Musings #5: How to Succeed
The one about educational othering and defining success.
There was a post on LinkedIn which seemed to me to be somewhat provocative.
Bait or not, it does reflect a certain trend in educational othering I’ve seen online suggesting that self-taught is superior to formal education along with an undercurrent of success being primarily defined financially or materially.
This advice also obviously depends on the career you wish to pursue as there are certainly some occupations that require formal qualifications. You can’t exactly (legally) become a medical professional or a lawyer without formal education, for example. And without additional context, I’d say that OP’s dad seems to be quite respectably qualified, and doing well for himself occupationally. Nothing to sneeze at there, and there are many who would be proud of that career summary.
But I’d like to delve a little deeper.
Your Educational Journey is Valid, Whatever it is.
In amongst some of these declarations of self-taught superiority are also comments from people suddenly struck by impostor syndrome and various other neuroses. Some are almost embarrassed that they had to be formally educated, and others expressed concern that because they learned what they know in a formal learning environment that they would be somehow considered less competent, capable, or valued than the self-taught. This is ultimately rubbish.
“the right method is the one that works for you.”
As I mentioned in my previous post about Educational Engagement, we’re already establishing that not everyone responds to the same teaching and learning methods. Some fare well in structured learning environments, some prefer self-directed learning. Some test well, others do not. There is no one perfect educational solution, and no one method is better than another. We can argue the pros and cons of formal learning vs self-taught ad nauseum, but ultimately, the right method is the one that works for you.
There are also ways to accommodate your preferred learning style irrespective of the field or environment you find yourself in. For example, a self-directed learner can incorporate structured learning into their workflow and vice versa. Such was the case with Dr Marsha Tufft, a mechanical, aerospace, and materials engineer, who, after facing some learning obstacles at university, found a self-paced option within her program that allowed her to perform at her best.
Whether you are self-taught or come from ‘traditional’ education, you will still be undertaking some sort of self-directed learning for the rest of your life. There will be continuous improvement using a variety of different methods be it through experimentation, books, online programs and intensive courses, or even an MBA.
In my case, as a university graduate who is a web and application developer, most of the technology that I use in my work either did not exist or was early in development when I went through university. There was one web programming unit called CGI 101 which was done in Perl, and while my first job used that language, it’s not what I do today, and I would consider many of my occupational skills acquired post-university as self-taught or learned on the job.
But I do not regret attending university because what I gained from a university education was foundations, context, and a broad understanding of the field I was about to enter. I may not use most of what I learned, but I assure you that what I learned informs what I do on a day to day basis.
One of the most direct examples I can give you of how this breadth of knowledge has been beneficial is that I did computer graphics units at university but had no intention of getting into graphics programming or game development. However, one of my past jobs was effectively developing the equivalent of Illustrator for the web with an objective of achieving parity between the web interface and the native rendering of the devices we supported and having some of that background absolutely made my life a little easier.
Does this mean someone without my experience couldn’t do what we did? Absolutely not. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and another dev would have achieved this objective in their own way.
Irrespective of your field, what is key is being knowledgeable about your space and resourceful enough to use what you have to your best advantage, not the source of your education.
Your Definition of Success is Valid, Whatever it is.
What is your definition of success? What is your definition of happiness?
We’re now getting a little philosophical, but for some people, success and happiness come hand in hand, for others happiness is irrelevant to success. Some want to be happy but not successful, but then, isn’t achieving that a success in itself?
There are times when our definitions of success are shaped by others and in material ways. We might admire someone who has a nice car or a big house. When you’re young, and even when you’re not so young, our definitions of success may be shaped by the expectations of others, and many of us have faced familial pressures over what we need to do with our lives. Once we’re older and our paths diverge from that of our contemporaries, we may also find ourselves comparing our journey to theirs.
