Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Top UK university upsets students by encouraging them to work hard

Top ranking Cambridge University has really gone floppy on its attitude to students having to work hard.

When Professor Eugene Terentjev, director of studies in the natural sciences, e-mailed his students about the need to work hard and party less if they wanted to succeed, saying the course required their full attention it created shock waves.

Students were said to be horrified saying his stance was “extremely damaging“. The vice-chancellor  at Buckingham University (VCs are those over-paid people we keep hearing about who seem to do very little) accused him of “frightening impressionable undergraduates“. And mental health campaigners said the message was “neither appropriate nor acceptable“.

You might think him a bit of a killjoy for saying they would need their full mental capacity for the course with not much time for fun “Physical science is a VERY hard subject, which requires ALL of your attention and your FULL brain capacity (and for a large fraction of you that will not be quite enough” but the reaction was way, way OTT.

He also had a dig at other universities where students drink a lot and have a good time, and even other courses at Cambridge saying that some of them sadly found that kind of behaviour acceptable. He did however finish by wishing them well and hoping they would succeed like previous students.

The mental health campaigning group Student Minds Cambridge was worried that the message could enforce feelings of “imposter syndrome” (where people don’t believe they are good enough and are there under false pretences).

The students’ union said it would have welcomed advice about work-life balance and ensuring you had enough rest between parties but didn’t like the message that having any kind of social life was unacceptable. It urged students adversely affected by the e-mail to seek counselling or see their GP. Definitely in snowflake territory if these so-called top students are so affected by an e-mail.

The university said that “the university believes that all first-year students in all disciplines, having undergone the thorough admissions process that Cambridge requires, have the capacity to succeed academically

That’s OK then. Stop worrying and do what you parents told you – work hard and don’t drink too much.

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The Golden Boy syndrome

Mums have come clean and admitted that they treat their sons more favourably than their daughters.

At least the 2,500 Mums on the notorious advice web-site Netmums who contributed to the study reported in the press today.

Mums say they are more critical of their daughters whilst accepting poorer behaviour from their sons which they put down to playfulness rather than the stroppy behaviour they attribute to their daughters.

Although the majority (but not all) said that they believed they should treat their children the same regardless of gender 10% admitted providing treats for their sons more than their daughters, one-third admitted they were closer to one of their children and two-thirds of that group said it was their son they were closer to.

1 in 3 admitted they had fallen out with the child’s father about this discrimination resulting in Dads making up for it by spoiling their daughters (and some Mums may also overcompensate by treating their daughters to a girls’ day out).

A counsellor who analysed the findings said that a more critical upbringing could have serious effects in later life and that women in particular seemed to carry the feelings of parental disapproval into adulthood.  She said that because women received more negative reinforcement than their brothers they could view themselves as needing more censure and it could explain why women were more self-critical than men.

A support team at Netmums was offering advice to help Mums break this cycle of picking on daughters. For example they suggest encouraging young girls to play with trains as well as dolls as well as giving them more time and space to struggle and solve tasks rather than rescuing them.

I can go along with some of that, for example women do seem to be more self-critical in managerial roles and suffer “imposter syndrome” more than men but having girls play with boys’ toys seems a bit too PC these days. And if they believe that shouldn’t they have a word with Tesco about their Xmas adverts along the lines of;  “a transformer for the boys and a doll for the girls”?


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Gloom for graduates – but especially if you are male

As if things aren’t bad enough for men in the marriage stakes, unless you are Mr Right, male graduates are suffering in the job market too.

Average reductions in graduate vacancies of 9% and 7% in consecutive years mask larger reductions of up to 45% in retail, IT, and telecommunications.

And the recession (or mancession) coupled with the cutbacks in graduate jobs over the last 2 years, mean that this year’s graduates are having to compete with those from 2008 and 2009 who have had the chance to get some work experience.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) says that for the first time the average graduate starting salary has been frozen at £25,000, there are an average of 70 applicants for every job and up to 200 for some jobs.

This year almost 4/5 of employers (up from 2/3 in 2009) – led by organisations such as Sainsbury’s, GSK, BAE Systems, and the Civil Service – are demanding 2.1 degrees as the minimum.

So male students who adopt a “just do enough” policy when it comes to studying may have to rethink their strategy.

Both the Sunday Times and The Observer (4 July 2010) reported on the fact that women are outstripping men in the job market. Men are also less likely to go to University in the first place and more likely to drop out early according to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

The AGR says that many male UK graduates have; “a degree of complacency” and HEPI talks about; “the general hopelessness of young men”. Recruiters agree that women graduates seem more mature, focussed and better prepared for interviews and assessments. And my colleagues in careers guidance and coaching tell me the same.

While men are often more self-confident  – cocky even – they don’t necessarily have a lot of self-awareness and many don’t respond to feedback as positively as women do either. Not many men suffer from “imposter syndrome” like women yet male underachievement is an increasing phenomenon, and not just amongst undergraduates.

An affluent society and slacker lifestyles have been blamed but psychologists point out that typically men have a wider range of performance with extremes – either brilliant or lazy, whereas women’s performance tends to be more in the mid-range with the result that they are often more sensible and industrious.

The only good news amongst this for men is that those male graduates who can get jobs will be getting an an average of £2,000 more than female graduates.

So lads get a grip! Sort yourselves out or you’ll be left even further behind

Updated 14 July 2010: BBC News reported that Jaguar had 3,700 applications for 80 graduate jobs, and that JCB had doubled the number of graduate vacancies from 6 to 12!

Many students said that they were continuing with their education because they couldn’t get jobs. More debt?