The Staggering Bullshit of Self-Referential Journalism

I recently came across an article entitled “Why ‘C’ Students Usually End up Being the Most Successful in Life”. The author of the article argues that the most successful people in the world are those who got mediocre grades throughout their life and “didn’t allow their academic experiences to deter them from rising to the top.” I’m normally one to ignore Elite Daily articles, but this article struck a chord with me, because it is a perfect example of the type of self-referential bullshit peddled by most journalism targeted at Millennials today.

What do I mean by self-referential? I mean the types of articles that try to get every reader to pigeon hole themselves with the titular archetype described in the article. For example, in the aforementioned article, a reader who is currently pulling a C average may think that they too will be successful because they are going through similar hardships to the success stories described in the article. This is a dangerous connection to promote, though, because it completely ignores the myriad of factors responsible for success to the magnitude of becoming President or becoming a billionaire. The problem with self-referential articles of this style is that they provide poorly described correlation, but no established causation. If these articles don’t provide much empirical evidence for the points that they are making, why are they so popular? I’ll seek to answer that question later on, but first, let’s critique the article to see what’s so wrong about this particular piece.

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Let’s begin with the examples the author uses to illustrate his point. Former US Presidents George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and Vice President Joe Biden are all listed. Additionally, the late Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elizabeth Holmes, and Sir Richard Branson are listed as entrepreneurial evidence that poor students make successful people. What about the qualities the author describes? According to the article, “Success requires passion, perseverance, emotional intelligence, and the ability to understand the value of failure.” All admirable attributes, but are these qualities only bred in individuals who achieve a sub-par academic standing?

George W. Bush

George W. Bush

Of all of the Presidents listed, George W. Bush is the most well-known for his academic struggles. What the author seems to ignore is the impact of nepotism. Bush, along with every other President he lists, came from a wealthy, well-connected family, including the former, whose father also happened to be President. It’s not like he had a tough upbringing. Kennedy came from a wealthy Massachusetts family that was heavily involved in politics. Johnson came from a similar background, except that his father lost the family’s wealth for a brief period, but not before he was well known in the Texas political scene. While Vice President Biden was hardly a model student, he still made it to law school, graduated, and was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1969.

Let’s move to the entrepreneurs. Steve Jobs was brilliant, and only dropped out of school because the financial strain was too great on his parents. Bill Gates came from an upper class family, was programming when he was 12, scored a 1590 (out of 1600) on his SAT, was a National Merit Scholar, and only dropped out of Harvard because he was going to start Microsoft. Hardly a C student. Zuckerberg, the son of a dentist & psychiatrist parents, dropped out for similar reasons, and was also a brilliant and gifted student in high school like Gates was. Holmes was a star student at Stanford and received a scholarship from the university to pursue an independent research project, which eventually evolved into Theranos, the company that made her the youngest female billionaire in history. Branson already had his business well in motion when he finished preparatory school, not to mention his father was a lawyer and his grandfather a judge.

So despite the fact that the author is conflating dropping out of an Ivy league school because you have better prospects with being a ‘C’ student, let’s evaluate a larger sample size to further disprove his argument; say, the top 20 richest people in the world (from Forbes).

1. Bill Gates – see above

2. Carlos Slim – Civil Engineering degree

3. Warren Buffett – M.Sc. in Economics from Columbia

4. Amancio Ortega – No educational info

5. Larry Ellison – Drop out, no information on academic performance

6. Charles Koch – M.S. in mechanical and chemical engineering from MIT

7. David Koch – M.S. in chemical engineering from MIT

8. Christy Walton – Inheritance

9. Jim Walton – Inheritance

10. Liliane Bettencourt – Inheritance

11. Alice Walton – Inheritance

12. S. Robson Walton – Inheritance

13. Bernard Arnault – Engineering from Ecole Polytechnique

14. Michael Bloomberg – MBA Harvard Business School

15. Jeff Bezos – B.Sc Electrical Engineering/Computer Science, Princeton

16. Mark Zuckerberg – see above paragraph

17. Li Ka-Shing – forced to leave school at age 15 due to father’s death

18. Sheldon Adelson – dropped out of college, discharged from the army, began a career in sales

19. Larry Page – M.S. Computer Science, dropout of Stanford’s Computer Science Ph.D. program

20. Sergey Brin – B.Sc Mathematics, dropped out of Stanford’s Computer Science Ph.D. program

As you can see, the common trends seen among the above are that the extremely wealthy in the world were hardly average students, and only dropped out of university to pursue better options, which ended up being the businesses that made them the billionaires they are today. While there are some outliers, such as billionaires who inherited their fortunes or worked their way up through a sales career, the prevailing theme is that most of the world’s most successful people got to where they are because of intelligence or nepotism, and because they studied engineering, computers, business, or even a combination of the three.

While intelligence may be hard to measure with one specific method, the fact remains that almost all of these billionaires also attended prestigious schools. Even if their admittance was not indicative of their intelligence (George W. Bush did attend Yale after all) the fact that these individuals were surrounded by intelligent peers and offspring of the elite surely contributed to their success. Page and Brin formed Google after they met as Ph.D. students at Stanford. Zuckerberg didn’t create Facebook by himself. Holmes was able to create Theranos in part thanks to the mentorship provided by her brilliant mentors at Stanford. The author clearly does not understand how successful people are created, and it is quite unfortunate that they are voicing such a poorly misinformed opinion on a popular website read by millions each month.

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Fame and fortune to the magnitude of being a billionaire is incredibly hard to come by, and while it would be a terrible thing to give up on your dreams if you buy into the odds, it is equally as foolish to buy into the self-referential garbage being promoted by articles like the one discussed above. In North America, the youth of the past few decades have been raised to think that they are all special. For me to state the opposite would be met with a great deal of criticism because our culture celebrates individuality and shuns normalcy and the average. However, the notion that everyone is exceptionally special is in fact a dangerous myth; anyone who understands statistics will tell you that.

world-population-day

With over 7 billion people on the planet, perhaps we should begin to accept that we might be more similar than we think? By rejecting the notion that we are all special, great things are destined for us, and bad things should never happen to us because, as special people, we don’t deserve such misfortune, perhaps we can begin to cope with the reality that not everyone is destined to become rich and famous. We should learn to accept the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to lead an average life, so long as one is happy with their existence and the hobbies and interests they pursue.

An article that paradoxically promotes poor academic performance and success is a symptom of our narcissistic and entitled culture. We are curiously led to believe that we will be successful, whether that be through fame, fortune, or both, simply due to the fact that we have gone through a few hardships in life due to a below average GPA. What may be difficult to acknowledge is the fact that hard work is often not enough; extraordinary financial gain takes more than that, otherwise every single mother who works three jobs would be a millionaire. Financial success is a consequence of hard work, yes, but also upbringing, personal education, parents’ education, peer group, mentors, nepotism, and more.

If this article sounds pessimistic, then the existence of that feeling in your head has proven my point about the entitled state of society today. However, this doesn’t mean that we should approach life with a negative outlook, only a more realistic one. For starters, you should work hard to get the best grades you can. Along the way, if you happen to come up with an idea that you think has the potential to grant you a life that good grades alone cannot, then at least you have the stability of a solid academic standing to fall back on should your idea fail. Aside from extreme cases of success, the best way to a stable, well-paying job is through high academic achievement. Medicine, law, academia, banking, consulting, and other high-paying careers typically treated as “successful” all take your grades into account along with other key character traits. To dismiss grades as meaningless is foolish, but to stake all of one’s worth in them is equally so. Social skills and your personal network are also vital to landing a fulfilling career, so don’t ignore the value of making friends along the way.

narcissism-scores

Narcissism and sense of entitlement are on the rise today.

Even if you don’t end up becoming a billionaire, millionaire, or achieving the job you dreamed of getting during your time at school, what you should try to remember is that while income is important to a degree, happiness and fulfillment are achieved through many other avenues beyond financial compensation. When you get to a certain pay grade, everything you buy simply upgrades, but your overall happiness does not. Yes, you can afford a nicer car, a larger house, and more expensive clothing, but in all likelihood, so can your peers, and then you are right back to where you started.

Your high salary will draw you to a larger house, which are traditionally surrounded by other large houses owned by inhabitants with incomes similar to yours. Their cars are also of the same level of quality as yours, as are their other possessions. By attaining a career with a higher salary, you merely further the process of competitive consumption, but in no way do you ever experience some sort of ultimate victory; merely a brief one. That is why it is important to remember that happiness is achieved through other avenues: art, travel, philosophy, religion, politics, and volunteering are but some of the many. Income is subject to diminishing marginal utility: the less you have of something, the more you will sacrifice to get it. Focus on first gaining a life of stability, upon which you can pursue happiness through a variety of interests not influenced by income or status.

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Why is self-referential journalism both so popular and so damaging today? As mentioned earlier, we are an increasingly narcissistic population and we love finding positive support for our idealized version of ourselves, even if it’s incredibly far from the truth. For example, one common misconception many people hold is of their relative intelligence. This is explained by a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

dunning-kruger-effect

In a series of experiments, Dunning & Kruger discovered that those who scored low on the tests they administered (known as incompetents) grossly overestimated their own abilities and were unable to accurately position the extremity of their own inadequacy. Basically, people that aren’t that smart don’t know that they are, and this can prove harmful during interactions in general society, the workplace, or other team-based initiatives. So when an article comes out that says that people who drink more, stay up later, and do drugs are also more intelligent, this leads a large group of people to misattribute their social habits to a perceived a higher intelligence than their peers.

