5 Ideas that will influence 2012

If I look back on my blog, I can see that each year there were one or two ideas that just blew me away and ended up dominating my thinking. For example, 2011 my year to be obsessed with school – homeschooling and higher ed, 2010 was my year for disillusionment with happiness research, 2009 was when I started writing honestly about how unglamorousstartup life really is.

I’m excited to think about what this year will bring in terms of the ideas that will capture my imagination. Here are the early candidates:

1. Nature vs. nurture
An important book came out at the end of 2011 that got very little play in the media: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, by Bryan Caplan The title of the book is just awful. Which is probably why it has been roundly ignored. The title should have been Why Nothing You Do As a Parent Matters. That title would have gotten a lot of media coverage, but who would have purchased the book?

No one. Because as parents we are invested in the idea that what we do matters. But it turns out that what parents do doesn't matter very much. This book is a compendium of evidence from a wide range of university studies that show that once basic needs of a child are met, parents do not really affect how their kids turn out.

Here's an example of the reach of this evidence: The age that boys first have sex is determined genetically. You cannot influence it by talking to the kid, or preaching to the kid, or whatever. The evidence is astounding. But also disheartening. Because then what does it matter what are parents doing?

One thing is that they can affect how much kids appreciate them as adults. This is influenced by the parents completely. So as this research gains public attention, the shift we will see in spending will be toward things that parents and kids experience together. We don't need to spend money on shaping the child when the child is already in the shape he or she will be. We can focus on spending money to help the child connect with the parent in a meaningful way that will last their whole lives. That's all we can influence, as much as we wish it to be otherwise.

2. Lean startup thinking
At this point, the idea of the lean startup is not that new. That’s the method for launching a startup where you continually ask questions and refine as opposed to setting up a goal and driving unequivocally in that direction. It’s a process for dealing with the reality that we don’t know what will work and what won’t work. Eric Ries came up with the idea, wrote a book about it, and now he’s at Harvard evangelizing it to the next generation of entrepreneurs. The idea took hold of the Silicon Valley crowd first, of course, but at this point, the idea of the lean startup has infiltrated entrepreneur circles in middle America as well.

The lean startup is such a strong, salient idea for our era because it is the natural response to the situation where we have the ability to gather information quickly and move quickly. But why do we only apply this idea to companies? Why not also apply it to our lives? We don’t need to figure out a goal when we are in our 20s and then move toward that goal. We can constantly gather information, ask questions, and readjust our goals. Our lives should run as lean as our startups do, which is to say, aiming to get rid of the baggage from goals we once thought might work but now clearly will not.

Next, we should stop investing in our lives as if they are set in stone. The less stuff we have, the lower our monthly costs are, the more flexible we can be to respond to new information about what really works for each of us, in our own lives.

3. Fake is an art form.
Instead of fighting against fake, maybe we should celebrate it. After all, we have a long history of loving fakery. You know what the people did with the discovery of oil paint? Now that they could make lines and colors so precise as to look real, they started painting pictures of beautiful women for men to hold onto when they couldn’t have a real one. (Girl With the Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier, is a great story of this practice.) Andy Warhol devoted his life to making art about our love of the fake.

So here we are, in 2012, and did you check out the photo of the Apple store at the top of this post? Here’s another photo of the store.

Guess what? It’s a fake Apple store in the middle of nowhere in China. All the employees think they are working for Apple. And the customers think they are buying from Apple. And though some mistakes are obvious, a former Apple store employee stumbled upon the store and she documents all the little details the store owners got wrong in a very fun blog post.

I want to tell you this is thievery and dishonest and an international crime. But you know what? I love it. Fake is fun, and China is just amazing at it.

4. The rise of career centers.
At some point, there’s going to be a huge shift in university politics, and the head of the career center is going to be the god of academia. That’s because the value of a school is no longer in the knowledge it spews—anyone can take the classes online. Anyone can access the teacher’s papers online, and anyone can email the professor with a good question.

The value in the school is the jobs kids get after they graduate. For some schools, just the name of the school will open doors. For most schools, though, this is not true. And for those schools, the career center has an opportunity to add huge value to the diploma.

At some point, university administrators will stop courting physics professors and start courting a high-profile head of the career center. Because right now the career centers are throwing the students under the bus.

You know what will make this shift go much faster? When US News and World Report gets a reality check about what people reallly want to know about higher education, and they start publishing lists of schools ranked by how well they place kids in the job market after graduation. There’s nothing like a new list criteria to force the hand of university presidents. (And in the meantime, we should complain loudly that US News and World Report uses largely irrelevant criteria for school rankings, like class size. It’s 2012. If you don’t like the size of your class, go online and have a class of one, and then meet your professor during office hours.)

5. The compounding effect. The guy who publishes Success magazine, Darren Hardy, wrote a book called The Compound Effect. I liked the book as soon as I heard the title. I thought to myself, “Of course! Making good career decisions every month is like putting money in a 401K every month!” The thing is that most of us are not putting money in a 401K every month. (And it probably doesn’t matter, because saving for retirement is an antiquated approach to life.) But most of us can get the compound effect by making solid decisions each month, again and again and again.

The opening of Hardy’s book is: “Ever heard the story of the tortoise and the hare? Ladies and gentlemen, I’m the tortoise. Give me enough time, and I will beat virtually anybody, anytime, in any competition? Why? Not because I’m the best or the smartest or the fastest. I’ll win because of the positive habits I’ve developed, and because of the consistency I use in applying those habits.”