What we need to bear in mind is that we all have our own idea of what success is and it may not be the same as someone else’s. If we’re not working with the same criteria, experiences, or goals, it would be like comparing apples to oranges and pretty unproductive unless you’re using it as an exercise to reevaluate your current path. However, if you do find yourself comparing your progress with others, know that you are not alone. Dr Shelly Lesher shares her own experiences with this and how she reminds herself that her choices reflect her definition of success.
So think about what makes you happy, and what you feel success is to you and work towards that.
Success doesn’t have to be about topping lists and changing the world either, it can be whatever you want it to be. Perhaps success is financial security or having disposable income. Perhaps it’s about developing the skills, position, or resources to be able to help your community, your family, or even yourself. Perhaps it’s having the opportunity to create or explore a passion.
Whatever it is to you, remember to celebrate the milestones, both big and small, on your road to success, and reflect on your goal from time to time. We’re always growing and changing, so our definition of success is likely to grow and change as well. If it does, don’t feel as though you have to hold fast to an idea that isn’t applicable to you anymore. Be brave enough to pivot or adapt, because the important thing is figuring out what’s true for you.
This week’s STEAM Powered is with Kit Prendergast, the Bee Babette, native bee scientist. In our conversation, we talk about Australian native bees, bee conservation, and biological taxonomy.
Undescribed species and biological taxonomy - I had my mind blown by this week’s guest Dr Kit Prendergast when I learned that there are thousands of creatures researchers have discovered that aren’t formally described.
These specimens have been assigned a personal identifier by the researcher and may be part of collections in natural history museums. But undescribed, we don’t know anything more about them than what the researcher first collected, and if people don’t know about them it’s harder to allocate resources to study them further and undertake any necessary conservation work. There’s a massive gap in being able to connect this information with the greater scientific community, and you can’t investigate what you don’t know exists. It’s a terrible cycle. Poor undescribed creatures, nobody to know them and love them.
Would be a fantastic problem to solve, though.
Ada Lovelace Day 21 - Ada Lovelace Day was on October 12 and the Finding Ada Network celebrated women in STEM and the organisations and advocates that support them on their platforms. They also held a series of seminars covering engineering, games, and hypersleep which are available for replay on their YouTube channel at Finding Ada.
Shang-Chi (2021) - This film is excellent, and I’m not just saying this because I’m Asian. The close-quarters fight choreography on the bus was exceptional, and it was a terrific blend of the Hong Kong and wuxia style cinema. If you don't know what wuxia is, think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Tony Leung has also been lauded in his role as the villain, and in general, with good reason, and there was an interesting article on Indiewire about how he usually avoids father roles but was compelled by Wenwu’s flaws and depth.
How long does the average Hollywood movie take to make? - Also on films, you’ve also likely gathered that I’m pretty interested in a wide variety of topics, including in a general way, what happens behind the scenes or under the hood in entertainment.
In Pandemic Times(TM) we also heard a lot about production and release delays and some of what that entails. Well, I did anyway. Productions had to shut down during quarantine, some relocated to Australia for filming, film release dates had to be bumped for when people could go to cinemas again, and at one point there was a chance No Time to Die (2021) would have to go into re-shoots because the gadgetry and products used were at risk of looking too out-dated.
The logistics of all of this is fascinating to me, so I was delighted to find this post by Stephen Follows, film data researcher, about how long the average Hollywood film takes to make, with information about production milestones and breakdowns by genre. It's simply good reading.
Antidepressants or Tolkien? - My last ‘quite interesting’ is a quirky quiz where you’re presented with a name and have to guess whether it’s an anti-depressant or a Tolkien character. I have been informed that while Tolkien readers, pharmacists, and those with experience with taking anti-depressants have a slight edge, it’s still a challenging quiz. I have yet to meet someone who meets all three criteria who can tell me if they aced it. Also note, the anti-depressant names are the names they’re traded under in the US.
Bonus QI: Drug trading names vary from country to country. If you’ve wondered how you get prescriptions filled out while travelling internationally, pharmacists can look it up. It’s all online now, but previously they used a reference book. In Australia at least, I believe that was the MIMS.
Thanks for reading, and see you in a couple of weeks!