 Self-referential journalism also exploits the confirmation bias of its readers. The confirmation bias is “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.” When applied to self-referential journalism, it becomes quite clear that these types of articles seek to exploit this cognitive bias and cause readers to create a false picture of themselves in the process.

For example, if an article comes out that says that funny guys are better in bed, sarcastic people are smarter, sexier, and more successful, or that people who have sex every day are healthier, happier, and more creative, confirmation bias will lead people to seek out articles like the ones above that describe things about themselves they think are true. Someone could read all of those and leave thinking that they’re now better in bed, smarter, sexier, more creative, and are destined to be successful, all because they think they’re funny, sarcastic, and perhaps have sex every day (even if that isn’t necessarily true). This can lead to some very inflated egos, and since we are constantly being exposed to journalism framed in a self-referential context, the problem will only get worse.

What can we do? Humility is perhaps the most lacking virtue of our generation. The narcissistic are rewarded in an era of self-promotion and a content-laden news feed. Those who stick to the background are often left behind those who command more attention. It is still possible to command attention without being a narcissist, and that is through earning attention instead of forcing it on people. A good example of this? Compare Bill Gates to Donald Trump. Gates stays out of the spotlight, contributes to the betterment of humanity, has remained faithful to the woman he married, and refuses to spoil his children despite his immense personal wealth. Donald Trump puts his name on everything, had a reality TV show, and has had failed marriage after failed marriage because he opted for the trophy wife instead of the trophy marriage. Look at which one of the two is richest -in both senses of the word – and there’s your answer.

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6 Reasons Why Protests Against the New Ontario Sex Ed Curriculum are Unsexy

Demonstrators in front of Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario.

Demonstrators in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto, Ontario.

Yesterday, thousands of parents withdrew their children from school as part of a province-wide protest against the new sexual education curriculum set to be introduced by the Provincial Government in September. Protestors called for a revision of the contents of the new curriculum, stating that the material was inappropriate for children, at least in the proposed grades the material was aimed to be instructed. One protest at Thorncliffe Park Public School left the school of 1,350 with 1,300 absent students and a wall of protestors outside. A Facebook group run by a parental group based out of Thorncliffe calling for the widespread, week-long protest against the curriculum currently has over 12,000 members, most gathered within a day. A quick glance at the page reveals that this issue is quite controversial, with both sides of the debate getting increasingly hostile towards one another.

A group of protestors in Kitchener, Ontario.

A group of protestors in Kitchener, Ontario.

When it comes to arguing on the internet, nothing ignites the fury of people more than the well-being of their children, whether it is their education or health. The Wynne government currently has no plans to alter their course, but numerous school board officials have agreed to sit down with parents and listen to their concerns on the issues with the curriculum. Sexual education, while comprising a very small percentage of actual instruction time, can have profound impacts on the social and physical well-being of children as they grow and develop. As a parent, it’s instinctual to act what you perceive to be the best interests of your child, but contrary to popular belief, being a parent doesn’t make you an expert on children, let alone their psychology or biology. In fact, being a parent provides a higher risk for implicit bias for what is right for your child, because instead of considering advice and recommendations from trained professionals on the subject, it often involves going with the overwhelmingly strong gut feeling felt from such important issues like health or education.

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals presenting the new Ontario sexual education curriculum.

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals presenting the new Ontario sexual education curriculum.

Let’s consider the new Ontario sex ed curriculum. It was not drafted by a crooked Liberal government or a politician wishing to push her homosexual agenda on our children, like some of the more bigoted critics have claimed. The new curriculum was in fact developed by a highly skilled, highly educated team with backgrounds in sexual health, education, and child psychology. It was a much needed update from the outdated curriculum of 1998, mainly because gay marriage is now legal, and virtually every kid who can read (and even some who can’t) have cell phones now, so sexting needed to be included, even if the word itself is face palm worthy.

Scary words that arose out of the critique of the new curriculum like transgender, gender identity, anal sex, or masturbation caused an uproar amongst a healthy percentage of the population of Ontario parents, and ever since it was introduced, the Wynne government has been under intense scrutiny. Some political analysts even fear that the opposition to the sex ed curriculum is so strong that this issue alone could be a tipping point in the next Provincial Election.

Controversial-sex-ed-curriculum

With that brief introduction out of the way, let’s examine why the protests against the new curriculum are an ignorant waste of time.

1) Most true sexual education doesn’t occur in the classroom.

I don’t know about you, but I learned basically everything I know about sex from two sources: the internet and my friends. Sex ed was a time to laugh at your teacher saying penis or get grossed out by the symptoms of an STI, but when it came to one half of being a sexual being, that is, the social and psychological part of it, that happened outside the classroom. The notion that grade 1 students learning the sensitive nature about sexual organs are located and the ethics behind that won’t negatively impact the way they act. Learning about gender identity won’t turn your kids gay, and if parents are still worried about that then they clearly still need education themselves. Kids will learn about sex one way or another – it’s either going to be from their teacher or that kid with an older brother and no boundaries, so it might as well be from the trained educational professional.

2) Gender identity, same sex marriage, and other LGBTQ issues need to be taught today.

Ontario Sex Education Protest 20150224

We’re not living in the 1950s anymore. Sheltering children from these issues will only cause increased hostility and even violence should they one day encounter a person who identifies with the LGBTQ community. Teaching children about same sex marriage will not “turn them gay”, nor will learning about gender fluidity. You are born the way you are and attracted to whatever gender flicks your switch. The reason why we have seen an increase in the number of people identifying as LGBTQ is because it has become increasingly acceptable to do so. In the past, because of the stigma surrounding LGBTQ individuals, many kept that part of their identity concealed for fear of being ridiculed or persecuted. It’s not like you can take a blood test to determine your sexual orientation.

By teaching children about the normalcy and acceptance of the LGBTQ community, we are encouraging a more inclusive and respectful society overall. These principles of acceptance will extend beyond someone’s sexual orientation; increased awareness and acceptance can extend to being more inclusive of others from different races, social classes, or nationalities. Unfortunately, this notion is largely opposed due to religious reasons, and the protests have been criticized for being vaguely homophobic.

3) The curriculum aims to educate about cyber-bullying, which is a huge, often unseen issue.

Building on the theme of acceptance, the new curriculum also encourages education and awareness about the harmful practice of cyber bullying. This relatively new form of discriminatory behaviour is especially hard to regulate because we don’t see it happening; children have access to cell phones and computers, but we can’t always be policing their behaviour on them. It is much easier to identify victims of physical or social bullying, because we can actually witness children doing it to one another. Cyber bullying is a new beast all in itself, and many older teachers may be blind to the symptoms or signs of it occurring in their classroom.

4) Criticizing the curriculum is the educational equivalent of not vaccinating your child.

Remember the measles outbreak at Disneyland that was all thanks to a group of privileged parents in California who thought that they knew better than their physician did because Facebook said so? The same level of expert-shunning and government mistrust and fear-mongering is prevalent throughout these protests. Even if you think that your child is too young to be exposed to certain subject matter, the scientific consensus and decades of research done by people way smarter than you begs to differ. Just because your child learns about the normalcy of masturbation in grade 5 or the increased dangers of anal sex in grade 7 does not mean they’re going to turn into a weird teenage sex maniac by the time they get to high school. That is all motivated by factors outside school, like parental income and education level.

5) Sheltering your child from a sex ed curriculum is setting them up for social suicide.

When kids are going through their teenage years, nothing is cooler or more taboo than sex. It’s on everyone’s minds due to raging hormones, and even more so if you aren’t getting any. Failure to be well educated about sex sets a child up for bullying or potential embarrassment down the road. Like it or not, sex is everywhere in the world, and it’s a normal, healthy part of being human. To shelter or protect kids from it until they’re almost done high school is helicopter parenting at its worst, and by the time your child moves on to post-secondary education, they’ll be socially awkward and lag behind their peers. Social skills are just as important as a quality education, and being exposed to a proper sexual education curriculum will shed some of the taboo from sex and make a child’s transition into adulthood much smoother.

 

6) The protests are quickly turning into xenophobic ad hominem arguments.

The neighbourhood around Thorncliffe Park Public School is predominantly populated by an immigrant population, and most of the media coverage about the protests as well as the Facebook group previously mentioned have predominantly featured immigrant parents voicing their concerns about the new sex ed curriculum. While the protestors have every right to voice their concerns, an unfortunate byproduct of these protests, specifically related to the media coverage surrounding them, is that these protests have started to breed xenophobia from 2nd or 3rd generation Canadians who support the new curriculum. With the rise of ISIS in the past year, Islamophobia has re-entered the collective minds of most Canadians, and these protests may unfortunately help contribute to that in the province.

sex-ed.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

 

The new sex ed curriculum is far from perfect, but it is definitely a progressive step in the right direction. Further improvements to the curriculum should seek to include the psychological and social aspects of sexual health, and not just be a streamlined anatomy lesson. New social changes and norms need to be reflected in what children are learning, and opposing the new curriculum will only create further conflicts down the road. It is imperative that we try to educate and spread awareness on matters of sexual health and gender identity to children, as miscues related to these matters can be incredibly damaging. Sex is becoming an everyday part of life, so instead of trying to shelter kids in a manner that is effective as trying to grab a handful of water, we should embrace education and progress and stop protesting a necessary evolution to the Ontario sexual education curriculum.

 

 

 

9 Tips For a New Grad Looking For a Job

As a new grad looking for a job, you’re probably faced with a lot of pressure to find a job. The current unemployment challenges facing new grads are a steady topic in the news today, and I wanted to share some lessons that I’ve learned that will help new grads looking for a job.

1) You’re not that special, so stop thinking that you are.

