Social Question

Mariah's avatar

Do these strengths and weaknesses fit into any work settings well or should I just focus on improving my weaknesses?

Asked by Mariah (18952 points ) October 1st, 2011

I’m doing a lot of soul searching lately as I’m not certain about my college major. The thing I am certain about is that my chosen field will be in science, engineering, or technology.

I started off college intending to major in physics, and while I still have passion about that subject, I would really prefer a major that doesn’t require me to get a higher degree in order to be employable in the field. I may go for my master’s someday but I don’t want to be obligated to. Now I’m thinking about robotics engineering, which is very interesting to me as well and would be useful as a bachelor’s, but I don’t feel it plays to my strengths well at all. Let me explain:

I am confident in my “blackboard” smarts. I can ace a calculus test no problem. The theoretical stuff is definitely my strong point. When I have a lab, though, or something else that requires hands-on work, I am an absolute mess. I struggle to finish on time and my data always seems to come out sloppy. Part of it is anxiety about feeling “watched.” If someone stands over my shoulder while I do a math problem that I would otherwise have no problem with, I will sweat and shake and not do well at all. I think that is part of what is going on with me in lab. The other part of it is that I am, for some reason, just a slow worker. I have real issues getting things done both quickly and well. Given as much time as I need, and if allowed to be in the lab alone, I am confident I would do just fine.

Anyway, knowing what I know about me, I am less than confident in my abilities to make a good engineer, a very hands-on job. And of course the lack of confidence isn’t helping me any since a lot of my trouble is anxiety related. Ideally I should try and overcome these problems, and I will try, but I also think maybe I should pursue a major that plays to my strengths. What I’m wondering, and I know this is a very general question, is if my strengths are even useful in any jobs outside academia. If not, then I know I need to redouble my efforts to get past my anxiety.

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9 Answers

the100thmonkey's avatar

This is a problem of experience.

Engineering is physics; it’s just that you have to actually develop the manual competences to do the physics. CERN isn’t a physics experiment; it’s a triumph of engineering.

Sometimes I think that current educational trends, like learner-centredness, can actually do more harm than good: being self-aware is all good, but when it stops people saying ”right, let’s build a particle accelerator”, it’s a bad thing.

tranquilsea's avatar

I think that if you really want to go the physics/engineering route then you need to get to the bottom of your anxiety. I would suggest putting yourself in situations where you need to perform in front of people on a regular basis. You’ll suck to begin with but over time you’ll get used to the feeling and be able to concentrate more and better.

I wouldn’t want you to walk away from it if this is what is holding you back.

That being said: if you are really soul searching and know that engineering isn’t the road for you for other reasons then pursuing a related but back up career would be a good route to go.

From one performance anxiety person to another.

Male's avatar

Robotics sounds awesome. How about instead of doing the building and coding, you perform the calculations instead? This isn’t meant to be taken literally, but rather an attempt to realize that there are many divisions within a specific field. You don’t necessarily have to exclude yourself from a field just because it involves “hands on” work, you should consider the myriad of alternatives within that field as well.

chewhorse's avatar

When you attempt to do something that you feel your not capable of doing at the time (it’s rare that a company will allow you to work solo if only for security reasons) then what you would other wise enjoy soon becomes a task, a job.. a burden on you mind. Do what you feel the best at then, if you have the opportunity, expand your knowledge as you gain your confidence.

lillycoyote's avatar

@the100thmonkey I have nothing but respect for your mind and your intellect, but could you please clarify what mean when you say that “learner-centredness,” as an educational “trend” might be detrimental? I am not familiar with the term or the trend, “learner-centrednes.”

Nullo's avatar

I would suggest building up your weaknesses, so that you have a broader skill set on the other side of the sheepskin. Or else, do what you want to do, but be sure to do it well.

Performance anxiety is surprisingly common. If you don’t get over it altogether, you can build a persona to do the performance for you. I find that right-brain applications play out better if you study well beforehand and then ad-lib through the public end. No data on left-brain – maybe teach yourself to ignore people a little bit?

As a general rule, your speed will increase as you become familiar with the work, as most work is, eventually, routine. Even robotics engineering.

You’ve demonstrated that you’re a woman who is good with both her hands and her mind. I’m confident that you would come to excel in any field that interests you.

Gabby101's avatar

Do you have a professor you could speak with? Ask him or her how realistic the lab setting is in comparison to working in the real world? I was an excellent student, but also had issues with labs because I always felt rushed to get the work done and if you made a mistake it could mean a bad grade. I went on to work in a microbiology lab and it didn’t compare at all. Yes, you have time constraints, but it’s not like you have 20 other people “competing” with you and making you feel like you’re going to slow. And if you make a mistake, you just do it again – it’s not like you only have one chance like in an academic setting. Engineering is a fantastic undergrad degree – it can take you far.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@lillycoyote – to be frank, I’m not really sure I can remember everything about what I meant when I wrote that. At the time, it made perfect sense, though :/

I guess I was pointing to learner-centred education giving opportunities for self-doubt to manifest themselves in expressions of “I can’t” instead of “I can” – I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the CEFR and the ALTE “can do” descriptors of language competence recently (google), and I work in Japan, where learners often lack confidence in their abilities due to the system of language education failing the learners massively. I read the lack of confidence from @Mariah‘s comments about having people watch her as “I can’t”.

It doesn’t make so much sense now, although I do believe that there is something to be said for the statement that brought this post about.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

First, good for you for recognizing the difference between a Talent and a Strength. Let’s put definitions to both of these so that we are on the same page. A Talent is a task that you can do well. A Strength is a task that makes you feel great when you do it. Time flies. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are great at it, but it is something you would like to develop through additional education and/or practice.

From the description you provided, it sounds like you would not only enjoy more, but be more valuable, in a ‘think tank’ kind of environment. Your strengths (what jazzes you) lean towards vision, ideation, and problem-solving from a bigger picture. What weakens you is the strategizing, including all the steps involved in carrying out the vision, as well as anticipating deadlines. While you may be able to accomplish the goal effectively, sometimes it is through a messy process and you feel like a pool water in the end.

Here is an example: two people major in law and start their own businesses. One excels in the courtroom while the other prefers the research in building a case. Both are able to be successful on their own, but it exhausts them. Should they join forces, they both get to play to their strengths, and in turn, be more successful as a team.

My recommendation would be to track what tasks, field-related or not, that you really enjoy doing. Also track the tasks that, while you may do them well, make you feel drained once it is done. It may help you in a search for a field, thus specific job, that would be the right fit.

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