is really going to be doing once they graduate then that would be more "meaningful" and students would be better off

Hayoung Yu said...

I also believe that meaningful work is very rewarding as a college student. We come to college to prepare us for careers which will determine our entire future. Therefore, doing work that will actually be meaningful for the future is vital.

As a pre-dental major I can say that I do care the most about my success in chemistry and biology. I feel that if I am going into such a profession or even just preparing for dental school, I definitely need to excel and do meaningful work at SIUE.

I think it would be helpful for students to be able to interact more with the chemistry and biology professors or T.A.'s, perhaps with smaller class sizes (especially because they are difficult subjects). I feel that I have a much better understanding in classes where people can converse about a topic, rather than a lecture hall where people maybe timid to ask questions.

Mercedes Pineda said...

I really found meaningful work most compelling. As a Spanish education major, meaningful work is key. My education professors could teach me all kinds of tools on how to be a good teacher. However, I am not going to learn anything if I do not utilize what I am being taught in a classroom setting.
It is extremely necessary for me to do meaningful work such as student teaching because that is the only thing that will truly prepare me to be a good teacher.
Also, as a Spanish major, I can not teach spanish unless I am completely fluent in it. And the only I can be is if I jump into a Spanish speaking country. I am only going to become a good teacher by meaningful work.

Morris Pearson, Jr. said...

I agree with Galdwell in that meaningful work has more of a reward in the the long run. As a pharmacy student I am well aware of how pharmacists make a meaningful impact in patients lives. Pharmacy isn't just regulated to the people that work at Walgreens, but are in hospitals, long term care settings, hospice, ambulatory care, and nursing homes. I wanted a career that helped all types of practice setting and reached a lot of people. Pharmacist dispense/check medication, compound medication, check IV's, consult with patients and medical professionals, and Immunize. For me their is nothing more fulfilling in life than making a difference in another person's life and I believe this is the career for me.

Sydney Nulsen said...

Well, unfortunately although I'm sure we would all like to do "meaningful" work in school and in our jobs, that is almost never the case in my opinion. Some people like authors or artists may be a little lucky in this regard, but how many people working 9-5 jobs really feel like they are making a difference in anyone's lives, including their own? I dislike my job for exactly this reason. I feel like I am not given the opportunity to actually do something to help other people.

Demographic luck is an interesting concept, especially given the fact that this entire scholarship program is mostly intended for minority students going into underrepresented fields. However, I may be a minority with a minority scholarship, but I'm pretty sure my almost 4.0 GPA in high school had something to do with me receiving the scholarship.

Quince Zackrie said...

I agree with Laura M. in that meaningful work trumps hard work. As an engineering student, I feel like all the work my instructors give us is meaningful. I feel hard work without meaning is just work without a purpose. Meaningful work will help you advance in the work. Don't get me wrong hard work can too, but I believe the more meaning it has the farther it will get you. I am constantly engaged in hands on projects that better enable me to understand the structures and tools that are designed for everyday use. I also have greater appreciation for what engineers do.

SierraCarmichael said...

meaningful work has more of a reward in the long run,especially when one is out of college and in the real world. I am a nursing student, and I choose nursing because I love to help people, whether its is emotionally, physically, or intellectually. Alot of my peers are going into this field because of the money, I personal feel like that is a mistake because after getting those "nice" paychecks they are still going to feel unfulfilled and eventual loose sight of what is really important, which is giving back and making a way for those that are demographically challenged.