A new grad looking for a job needs to understand one thing above all else: you’re not special, and neither am I; most people aren’t that special. Unless you wake up in the morning and see Bill Gates when you look in the mirror, you’re not that special or important in the grand scheme of things. And that’s ok!

I’m not saying that you should go around hating yourself, but there is an overabundance of self-love and narcissism present in our world today, and a little humility can go a long way.

How can you apply this outlook to get a job easier? You’re going to have to start somewhere, so apply for any job that you can get. Don’t go around thinking that there are certain jobs that are “beneath” you.

My advice is get a position in a client-facing role in order to meet more people. Work in a coffee shop around a lot of businesses that your skills are suited for. Chat with customers. Get to know them and let them know a bit about you. Make it clear what type of work you want to do, but kick ass at the job you currently have to show that you take pride in your work no matter what the job is. Networking goes so much deeper than just attending networking events.

2) Know the strengths and weaknesses of your degree.

New grads looking for a job need to know the ins and outs of their education. Every degree in university has a set of hard and soft skills taught throughout the course of the program. Some degrees are more writing intensive, while others teach data analysis. Some encourage a good deal of collaborative group work, and others require a lot of presentations. Think critically about what your degree has taught you, and what you could improve upon. Volunteer or self-teach to fill those gaps (see later points for further explanations).

3) Recognize what skills are currently in demand. Learn one on the side. Turn it into a hobby.

I was recently speaking to a colleague who works for a large insurance company, and they informed me that there were currently 40 unfilled programming jobs at their office, and almost 1,000 in the city of London, Ontario. More and more businesses are adapting to the times and recruiting freelance digital creative employees, so new grads looking for a job need to consider learning a digital trade, like coding, web design, or graphic design. A sociology degree is all too common nowadays, but a sociology major who has a graphic design side-business can be quite valuable for a company. You can save the company a lot of time and effort while simultaneously enhancing your own value as an employee by bringing more skills in-house than the position requires.

A great way to get your foot in the door is to offer pro-bono work to build a professional portfolio and gain experience with the particular skill you’ve decided to learn. Learned some basic web design? Use your spare time on a few Sundays and offer to build a local church a whole new website. Decided to take up photography? Offer free engagement photo sessions on Kijiji or just by asking around on social media.

4) Volunteer strategically

As we progress through high school and university, we’re told that volunteering looks great on a resume, which is a partial truth. I’m a big fan of volunteering, and I’ve done a great deal of it throughout high school, university, and beyond. There are a great deal of skills you can learn from volunteering, but the mistake most people make when they are listing past volunteer experience on their resume is that they list EVERY recent position they’ve had. The problem with this approach for a new grad looking for a job is that it clutters your resume and fails to tell a clear story of who you are.

When you’re looking into volunteer opportunities, any new grad looking for a job should seek out positions that will help you develop skills that will complement your current value as a potential employee. For example, if you want to get hired as a writer, then instead of listing “excellent written communication skills” on your resume like every other university grad ever, seek out a volunteer opportunity that involves writing. Want to break into the sales & marketing game? Look into volunteering for charities or non-profits that would welcome some assistance in that department. If you can’t find a position, try cold-calling to establish your own. Use your volunteer opportunities to gain experience with the skills that will complement your degree.

5) Create and maintain a LinkedIn profile.

Unless you have insanely good connections or your parent(s) own a company, any new grad looking for a job should probably create a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is Facebook for grown-ups, and while most of the site is full of shitty career advice articles like this one (or this one) that won’t actually make a difference in your life and unnecessarily lengthy descriptions for entry-level positions, LinkedIn is still a valuable tool in your job search. A fantastically detailed LinkedIn profile will not guarantee that you’ll get a job, but not having one can only hurt you.

At a basic level, a new grad looking for a job should have a well-rounded LinkedIn profile, complete with a high quality photo of you dressed professionally (or whatever the appropriate context is for the job you seek). Your description should be brief and to the point. You shouldn’t have some pretentious autobiography as your description (see Point 1). Don’t worry about skills and who has endorsed you for them; recruiters don’t pay attention to that (one of my friends has endorsed for “katana”). If you want to up your LinkedIn game, you can look into keyword optimization, a premium account, posting articles on your page, and even try engaging with thought leaders in your industry in a discussion on other articles you see.

6) Don’t forget to edit your resume.

When you graduate from university, don’t forget to trim your resume. Employers sometimes receive hundreds of resumes for one position, and recruiters often take a mere 30 seconds to skim over your application. Resumes that are longer than two pages are usually immediately discarded for the sake of time. You’re a new grad looking for a job; there is no reason that your resume should be longer than 2 pages. Do not list every little thing you’ve done and avoid overly lengthy descriptions of past positions. In fact, I’d advise to leave out the entire description of what your past position entailed unless it was a more obscure one. There’s no point in dressing up mundane tasks in overly verbose clothes. Instead, highlight important accomplishments from past positions, make use of bolding certain key terms, and keep it neat & concise. Challenge yourself to reduce your resume to one page.

7) Fit in with the culture of where you apply

This one may be the most important, because it is often the final deciding factor. I do realize that the first bit of advice was “apply everywhere!”, but applying this advice to any most entry-level positions can only help your chances as a new grad looking for a job. For most entry-level positions, the top candidates will all match closely on paper, but the best candidate is the one that fits into the culture of the organization the best.

For example, let’s say that you’re applying to Lululemon for a entry-level marketing position. You have a business degree, a post-grad diploma in marketing, and you even have freelance graphic design experience. That’s great, and while you may be qualified for the position in terms of your education and experience, unless you fit in with the culture of Lululemon, you may get overlooked for someone else.

The reason for this way of hiring is that at the end of the day, qualifications mean far less than a proper culture fit. The company is going to train you their way, and all of your experience and education will make your transition to the new role easier, but after you’ve been trained is what companies are really concerned about. No one at Lululemon really cares if you graduated top of your class if you’re not passionate about fitness and overall wellness – two values closely aligned with the company’s mission.

A good way to see if you fit with the values of a company is to simply cold call a current employee and ask for a moment of their time to see if they can answer a few questions about the culture of the company. If you want to apply to a bank that’s full of very competitive and athletic people, your own life had better mirror those values, otherwise you probably won’t get hired; people prefer those similar to them, so if you don’t match the culture, your chances of getting hired are slim.

8) Play sports. Join a club. Get outside of your home.

This aligns closely with the previous tip about culture, but following this advice will connect with you with people from all different walks of life that are connected by a common interest or hobby. If you really want to think about this strategically, pursue activities that you enjoy that are associated with more affluent members of society like road cycling or photography. Both of these hobbies allow for constant upgrading as your income and skill level increases, so they attract all sorts of people, but seem to be populated with a good number of affluent members.

Say you buy an entry-level DSLR camera and join a local photography club. A good amount of the conversations that will occur when a younger person first joins a club will be personal ones (what did you take in school, what do you do now, what do you want to do later, etc…). If any member of the club works for a company that happens to be hiring, or they know a friend of a friend’s brother’s uncle that is hiring someone with qualifications similar to yours, a personal referral is worth its weight in gold. It is estimated that almost 80% of jobs are not publicly listed and are filled internally or by personal referral. Take advantage of this and get your face out there.

9) Complement your degree with a post-grad program that makes you more valuable.

Think back to point 2. On their own, most university degrees are not that useful at face value. If you’re not having any luck as a new grad looking for a job, consider augmenting your degree with a post-grad program, accelerated degree, or a new program altogether. Common examples include a post-grad degree in marketing if you took business or psychology, an accelerated nursing program if you took science in undergrad, or a project management diploma if you took engineering or business.

I hope these tips help any new grad looking for a job and that you’ve realized what the underlying theme is: get out and meet people! If you have any questions or want some advice, feel free to contact me via email (listed in the about page).

Knowledge Dilution and the Authority Illusion: Now Anyone can be an Expert

When I was a child, my parents would force me to get outside the house almost every day. I questioned their motives, as messing around on my PlayStation or watching TV seemed like a much better option, but their insistence combined with their authority got me out the door each day. Authority is quite a powerful force to wield. With authority, one person can get millions to obey their commands, or two parents can get one child to forego an afternoon of laziness.

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In addition to your parents, one of the figures who commands a great deal of authority is your family physician. As a child, the authority of a physician is unquestionable; partly because, as a young child, you may be frightened of a visit to the doctor’s office, but a great deal of authority comes from the knowledge and experience possessed by a physician. The notion that knowledge and experience commands authority can be applied to numerous other professions held in high authoritative esteem, such as professors, lawyers, or bankers. These individuals have authority because they are experts in their respective field of study, and have the educational training and experience necessary to command respect and authority.

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Before the advent of the Internet, knowledge was a powerful commodity that was possessed by relatively few people. Only those that decided to pursue careers based around absorbing and producing knowledge had access to this rare commodity. Today, almost everyone has access to a wealth of information with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, this increase in the availability of knowledge has also lead to a dilution in authority and expertise.

Our daily media feed is awash with authority figures who lack knowledge and a critical understanding of the issues that they advocate for or speak out against. Human health is one of the most contentious issues today due to the dilution of knowledge being produced on the subject. Our physical health is an area of great concern for many people, but due to authority figures constantly bombarding our lives with mixed messages about what is truly beneficial for our health, the knowledge of human health has not only been diluted, but polluted.

Dr. Oz: physician, but not a very ethical one.

Dr. Oz: physician, but not a very ethical one.

Most authority figures who advocate for human health are, ironically, not physicians. Some may possess the letters “Dr.” in front of their name, but that does not lend them credibility nor authority on the matter. Even specialist physicians are not adequately qualified nor informed enough to comment on certain health issues. For example, if you were having issues with your cardiovascular system like high cholesterol or angina, you wouldn’t seek the advice of your dermatologist. They could offer you some basic advice due to the fact that they do possess a working knowledge of the human body, but they likely wouldn’t feel comfortable in their skin doing so.

