Professors give advice for student success
Enthusiasm, attitudinal flexibility recommended for optimum student performance
September 25, 2013, 5:32 pm · Updated September 25, 2013, 6:20 pm·
It’s the start of midterm season. The first few weeks of school have passed and students are getting more and more worried about classes, projects, clubs, social activities and getting enough sleep, just to list a few things.
In the midst of all this, students are seeking advice on balancing their life from many different places — from older friends to online advice columns.
There are many factors that go into a student’s success but it is hard to pinpoint an exact factor.
Wharton professor Adam Grant says, though it’s hard to define the “perfect student,” there are some common denominators. First, students should be interested and enthusiastic. Second, they should be conscientious, meaning readings should be done on time. Third, students should work to apply the content in the classroom. And lastly, there’s a component of fun loving.
Electrical and Systems Engineering professor Dwight Jaggard — who teaches a course called the Foundations of Leadership — says that being introspective can help a student succeed academically at Penn and in the workplace after graduation.
During Jaggard’s leadership course — which he offers as a seminar for working professionals both in the United States and India and as a semester-long course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students studying engineering at Penn — students consider their own personality, strengths and values.
This knowledge will help them position themselves for success in class, during clubs and in the workplace, he said.
“Leadership in an organization at Penn is a great training ground,” he said. “You might find out you are not the best in a leadership role but as an advisor … we can can test out what works for us.”
The Daily Pennsylvanian decided to turn to professors and their work here on campus to help answer the question: “How can we be better students?”
The Ambivert Advantage
Grant — whose class in the Management Department is one of the most popular among Wharton undergraduates — recently published research on what he calls “the ambivert advantage.”
Extroverts are associated with increased social skills, and people therefore assume that extroverts have an advantage in the workplace. Grant’s study concludes that this notion is untrue. The “ambivert advantage” suggests that people in the middle ground between extraversion and introversion are the ones who achieve greater sales productivity.
According to Grant, students can apply this knowledge to their lives as well.
“We can be successful in the middle range and when we adapt,” Grand said, adding that students need to adjust their behavior based on situation or activity — whether that be reading a book, sending an emai or any other task. In and out of the classroom, it’s sometimes better to be a listener and reflector, whereas other times it’s better to be more assertive.
In 2012, Grant was also involved in a study that looked at the effectiveness of individuals who reflect on how their behaviors benefit others.
“In general, people are willing to work harder when they realize that their efforts are contributing to others,” Grant said. He advises students to think about who else might benefit from their work. Instead of focusing on personal fulfillment — grades, jobs or money — Grant’s study suggests students would be more motivated if they reflected on outcomes that would benefit someone other than themselves, including family or friends.
Psychology professor Dolores Albarracin focuses her study on attitudes and motivation. Recently, she published research on “dispositional attitude,” or the tendency for people to generally like things or generally dislike things.
She opens her paper with this question: “If you want to know someone’s feelings toward health care, is it useful to know whether they like architecture?”
One would assume the answer is no, but Albarracin suggests otherwise.
Those with a positive dispositional attitude are more likely to rate things in a more favorable manner. To answer the question about health care, if one rates a neutral topic like architetcture in a favorable way, they are also likely to have a good outlook on healthcare.
Her study examined whether individuals tend to have a positive or negative dispositional attitude and the consequences of leaning one way or another on any topic.
“You have preferences for some things, but there are folks who respond favorably to everything,” Albarracin said of her research findings. “I wouldn’t say it’s either good or bad. Even optimism is not always good.”
Students can apply this knowledge in their personal lives by acknowledging and compensating for their bias, Albarracin suggested. She gave the example of over-drinking. People with positive dispositional attitudes are more likely to engage in such behavior.
“Objects that are seen by others as negative, like over-drinking and strong attraction to alcohol, might be something you have to pay attention to,” Albarracin advised.
In another study about intentions and actions, Albarracin shared research that could benefit students in day-to-day menial tasks.
The study examined how intentions can undermine action, especially for easier tasks like sending emails. The findings indicate that once an intention to do something is formed, an individual later perceives a false notion that the intended action has already been completed even if it hasn’t.
A student might, for example, tell himself that he has to send an email. However, if he doesn’t do it right away, he might later falsely believe that he has already sent that email because he has already had the thought.
“Once you have that intention, follow through or set a physical reminder,” Albarracin said.