Last week I had the opportunity to visit with a large number of my extended family (I think there were 16 people at are Thanksgiving dinner, and that wasn’t even everyone that I saw), and one of the really cool things about seeing everyone was seeing how everyone’s educational pursuits have gone in different directions. My cousins are pursuing or have completed degrees in business, accounting, event planning, robotics engineering, and more, and my aunts have recently taken classes to become a counselor and a master gardener.
Despite these varied educational foci, everyone I saw over Thanksgiving has had similar experiences in their education as I’ve had. Examples are people having to learn new computer coding skills without the computer science background, facing many of the frustrations that I’ve experienced in conducting research in completing senior projects, the importance of planning out coursework, and the importance of self-motivation.
This last point is very important, I think. One of my cousins took some time to work before pursuing his degree, which gave him the time to really figure out what his goals are. Having that type of direction has given him the perspective to take his classes seriously and to really get the most out of his education, rather than just going through the motions because it’s what was expected of him. I’ve seen students, both when I was an undergrad and now as a grad student, who are getting a bachelor’s degree because it’s what society expects and because their parents want them to, rather than because they feel driven to pursue higher education. In my experience, these students tend to do poorly in their classes and are unhappy with their educational experience. My cousin certainly thinks that he wouldn’t have been as good a student as he is now if he had been pushed into college before he was ready for it.
Self-motivation doesn’t just apply to deciding which educational path to take and when. I’m well aware that when I lose sight of the big picture or the importance of my research in graduate school, I can lose my motivation suffers because the tedious nature of my work can get to me. External pressures can help me get things done by a certain deadline, but without my own motivation driving me, my productivity decreases significantly. But it can be so easy to lose perspective! So the next time I find myself lacking motivation to work and am scrolling through facebook or wasting time on the internet, I’m going to remember the great conversations with my family about why they’re studying what they’re studying and remember why I’m doing my research and what motivates me to do it. I encourage everyone else to do the same.