Which begs the question of why so many human health authority figures exist today. Why aren’t there any gastrointestinologists promoting detox routines? Why don’t dentists promote oil-pulling? Why aren’t neurologists or radiologists speaking out against the dangers of cell phones, wifi in schools, or microwaving your food? If all of this “knowledge” and “research” exists on these topics and countless more, why aren’t they regularly being promoted by the individuals with over a decade of educational training on the subject, but are being promoted by individuals with access to the internet, hands, and a flashy website?

I’ve discussed in a previous article why pseudoscience promoters practice what they do, and a great portion of it is a combination of a prophetic desire and a dissatisfaction with their career earning potential. One of the major reasons why you will almost never see a physician promoting bad science and poor health advice is because they’re generating a satisfactory income, and their authority with patients is enough to satisfy the prophetic component. Unfortunately, thanks to the dilution of knowledge in the past decade, even the expertise and authority of physicians is being questioned by their patients thanks to external influence or misguided individual research.

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Profit is a big motivator for many pseudoscience peddlers

The notion that one can employ the Internet to replace the knowledge of education of their physician is ludicrous if you consider the intense educational process physicians undergo to become licensed health professionals. Our ability to access such vast amounts of information has ironically made us incredibly ignorant and arrogant when it comes to our health. Simply put, WebMd, some random quack’s blog, or even reading one scientific paper on a subject is not a valid substitute for the advice of a trained physician, dentist, pharmacist, or optometrist. Anecdotal evidence is not a valid substitute for peer-reviewed science.

One of the main problems is that doing “research” online is very narrow in scope; you fail to see the whole picture that an education from a professional school gives you. For example, one of the common knocks against vaccines is that they contain a “dangerous cocktail of chemicals and toxins”. First of all, water is a chemical by definition, but the word chemical carries a very negative connotation. Same goes for toxin: any expert in toxicology will tell you that the dose makes the poison. One of the chemicals commonly found in vaccines is formaldehyde, which most of you will recognize from funeral homes as the preservative used during embalming.

Formaldehyde is indeed a powerful preservative, and toxic to humans in large doses, but recall that the dose makes the poison. In fact, formaldehyde is present in humans all the time! There is a higher concentration of naturally occurring formaldehyde present in your bloodstream than there is in any vaccine dose. Why? Formaldehyde is a metabolic intermediary formed during the breakdown of methanol and other products in the bloodstream. Even that formaldehyde present in a vaccine you’re receiving will be broken down without any hesitation from your body; the chemical was only needed to preserve the vaccine to make it safe for transport and storage.

Formaldehyde pathology

Formaldehyde pathology

However, when your average internet health authority hears formaldehyde, they follow a very narrow-minded process. First, they Google “formaldehyde”. They see words like “chemical” or “toxin” and get scared. Then they see facts like “toxic to humans in large doses”. Using this narrow-minded way of thinking, they fail to see the big picture (formaldehyde is naturally occurring, what a “toxic” dose amount actually is) and proceed to use their authority to instill fear to their followers about something they simply lack the education and training to properly understand. Unfortunately, due to a fear of large institutions that many individuals today possess, whether it’s large corporations, big pharma, or even hospitals, this way of thinking is catching on.

What’s troubling is that the “research” and knowledge that these individuals are passing on isn’t even novel; it’s widely available on the internet and essentially just recycled content. Anyone with access to the internet and a basic scientific vocabulary can do what many pseudoscience-based health advocates do: present a narrow-minded, fear-inducing view of our current societal state of physical health. The only difference is that these individuals often hide behind the guise of academic pseudoauthority; essentially, using the letters before or after their name is a sort of authoritarian currency. What’s most upsetting is that these individuals prey on the ignorant and sell false promises and lies to their clients. They promise miracle weight-loss methods, cancer-free lifestyles, and overall “wellness”.

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If there is a common theme found among pseudoscientific practitioners, an oversimplification of incredibly complex health problems is certainly near the top of the list. Quality health and disease prevention are not 1 step solutions. There is no magic pill. You cannot cure nor prevent cancer simply ingesting more cumin. An extract of a plant will not make you lose weight. Detox routines and kits are a scam and a marketing ploy. The human body and the diseases that afflict it are so complex that even today, entire legions of specialists still routinely make mistakes and learn from them. Environmental, nutritional, biological, and genetic factors all come into play when determining the prevention, cause, and cure for disease and overall health quality.

With knowledge so accessible and important in today’s world, no one wants to appear stupid, because that implies helplessness and vulnerability. However, we have to understand that there are limitations to the knowledge available to the public, and the education and training reserved for those capable of applying it. Educating yourself is still a very valuable tool, but an abundance of knowledge should not breed close-mindedness; quite the opposite, in fact. Know what basic lifestyle choices you can make to live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t start conflating letters in front of someone’s name to automatically award them with medical authority. There’s a reason why not everyone is capable of becoming a doctor, or dentist, or whatever. And that’s fine – but trust in the empirical-based system of knowledge these individuals have been trained under. You wouldn’t go to a plumber with your electrical questions, so don’t go to a chiropractor for advice on cancer prevention.

It’s Not What You Know; It’s What You Produce

Anyone who knows me will know that I enjoy stand-up comedy. I constantly quote my favourite comedians’ routines or adopt the techniques and patterns found in stand-up into my own way of speaking. I even advocate for its study in order to make you better at networking and interacting with people overall. One of the first stand-up specials I stumbled across was Eddie Murphy’s Raw. Murphy may have been best known by those in my generation as the Donkey in Shrek, but he was a superstar in the 1980s thanks to the success of his stand-up. One of the main focuses of Raw is the new way men and women interacted during the 1980s, largely due to the rise of feminism and materialism. In the following clip from Raw, Murphy repeats the phrase (from the 1986 Janet Jackson song of the same name) “What have you done for me lately?”

This ideology may seem quite entitled, but let’s replace the man and woman in this scenario with a university student and the economy.  The largest problem facing millions of university graduates is the issue of finding employment and repaying student debt. One of the terms floated by the media is “underemployment”, or the notion that given their university degree, a recent graduate is overqualified to be working at Starbucks or serving at a restaurant. The problem with this scenario is our definition of “qualified”. A university graduate may certainly be more intelligent in certain areas than a non-graduate, but does that necessarily equal more qualified?

The economy is not (at least directly) a function of intelligence, it is a function of worker output and efficiency. The intrinsic value of many university degrees relative to the job market is simply not that high. Simply put, the knowledge gained in many university degrees nowadays has no value in an economic sense because that knowledge cannot create economically valuable products. Education, in a holistic sense, is certainly valued on other levels aside from the economical, but what was the point in investing in a university education in the first place then? You don’t need a university to teach you how to read and write; the most revered writers of our time did all of that thinking on their own accord and were inspired by the experiences of their own lives, not the lessons learned in lecture. This is not to say that attending university is a waste of time -we are not yet at a point in society where we can ignore university en masse- but the approach towards the university education and what happens afterwards still needs to change.

Let’s return to the analogy of the recent graduate and the economy. “What have you done for me lately?” is the question constantly being asked of the recent graduate by the economy. She is quite the nagging bitch, but the fact remains: if you want to be seen as valuable and desired by the economy, you need to produce things for her. Knowledge can be a commodity, but it is of no use to the world if it remains stuck in your head. That knowledge needs to be applied to create products or services of value for the economy to reward you with her attention and satisfaction.

Education as a Lego Set

The fact is, most university graduates are simply consumers of the commodity of knowledge purchased from their university. A typical university graduate crying the pains of underemployment is like buying a set of Lego, building the thing that the instructions told you what to build, and then expecting to win a Lego building contest.

You paid for the education, you were given the same set of pieces as everyone else, but what you create from that set of pieces and how you do it is up to you. The problem is that most people are expecting to be rewarded for doing the bare minimum requirement of “success”, i.e. following instructions. You won’t look like a failure, but you also won’t stand out that well, either. This isn’t to say that in order to succeed you simply need to deviate from the instructions; it is one way of succeeding in winning the Lego contest. You may get first prize with your effort, but the judges also may not particularly like your Lego creation, and you may finish last.

“But the contest is rigged!” you exclaim. At first glance, perhaps. There are others that were born as more creative Lego builders or whose parents are friends with one of the Lego contest judges. There may be those whose set was actually missing a few pieces by accident, or others may have stolen few extra pieces when an unfortunate contestant wasn’t looking. But there are also factors that are totally within your control. Maybe before the contest you read up on the latest Lego building techniques in case you feared your creativity wouldn’t be strong enough. Maybe you volunteered at a school teaching children there how to build basic Lego structures and the parents of one of those children is a Lego contest judge. Perhaps you tutored fellow students who were struggling with their Lego building abilities and that in turn helped give you new perspectives on Lego building.

You may point to the fact that not every school was given the same set of Lego, and that all those kids from Harvard got the deluxe expansion set with 45 new pieces in it. Simply having more pieces is not the whole answer; it is how well you construct them and demonstrate your abilities to the judges that will assist you. Sure, more of the judges might have went to Harvard – after all, that is where many great Lego builders of the past have graduated from – but being great at Lego building is something they take great pride in, so they can still respect someone whose hard work both outside and inside the Lego contest demonstrates their desire to succeed. To ignore or discount this situation is equally as arrogant, though, because the Lego building institution you got accepted into still does speak volumes about the character of your Lego building abilities and potential.

When the contest is over and the results are in, you should not get angry at anybody if you don’t win, including yourself. Do not blame the system as being biased, do not blame yourself for building a worthless structure instead of playing it safe and sticking to the instructions; focus on attending different contests with different contestants and judges. No two judges are the same: although they look for similar elements in contestants’ Lego structures, what you built today that got you last place may get you first place tomorrow. No two contests have the same makeup of contestants: new contestants are entering all the time, and over time you will gain more Lego building experience and learn new Lego building techniques. It is not always the most qualified Lego builder that wins the contest: sometimes you just have to build the right structure for the right panel of judges.

Consider that maybe you’re competing against Lego builders who are truly more talented than you and who simply want to win more. It may be time to swallow your pride and switch to an easier contest if you are starting to get discouraged. On the flip side, if you always finish second or third in each contest simply by following the instructions but are happy doing so, who cares? It might not be as glamorous or lucrative as deviating from the norm, but the risk of losing far outweighs that chance of winning. At the end of the day, you bought your Lego set because you enjoyed playing with Lego, or at least enjoyed the thought of winning something by playing with it.

However, if you find yourself consistently failing whether you have followed the instructions or not, then strongly consider adapting your approach to Lego building or trade in your set altogether. Sometimes the pieces in the set just aren’t the right fit for you, and other pieces may resonate more strongly with you. Don’t blame the system for stacking the odds against you, because you can only build a creation as strong as the pieces in the set combined with how much work you’ve done inside and outside the contest to assist in your good fortune.

While it may be true that the average level of Lego building skill has increased over the years, as has the cost of purchasing a Lego set, that does not make you better than those who are not as good at building Lego as you are, or who cannot afford to buy a set. Being able to purchase a Lego set also does not entitle you to winning a Lego building contest. The judges are expecting you to follow the instructions, but are hoping that you do not. It is here where you will truly learn the most. Following instructions does not allow for self-learning and a gain of knowledge or real experience; deviating from them does. What good would handing out all of the tips and tricks of the Lego building trade do for the nature of the Lego contest? True merit and happiness is gained by working to discover those secrets for yourself.

As a student, it is paramount that you recognize that knowledge is a common commodity nowadays; this is the reason why a university degree is not as valuable as it was in our parents’ generation. Our society’s ability to access infinite amounts of knowledge with the click of a button or the tap of a screen is almost universal, and much of what we learned in school can be read using a search engine. The value of going to university is the skills you learn along the way: critical thinking, reading, writing, group collaboration, and presenting are all valuable skills learned throughout a typical undergraduate degree, but most students fail to apply them in ways to produce anything meaningful. The strength of a university graduate is found in how they apply the knowledge they have gained in conjunction with the skills they have learned as part of their university degree.

 

 

 

 

The Missing 19 Percent: An Investigation of Part Time Faculty at Western University

Recently, the Western Gazette (Canada’s only daily student newspaper!) published an article entitled: “The Precarious Path to Professorship”. The article spoke of the ongoing issue of contract academic staff (CAS) teaching an increasing number of classes at Canadian universities. Before I delve into the situation at Western, I do need to comment on the article linked in the previous sentence.

The CBC article in question used Kimberly Ellis-Hale as their example of a contract faculty member struggling to make ends meet. Ms. Hale is 51 years old and has been teaching at Laurier for 16 years. She is struggling to make ends meet as a result of a being a single mother of two children and the low pay that CAS receive. A very sad tale indeed; until you actually decide to dig a little deeper.

A quick Google search of “Kimberly Ellis-Hale Laurier” will reveal that Ms. Hale is currently a Ph.D candidate at the University of Waterloo, and she holds a B.A. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. from Waterloo. Ms. Hale’s reputation on among her students is also less than satisfactory, which could be a hindrance against her career advancement and stability. While those ratings may be unofficial, professors are required to be evaluated by their students, and departments pay attention to what students have to say. For example, when a professor at Queen’s University was accused of spreading anti-vaccine propaganda in her first year class, she was subsequently investigated and placed on a leave of absence. The professor will not be teaching the same course and will be subject to a rigorous internal review process before she is allowed to teach again.

I am not one to discourage one’s pursuit of education, but perhaps deciding to pursue a Ph.D. when you have to support two children isn’t the wisest decision given the minimal pay graduate students receive in Canada. Ms. Ellis-Hale also decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology, a subject that’s notoriously easy for undergraduates and low-paying for faculty.

It is easy to cry injustice at large institutions such as universities, but doing so without concern for the repercussions of our own choices is equally as unjust. Yes, perhaps graduate students should command higher salaries given the stresses they incur, but until that day comes, you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before you dive into a 4+ year commitment of research and low pay.

With that being said, let’s move onto the situation at Western…

The Gazette article in question left me quite skeptical. On one hand, I have a good number of former classmates from undergrad currently pursuing the academia dream, so I can’t help but worry a little for their future and feel a pang of injustice about this whole scenario. On the other hand, I have a science background and I make my decisions based on gathering data, observations, and facts. In the Gazette article I linked to, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) estimates that 37% of their members are CAS. In the online scanned copy of the article, the graphic on the left hand side reports that number as 39 percent. Strange.

Regardless of the what number is official, that’s still a very high number. Thinking back to my undergrad, I can think of but a handful of lecturers that taught in my classes, but certainly not to the magnitude of almost 40 percent. My skepticism grew to the point where I decided to seek out the answer myself.

Methods

1) I sat down and went to Western’s website. I went to each department’s webpage and (painstakingly) counted each faculty member one by one, ignoring: i) the Faculty of Law; ii) Schulich Medicine & Dentistry; iii) The Faculty of Education; iv) Graduate programs in all other departments, and finally: iv) all Affiliate Colleges (Huron, Brescia, and King’s).

2) I went through each department’s website and counted full-time faculty and part-time faculty. I define part-time faculty as lecturers, graduate students, or professors that were designated (quite conveniently) “part-time”. If a professor was listed as “Assistant” or above, I considered them a full-time faculty member unless explicitly noted on their bio. Adjunct professors were not counted, nor were Emeritus professors unless they were explicitly listed on the faculty webpage, because these professors have employment elsewhere, or all retired.

3) I organized all of my results in a spreadsheet

Results

1) 1752 total faculty members were counted

2) A total of 19.1% of all faculty members counted were determined to be “part-time”

image (1)3) Percentages of part-time instructors in each faculty were as follows: FIMS (58.5%); Music (48.1%); Arts & Humanities (27.1%); Social Science (26%); Health Sciences (19.6%); Ivey Business School (14%); Science (6.1%); Engineering (0%) (Figure 1)

Notable Observations

1) Health Science has a noticeably higher percentage of part-time faculty due to the School of Nursing; nurses are needed to teach future nurses, after all, but nurses are generally gainfully employed, especially if deemed qualified enough to lecture future nurses. All other Health Science departments contained no part-time faculty.

2) FIMS (The Faculty of Media and Information Studies) is the newest Faculty at Western, and it also has the highest proportion of part-time staff members.

3) The internationally renowned Ivey Business School still had 14% of their faculty listed as part-time, but these faculty members are either graduate students or practicing professionals such as accountants or consultants with a steady income who pursue teaching out of interest, not as a primary source of income. The case of Ivey is also indicative that the proportion of part-time faculty does not impact the quality of education.

It is clear that there is some discrepancy between the numbers I have gathered and the numbers that are being reported by the UWOFA. In order for there to 38% part time faculty (which is the average of the two figures reported by the UWOFA) , there would have to be a total of about 666 (rounded up from 665.76) part time faculty members. How I failed to count 331 part time faculty members is beyond me, but something isn’t adding up. I would ask that a member of UWOFA please point me in the right direction, or try to explain how they arrived at their numbers. It would be unfortunate if they were fudging their data to leverage their campaign.

It also becomes clear that universities are making the most cuts in terms of tenured faculty within the arts faculties. In the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math for those unaware) a total of only 6% of all faculty were part-time, while in the Arts and Social Sciences (not including the Ivey Business School), a whopping 33.6% of all faculty were part-time.

One reason for this discrepancy is where the research interests of the university lie. To achieve a full-time faculty designation, a professor not only has to teach courses, but also conduct research, publish papers, sit in on committees, and perhaps most importantly, attract research dollars to the university.

Unfortunately, many organizations simply aren’t willing to fund research on the effect of post-World War II media on society as they are to fund the development of an AIDS vaccine. Simply put, much of the return on investment in scientific research is more measurable in actual dollars. The benefit of an AIDS vaccine or a new technology is much easier to quantify than the benefit of developing a sociological or musical theory or concept.

This is not to say that the Arts aren’t important; in fact, I previously wrote an article explaining why we need art in our lives in order to alleviate depression and holistically improve our lives. In difficult times, humanity turns to their most basic needs. Currently, we are in economic turmoil and, in general, are struggling to make ends meet. We are not at a point culturally when investing the development of the arts is of utmost priority, as artistic endeavours and products lie higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than those of the natural and physical sciences.

A profession that deals with human health (e.g. a nurse or physician) will always be in demand, but one that deals with a requirement higher up the pyramid like esteem or creativity (like a musician or visual artist) will not always have the same job security due to art’s lack of basic necessity, but this individual could potentially earn more depending on the impact of their work. Some of highest paid professions are those of entertainers and other artists, but these positions are also much more rare.

Part-time faculty members are not paid enough considering their education, but level of education does not necessarily equate to a demand for higher pay. For example, many high school graduates are out in Alberta earning more money working in the oil sands than many Ph.D educated individuals will ever hope to earn. The difference lies in the need of work. Harvesting oil to fuel just about everything in our world is currently more important to the greater population than post-modern philosophy. There is simply not the demand for growth in arts research that there once was.

The fact of the matter is, individuals currently pursuing full-time faculty positions in the arts should be aware that the demand for their services is waning, and they should not be surprised with the lack of positions available for them. Getting a Ph.D does not entitle you to a seat on the ivory tower, so exercise caution when considering a career in academia, especially in the underfunded arts.

It remains to be seen what will come out of the campaign for better treatment of CAS, but until universities start to budge, even our most highly educated professionals may have trouble paying their bills.

The Age of Misinformation II: Watching a Documentary Does Not (Necessarily) Make You Smart

UnknownIn our age of armchair science, no media outlet provides a lightweight intellectual experience more than the documentary. What were once films of purpose and discovery have been affected by a new breed of documentary, which use pop science and scare tactics to deliver their message.

A documentary used to tell a side of a story, using facts and images gathered through research and a great deal of searching on the part of the filmmaker. The appeal of documentaries is their sense of discovery; both for the filmmaker and the filmgoer alike. Unfortunately, many modern documentary filmmakers are not seeking to answer their questions. They have already made up their mind as far as their results and discussion goes, and their film is just a means with which to carefully select and craft a fictitious story with a dishonest argument.

The epidemic of misinformation and sense of distrust many have for the world we live in has fuelled the meteoric surge in popularity many documentaries have experienced in the past two decades. What began as a film schematic that closely mirrored the process of the scientific method – where a principal investigator asked a question, formed a hypothesis, and carried out research and observation in order to form a logical, unbiased answer – has now turned into a parade of fabricated statistics, quotes taken out of context, and flat out lies.

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Some of the most popular documentaries of our time have also contained some of biggest lies and myths. Because of the surface legitimacy of a documentary, individuals that view the film who do not know any better are prone to believing the misinformation spread in the documentaries and making rash decisions about the subjects of these films.

 

 

For example, in the documentary Gas Land, there is a famous scene of a man lighting his tap water on fire. images-1

 

This flammable tap water was supposedly caused by the activities of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is a technique used to extract natural gas and oil. The shock and awe of this scene created quite a stir, but it was a myth. Flammable tap water is not caused by fracking; it’s caused via a methane build-up. There are three famous regions in the United States where this phenomenon occurs, and has occurred since before fracking was invented. Despite being disproven by numerous scientific governing bodies and high ranking officials, the belief that hydraulic fracturing causes flammable tap water persists to this day. images

 

I could go on for days listing inaccuracies found in popular documentaries, but I won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I’d like to explore why documentaries, many riddled with inaccuracies, have surged in popularity in the past few decades.

The basis of any documentary film is education; the purpose of the film is to inform the viewers of a subject and present the facts associated with it. Education is ever popular today because of the idea that the more education you have, the more successful you will become in life. Being intelligent is en vogue, and profound ideas are a popular form of social currency exchanged today. Being unintelligent is becoming less and less attractive.

For naturally intelligent people, their educational pursuits in an institutional setting or through their leisure time will yield a great deal of new knowledge and ideas through their natural curiosity and penchant for observation and problem-solving. Reading scientific research articles, non-fiction books published by reputable professionals, or attending public lectures on new topics are all great examples of how to do this. For those not as inclined to the rigours of higher learning, they turn elsewhere to find a quick fix to the problem. The easiest way to accomplish this is by watching a documentary.

Reading a 500 page non-fiction book could take a person weeks to finish, and it might be very time-consuming and boring. Watching a few documentaries one night only takes a few hours, and because the images on a TV or computer screen are more visually stimulating, the viewer is likely to retain more information, which makes the entire process that much more attractive. The problem is that watching a documentary gives someone the feeling that they’re critically learning something, but without a credible source in charge of delivering information, the risk of the information being misreported runs high.

If the documentary cites scientific studies or articles to support their point, that still is not enough. Despite the fact that a scientific article is authored by people who are credible sources with years of training in the subject they are researching and writing about, their evidence is not enough to provide proper support for a point. The fundamental basis of science is that it is a system of checks and balances. One of the cornerstones of the scientific method is replication. Can you replicate these exact methods and procedures and produce statistically similar results? If not, then either the methodology is flawed or the data and interpretation of it have been done so erroneously.

Replication is why, for the most part, majority rules in the scientific community. It is widely accepted that vaccines are effective, organic food is no better for you than non-organic food, and that adding fluoride to drinking water is not harmful because an overwhelming majority of experts have determined these facts through a series of experiments closely mirroring each other. Documentaries have a history of using anecdotal evidence and citing other shaky facts that ignores the fundamental scientific principle of replication.

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Another common tactic of documentaries is to cite “experts” on the subject in support of their point. These experts might have a “Dr.” in front of their name, but rarely does the documentary ever detail what their educational background is in. Additionally, just because someone has the letters doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a credible source. In a recent poll, 3.7% of university professors in Massachusetts believe that creationism should be taught in science classes. These are Ph.D. holding experts in their field recommending something that has no place in a scientific environment. It is the same principle with health or lifestyle advice, where any person can write a recommendation for a certain food or lifestyle choice, tack their name on the end complete with a “, Ph.D” at the end, and give it the expert stamp of approval.

By promoting bad science, documentaries are encouraging a new generation of poor thought leadership. This has created a dichotomy of thinkers: those who are truly intelligent and logical with their information searching and gathering, and those who are led to believe they are intelligent by buying into quack science and alternative theories. The latter group is educated with a sense of being “awakened” or “enlightened” by gaining this newfound knowledge that is going against the status quo. This sense of enlightenment and distrust of mainstream thought is also the basis for conspiracy theories.

Humans are naturally susceptible to conspiracy theories. I’m sure we all tuned into a television program about one at some point and bought into it, even if it was for a moment. The human mind weaves observations into patterns to form conclusions and solve problems. It is why we are susceptible to a phenomenon known as Pareidolia, which is the psychological tendency to see patterns and shapes in random occurrences.

Seeing the face of Christ on this piece of burnt toast is an example of

Seeing the face of Christ on this piece of burnt toast is an example of Pareidolia

A common example is gazing up at a cloud on a summer day and seeing an animal or other object formed by the cloud. This is also why we see “faces” when we look at various surfaces, whether it be the man in the moon or seeing the face of Christ on a piece of toast or a burnt piece of Toaster Strudel. One reason we often see faces in things is because it is our primitive instinct to recognize faces, even from our earliest age as an infant. We are equipped with a primitive facial recognition cognitive process that allows us to form a face in our mind from a relatively simple geometric construct or pattern.

 

 

People seeing the face of the Lord on their breakfast pastry mistakes isn’t the entire story, though.

Maslows-Hierarchy-of-Needs

Recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where humans first require food, water, and shelter. Considering most popular conspiracy theorists inhabit developed countries, their basic needs are met, so the next level of the pyramid comes into place. On the next level, we find the need for safety, security, and the protection from fear. It is this fear of the world and the governing bodies that control it that scares most into becoming a conspiracy theorist. Humans react differently to what they are scared of, and many humans are naturally fearful and suspicious of the motives of large governments and corporations. As a result, conspiracy theories are formed as an explanation and solution to the injustices these individuals face in their daily lives.

 

David Icke.

David Icke.

One famous conspiracy theorist named David Icke has popularized the theory that humanity is controlled by a select group of reptilian humanoids that control the earth through various positions of power in government and corporate ranks. He names high-ranking individuals such as the Queen of England, George W. Bush, and John D. Rockefeller as reptilian humanoids. These reptilians are said to be shape shifters that are hybrids of an ancient reptilian race known as the Anunnaki and humankind. Modern day reptilians are all hybrids, which, once they feed on human blood, can shape shift into human form.

Icke has published no fewer than 4 books on the theory, blending it in to other conspiracy theories. What’s even more remarkable than writing 4 books on these subjects is the fact that around 4% of registered American voters state that they actually believe in and support Icke’s theories.

Secrecy and the nature of human curiosity make conspiracy theories like Icke’s entertaining in either a serious or satirical manner, because nothing captivates the human imagination like the unknown. What is unknown and invisible is universally more attractive to us because of the effect that fear and uncertainty have on the human mind. Unfortunately, due to cultural tastes, documentaries will continue to grow in popularity, and will also continue the trend of being riddled with more lies and myths.

Zeitgeist contains numerous conspiracy theories, including Icke's reptilian theory.

Zeitgeist contains numerous conspiracy theories, including Icke’s reptilian theory.

In order to keep growing as an industry, documentaries need to compete with mainstream films, and a great way filmmakers can do that is to make their films more entertaining. A high level of entertainment often comes at a price, and farfetched claims composed of fabricated data and facts are often the solution. There will always be a group of individuals in a population who will reject mainstream media and demand answers that challenge authority. Sometimes these individuals will have some merit; for example, Galileo. Most often it is simply a case of human nature to be curious, and in order to address the issue of misinformation being spread by documentaries, we need to work a little harder to gain new knowledge, and check our facts along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Boomer Metrics: How Education Became a Best Seller


Canada-1

Canada was a nation founded on its natural expanse: a sprawling wilderness of massive forests, mountains, and endless prairies. Historically, the Canadian economy was based around our natural resources, but after the Second World War ended in 1945, many Canadians returned to a completely different country. Manufacturing had taken hold in many cities as per the demands of the war, and the economy was rapidly shifting in a new direction. The rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector changed the layout of the residential landscape of the country. The world was stable, trade started occurring on a global scale, and all of those GIs turned skilled workers needed a place to settle with their families. Suburbia was born.

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Post-War Expansion

The invention of the automobile was the key driving force behind urban sprawl and the development of the suburb in post World War II North America. Before technology existed to transport humans quickly and safely over long distances, humans living in urban areas had to inhabit locations relatively close to their job and local amenities. This limited the size of house you could inhabit, as urban areas are very concentrated and densely populated.

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The post World War II economic boom signalled the advent of the suburb, as returning war veterans shared a philosophy of settling down with a family outside of the city, and upon returning home from the war, they now had the money do put that dream in motion. Technology had rapidly advanced during the war, so construction machinery was advanced enough to undertake this task of providing houses for the millions returning home. The governments of Canada and the United States recognized this, and “The American Dream” became a mainstay in North American culture. This signalled the advent of the Baby Boomer generation.

With the jump in technology, cars also became more affordable. Before the United States entered World War II, annual automobile production barely surpassed one million passenger cars. During the war, no automobiles were produced because factory outputs were switched to producing vehicles for the war effort. After the war, automobile production resumed and more than doubled in volume, and continued to rapidly increase into the 1950s. Companies such as Ford and Chevrolet reported record annual production numbers exceeding one million vehicles each. With more cars being sold, this meant that the suburbs became accessible for more people, as the distance outside the city was no longer a factor against owning a house there.

The University Dream

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With the world in relative homeostasis and the economy evolving, higher education became a more important pursuit for many young people to contribute to the quickly changing needs of the world. Potential students’ close proximity to schools combined with their parents’ level of income made university a viable option for those who desired to go. The economy was changing; more young people to be educated leaders of tomorrow to secure the economical future of their nation. As a result of the baby boomers’ higher level of education, a much higher percentage of these individuals were able to secure high-paying jobs and stable careers.

The secret to success was evident: study hard, go to university, land a high-paying job because of your degree, and live the American Dream. Unfortunately, the secret got out. The jobs were lucrative, housing prices were still reasonable, and now everyone wanted their kids to have the same successful life.  A demand for higher education was born.

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In 1980, there were 550,000 undergraduate students in Canada, when only about 10% of the country possessed an undergraduate degree, which equated to just under 2.5 million people. Tuition was also a very affordable $600 (in 2005 dollars). In 1980, the average Canadian per capita income was around $23,000, so tuition cost represented 2.7% of the average Canadian’s income. By 2010, almost 1 million undergraduate students existed in Canada, and 6.8 million Canadians now possessed university degrees. Tuition has soared to a national average of $5,100, while per capita income has only risen to $36,000, which means now tuition is roughly 14% of the average Canadian’s income.

In 1980, minimum wage was $3/hr, but it rose to $3.50 by October, 1981. A student working 40 hours a week in the summer could expect to earn $2240 before taxes, which is almost 4 times the price of tuition. A student working today in Ontario will earn at least $11/hr, which equates to just a shade over $7,000 before taxes, which won’t even cover the average tuition cost of $7,259. Despite this troubling situation, university enrolment has not been affected by rising tuition costs, and universities are constantly expanding their breadth of programs to increase enrolment numbers.

CANADIAN FEDERATION OF STUDENTS - Tuition fees increased

During the 1960s and 1970s, universities were provided with excellent funding from both the federal and provincial governments. Tuition fees remained low because research and faculty salaries were paid for using the government-provided money. When public funding was pulled, the burden was placed on the public to make up the difference. Tuition went up, but demand was also increasing at around the same time because the promise of a lucrative career was also getting know to the majority of the public. New universities opened, programs expanded, and entire new faculties were added to many universities. What was once a streamlined elite became a turbulent, diluted mess as more spaces opened in universities than the economy demanded their graduates.

In order to keep pace with the rapid expansion of their programs and the further cuts from the government, tuition fees continued to climb, far out-pacing the rate of inflation, but this did not deter bright-eyed youngsters from applying. The idea that a university degree was a golden ticket to living the good life was still engrained in the minds of high school students. Entrance averages to universities soared to newfound heights to help schools discriminate against the throngs of applications each year. High school grades became grossly inflated to ensure that the maximum amount of students were funnelled into the university system. In the 1980s, 20 percent of all students were on the honour roll, but today that number has risen to over 60 percent, and ten percent of all high school students today are graduating with an A+ average. Unfortunately, mental health problems are at an all-time high, and many students are finding it difficult to cope with failure when success is all they’ve known.

UnknownUniversities are doing an excellent job at selling the perceived benefits of getting a degree, and high schools are doing everything in their part to ensure that students have a shot at achieving their dreams. Status is a powerful motivator in our society, and the notion that a university degree can provide that is primarily the reason why so many students are choosing to go that route. In the past, most respectable positions in society did not require a university degree, but the dramatic shift in dominant industry from primary/secondary to tertiary-based jobs changed that. When combined with the hype created by boomers, attending university changed that perception.

The Fallacy of Boomer Metrics

The one confounding mindset that is harming many young people today is the fact that we are basing our metrics for success on those of our parents. Most of our parents raised us to do well in school, get into a good university, and emerge with a piece of a paper and a job. The reality is, this worked 30-40 years ago, but the secret of university got out and the economy rapidly shifted gears, so this metric is outdated as the typewriters our parents used to write essays in school.

It’s the same reason that so many young people are going into so much debt. Our parents bought a car during high school/university because they were cheap, insurance wasn’t a scam, and gas could be purchased for pocket change. A mortgage on a house could be paid off within ten years; now most Canadians are lucky to pay theirs off in thirty. Today, a record number of Canadians are in debt either from school, car payments, their mortgage, or other major purchases, and they are all heavily rooted in Boomer Metrics.

If you talk to your parents about renting a place versus buying, you’ll likely get laughed at. Back in the Boomers’ heyday, renting was seen as a lower status lifestyle and a relatively poor investment. Buying a house was the way to go, since real estate will always be economically en vogue. Thankfully many young people are waking up. Condos, whether the occupant is renting or owning, are more popular than ever in Canada, with Toronto currently holding the title for the most active cranes in the world. People are sick of urban sprawl, and realize that you don’t need a large home to assert your place in the world.

Combined with the move to condos and other high rises, the notion of car ownership is also decreasing among young people in urban areas. Young North Americans are living closer to work, so why bother owning a vehicle that will just collect dust and cost you money? Many cities are becoming more cyclist friendly, and public transit is continually evolving, although Canada has a long way to go.

Harvard-students-leaving--007Despite the fact that two of three major Boomer Metrics are slowly turning over, the one that remains steadfast is that of a university education. Enrolment has not shown signs of slowing, and until young North Americans understand that a university degree is not some golden ticket for life, it will only continue to increase.

When our parents went to school, any degree had the potential to net you a job. Today, the majority of degrees can not promise that. If you critically examine what is going on in the world, you’ll discover a few things:

1) Technology is the one thing that will never stop developing; it is our ability to invent and use tools that makes us human

2) We will never stop building things; humans are creative, expansive species

3) We will need ways to sustain ourselves and keep ourselves alive, whether it be food, health care, or medicine.

4) We need energy to power our world

5) We will always pay taxes

If you look at what degrees are the most employable, you’ll find that the jobs that coincide with the points listed above fall into that category. Millions of students complain about being “underemployed”, but the term underemployment is a myth in itself. We are basing the notion of underemployment on outdated Boomer Metrics. The fact is, many university students were sold a false promise and are just now resenting it. We are entitled to nothing, as our sense of entitlement is based on our parents’ outdated advice. Despite this, a university education will continue to be seen as the only option for some students because of the motivation of status.

What Millennials need to let go of is basing their lives around how their parents grew up. The world has undergone such a dramatic shift that it is foolish to think that we can live like they did. Young Canadians are taking on more debt than their parents in an effort to live (or appear to live) a successful life. Unfortunately, those of us who went to university were raised under enormous pressure to succeed in life. It started with our university applications in high school, and it will continue as long as we keep basing our success on how our parents’ generation defines it. What our parents may have neglected to tell us is that university is more than just a bunch of boring classes and a piece of paper. In order to get the most out of your degree, think about what university actually taught you, and perhaps you’ll find the answer.

“The aim of education is not to fill a bucket; but to ignite a fire. “

-W.B. Yeats.

W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats

Flow and Fiero: Why Students Need to Struggle to be Happiest

In 2010, three Cornell University students committed suicide within a month of each other by jumping off a bridge on the Ivy League school’s campus. In response to mental health advocates and national outcry, Cornell installed safety nets on the bridge in 2012.

The Cornell Bridge.

The Cornell Bridge.

Mental health has become an increasingly prevalent issue on university campuses across North America, and suicide has risen to become the second most common cause of death for Canadians aged 15-24 after auto accidents. Many attribute this spike in mental health issues and suicide rates to increasing pressure to succeed at university. 11696-02-chart1-eng Currently, males are four times more likely to commit suicide than females are. Since men are more heavily scrutinized in terms of status and earning potential than females are based on mate choice and evolutionary biology, it makes sense that increasing pressures to succeed and land a good career are weighing more intensely on the mental health of boys than girls. That being said, reported cases of mental health are roughly equivalent across genders, so both sides are feeling the pressures of university. c_5_56_2_1_eng I wrote in a previous article that mental health in university is affected by grade inflation in high school. Thirty years ago, only 10 percent of students were on the honor roll; today that number is close to 40 percent. The high school curriculum has not changed radically, but competition to get into university has.

In Canada, the entrance average to get into the top universities hovers close to 90 percent. With a university education being so highly desired by today’s youth, we are seeing fierce competition amongst high school students that is artificially driving up entrance averages despite the fact that the quality of education or quality of the students has not significantly changed. To help their chances at achieving high grades, more students than ever are attending summer school to take a course or two and maximize their chances of padding their average.

It’s a simple formula: devote time to a course or two during the summer, get an inflated grade due to the increased amount of time spent on the coursework, and consequently decrease your course load in the upcoming school year. While this seems like a great idea on the surface, it’s not adequately preparing students for the struggles of university as well as the real world, which doesn’t involve studying, but work. Less youth than ever before are unemployed, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a higher unemployment rate (or underemployment rate).

In fact, due to choices students are making in lieu of summer employment, such as summer school or volunteering, less youth are choosing to work because they believe that a higher average or volunteer experience will help them more with their university application.

The problem with this approach is that it is not adequately preparing students for the struggles of the real world, where they may need work experience to even land an in-between job while they search for one after university. Additionally, working at an entry level job at a fast food restaurant, retail store, or a summer camp provides many skills that you can never learn in a classroom or will never be subjected to in a volunteer position that is not as intensely monitored.

Camping out to buy Call of Duty

A gamer camping out to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Major video game releases such as this one have been cultural landmarks akin to the release of Star Wars: Episode 1.

Video games are one of the more popular forms of entertainment on the planet, and they have come a long way since the development of Space Invaders or Pong. Most big budget games now have the polish and presentation of a full-length Hollywood feature, and some game launches have produced lineups akin to Star Wars film screenings. When game designers create a game, they pay close attention to what emotions they evoke in the mind of the player. Two of the most common psychological concepts developers toy with are flow and fiero.

Flow explained graphically

Flow explained graphically

Flow is the feeling of being “in the zone”, where the game just becomes a blur because it is so entrancing in its entertainment value. For those of you who used to play World of Warcraft for hours on end, you can relate to this. Many of the most popular and addictive games throughout history mastered the emotive response of flow and sucked gamers in for hours of enjoyment.

Fiero is the Italian word for pride, and it is used to describe those moments of emotional high or elation after a victory of sorts in the game. Defeating a boss, finding a rare item after hours of searching, or even completing the game are all examples of fiero. Moments of fiero help to break up the “flow” of a game to provide an emotional roller coaster of sorts.

If you were to picture this graphically, imagine flow as a relatively steady line with a few peaks and valleys, with fiero providing the major spikes and the occasional valley upon moments of failure, whereby flow would suck the gamer back in and rescue them from being deterred enough to quit.

The psychology behind game design is fascinating because it draws on parallels of real life and research into game design has determined the ideal ratios for moments of flow and fiero that yield the most successful experiences. A game that is about 75% flow and 25% fiero and associated failures makes for the most immersive and enjoyable game. For example, Blizzard Entertainment, the studio responsible for Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo, found that a drop rate of 25% for important items in the game produced the happiest players.

When designing a game, flow is the most important characteristic and is developed along what developers call an “engagement curve”. Essentially, players are presented challenges in the order that they are equipped to handle them. A player is in flow when they are learning, adapting, and overcoming small challenges as they come. Moments of fiero arrive occasionally when the player gets emotionally attached to the accomplishment. Remember that first time your Charmeleon evolved into Charizard and you cranked the volume on your GameBoy? That was a fiero moment for the ages. Unknown-2

So what does video game design have to do with mental health and education? We should strive to have the same balance of flow and fiero in our lives in order to be our happiest. The problem is, most people today have spent their youth taking the easy way out, ignoring the little challenges along the way and abstaining from a solid “flow” of sorts, in hopes for the fiero moments.

Many high school students are not mentally able to cope with failure because they have barely experienced it by the time they get to university. As a result, when a good number of students inevitably bomb their first big midterm, their engagement curve was simply not prepared. Some students respond by adjusting their strategy to get their mental health into a state of flow by taking the small steps to overcome challenges as they arrive. Other students will not be so lucky, and this is when mental health issues arise.

When you place a group of overachievers in the same environment, competition will be fierce. When you factor in that university classes need to be bell-curved to an average of about 71-74%, many students attending universities with entrance averages approaching 90% will no doubt be mentally impacted.

Today’s students need to start challenging themselves to the point that they experience failure, small or large, so they adequately condition themselves to cope with failure in university. The high school curriculum is not likely to get markedly more difficult, so students should seek external challenges. This is why more students need to work summer jobs.

A job presents an unpredictable set of challenges and a set of failures that help to mentally prepare students for university and beyond. You’re put in an unfamiliar situation, you make mistakes, and you have to deal with difficult people. If a summer job is not an option, consider pushing your comfort zone with challenging tasks such as a canoe trip or other outdoors related endeavours.

In today’s world, many youth are deprived of outdoors experiences, yet these offer youth a multitude of challenges and tasks that help them progress a mental engagement curve. A summer job or going camping will not necessarily increase a student’s grades, but it will help them get into a state of flow in terms of mental health because their mind will be accustomed to failure and how to overcome it, often in moments of fiero.

The problem is that by seeking moments of fiero while not being in a state of flow, a person risks constant states of anxiety. The other side of the coin is that by not challenging themselves enough, the risk is boredom. Humans need a steady balance of challenge and success to be their happiest. 2012-08-26-Flow-balance   Any successful game has equal moments elation and frustration, with most of the gameplay being a steady progression of learning, applying, and overcoming challenges. Today’s youth are too concerned with the fiero moments of their lives without realizing that 75% of your life should be spent in a state of flow.

Our media sensationalizes wealth, fame, and excess, and social media avenues like Twitter or YouTube make it easier than ever for people to connect with celebrities or even briefly become one. Along the way, we forgot the value of working a crappy job and all the lessons it teaches. We need to re-evaluate how we are challenging our youth and realize that failure is a necessary part of success. Very few people can play through an entire game without failing once, so we must work on perfecting our own state of flow so that we can optimize the fiero moments in our lives.

The Pareto Principle and How it can Apply to Life as a Student (and beyond)

In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto was taking a leisurely stroll in his garden. He was examining his pea plants, and he noticed a pattern: 20% of the pea pods contained 80% of the peas. He developed a mathematical model for this pattern, and he produced what is now known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule. This causal relationship is rooted in the fact that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Pareto then applied his model to land ownership in Italy, and he determined that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. A modern day example of this can be found at the root of the wealth distribution of many nations, where 80% of the wealth is controlled by 20% of the people. While the Pareto principle is an economics theory, it can be applied to your life at school and help you improve your performance by optimizing your time use.

The Pareto Principle Distribution

The Pareto Principle Distribution

If you apply the Pareto Principle to one of the keys of academic success, studying, you will find that you get 80% of your studying done in 20% of your time actually spent studying. This might sound shocking at first, but bear with me for a moment. Think to when you’re studying: you spend a lot of time being distracted, re-reading, thinking about other things, daydreaming about your future, or you leave to go grab a coffee. Let’s take a 5 hour study session at the library and break it down:

20% of 5 hours is 1 hour, so in theory, you only need 1 hour of studying to achieve 5 hours of “studying”. The rest of the time will be spent on your phone, waiting in line for coffee, checking Facebook or another website, or simply zoning out in moments of lost focus. Starting to make sense?

Let’s attach this to a different example in the not so near future: you are now in the process of starting your own business. The Pareto Principle predicts that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers. This is why as a business owner, it is imperative that you work harder initially to retain your regular client base than worry about complaints from one-time customers, as they will not provide as much business as your core 20% will. How large that 20% will become is up to your skills and abilities in sales and marketing, but the fact remains is that you want to treat your best customers the best, as they will essentially keep you afloat based on how much business they provide for you. This is why many companies employ a VIP system or preferred client program; they understand the value of a regular customer.

While the Pareto Principle itself is hardly cutting edge (I mean, it has been around for over 100 years), the applications to which it can be applied are always changing. In today’s world, there are so many outlets for our energy, and we simply have to learn how to harness this energy to make the best use of the 80/20 ratio.

The first way to do this is to not over-indulge all of your time in one thing; diversify your portfolio, so to speak. So instead of spending your entire day studying, break up your day into a variety of activities, otherwise you’ll simply be damning yourself from the beginning to accomplish less. Divide your day into smaller chunks of time in which to accomplish your goals for that day. Keep your mind fresh by constantly changing things up.

For example, let’s say that you have to study for two midterms, have an essay due, and also have some routine homework to accomplish, and let’s say it’s all due in a week’s time. Instead of stressing about one thing over the other, allocate a balanced amount of time to each until you accomplish the task. Maximize that 20% of your time each day to achieve 80% of your work. Keep things changing to limit distractions and other contributing factors to the wasted 80% of your time. By managing your 80% “waste time” effectively, you can accomplish 80% of multiple things in the same time as you would normally have accomplished 80% of only one thing.

Our brain traditionally gets bored of doing one thing after only half an hour to an hour, so by changing up the activity, you’re essentially resetting the clock on the 20% of your time to accomplish 80% of a new thing. This is also why I’ve always lived by the philosophy that I’m more productive when I’m busier and mildly stressed about how jam-packed my day is. Perhaps you’ve noticed this too: if you have extended periods of down time, despite all that available time to accomplish whatever tasks you have on hand, you in fact accomplish less because of the lack of motivation, the lack of urgency, and natural tendency to procrastinate. If you want maximize the benefits of the Pareto Principle, simply do more things and manage accordingly.

So with the coming exam season, during your day-to-day routine at work, or your next work-out, try to introduce a bit more variety into it to reset the 80/20 clock and invigorate your mind to accomplish more in the set amount of time you have each day. Each task will feel fresh and fun, your motivation to accomplish things will increase since your list is more challenging, and you’ll accomplish more things in a more efficient manner. This article is living proof that the 80/20 principle works. I wrote it in about 25 minutes in class when my mind started wandering from the course material.