I like that. I like the idea of making lots of good small decisions about my career knowing that the compound effect will create big rewards over time. Which reminds me of the idea that captured my attention in 2008: having a strong career is so much more rewarding than having a 401K.

Posted in College & grad school, Parenting, Self-management
77 comments on “5 Ideas that will influence 2012
  1. nrdfce says:

    Sometimes, I read this blog and I can’t help but wonder if I’m taking advice from the wrong person. You’re very honest about what is dysfunctional in your life. The honesty is both refreshing and intriguing. The drama is addictive in itself Then, I read a post like this and I remember why I read your blog all over again. Your ideas are interesting, fresh, and thought provoking. I always take away something from your blog. Thank you!

    • karelys says:

      okay, seriously why don’t people separate the fact that just because she has good advice when it comes to career and how it crosses our personal lives…even though sometimes it seems out there and cooky…personal life has nothing to do with it!

      i mean, it does but it doesn’t!

      you don’t choose a mechanic, a tax person, a hair dresser depending on how dramatic/dysfunctional their lives are.

      would you forgo an excellent OBGYN because his wife had 5 miscarriages in a row?

      this makes no sense to me.

      the fact that she’s open about the dysfunction makes me want to hear about her opinion on career.

      and the other thing is, what if she’s very spot on about career advice and doesn’t want to or is unable to implement it herself in her own career? would it still be less valuable?

  2. redrock says:

    “That’s because the value of a school is no longer in the knowledge it spews – anyone can take the classes online. Anyone can access the teacher’s papers online, and anyone can email the professor with a good question.”

    you probably do not see the contradiction: no matter WHERE you get the class content, it is still the SAME knowledge you need to acquire. It is the same amount for the teacher/professor to teach a high quality class, a huge amount of time to write the papers you consume, and an even larger chunk to answer emails from everybody who feels you should answer all questions sent your way.

    So, why do you insist on saying that higher education is useless if you still consume the same content? How do you plan on paying for the people putting up the content? That is actually where at least some of the tuition money goes.

    • D says:

      Economies of scale. Instead of having 100 tenured professors teaching and creating content at a 100 universities, how about having for our five creating and teaching content for every school?

      • Heidi says:

        You forgot about “an even larger chunk [of time] to answer emails from everybody who feels you should answer all questions sent your way.”

      • redrock says:

        Indeed, I concur with Heidi. In my experience the number of emails per distance learning student is about 5-10 per week of classes (and please take into account that engineers are not the most wordy people). If you now have a class transmitted to 100 students, that gives the whopping number of a lower limit of 500 emails. The numbers go certainly down if the class is less demanding, or teaches more basic skills. Khan academy is excellent, but it is not at the level of higher education, which is much more labor intensive, both in terms of teaching and in terms of teacher-student interaction.

        What is often forgotten is also the cost of administration (and technology acquisition) connected with “internet” teaching. If you just have a lot of people post their podcasts and little video snippets, this cost is distributed, but if you post high quality lectures, you also want high quality transmissions, audio and video and you have to have someone to run the equipment. Remember that a reasonable transmission from a classroom requires more than the 20$ webcam. So, it is a little like the saying “internet is free”, it actually is not. Each google search activates a giant server in California (I think) and costs actually money in terms of running the server and electricity costs. I think having high quality teaching available via internet source is wonderful, but it is not free.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Also, check out Khan Academy online – it’s an amazing example of what public funding can do for education once you think in terms of economies of scale.

      Penelope

    • drunicusveritas says:

      Some of it does pay for research and lectures, albeit in fields such as Marxist conflict theory, urban studies, or comparative literature.
      All noble, if not remunerative, pursuits.
      But I strongly suspect a lot of tuition money, endowment gains, aid, and grants fund some pretty cushy lifestyles.
      Not for the adjuncts, of course, nor even for a lot of the star researchers, but for the “not for profits” that sell extremely costly textbooks, cafeteria food, laundrette services, and other logistical needs to equally well compensated adminus

      • redrock says:

        I am sure some of the tuition money is wasted this way. However, the professor salaries are not super-high in comparison to their education (and time investment), and the expenditures in terms of research are heavily slanted towards money spend on the sciences and engineering. Things like english literature, philosophy and such are actually rather cheap.

        P.S. Textbooks are indeed outrageously expensive, but their cost is set by the publisher, Universities have no impact on their costs (and do not get money from using them, at least very rarely).

      • Stubbs says:

        Wrong. Professors select texts used, and that means they make decisions as to cost to the student. For example, not moving to a new book or edition every two or three years of teaching a course would allow the used copies available to bring down the student’s cost. Picking a paperback book or a book with less lavish use of color would also reduce text costs to the student. There is reason that textbooks are marketed to the prof and not the student.

        • Chonei says:

          Very useful! The lieanr thing I can solve by scaling the vertices of the outer circle until it matches the inner circle, and then pressing remove doubles (bothersome), but the cubic thing is the most valuable in my opinion!And one thing, the music! That’s a unique feature of this site!

      • redrock says:

        correct, the book is marketed to the teacher because they make the decision which one to use. However, there are many course where a few textbooks make the standard, and there is no way around it. In that case there is no choice, but to take the standard text. Using old editions is fine, if the changes are not very dramatic, and often works out very well. The textbooks market however is driven by relatively small numbers ( compared to even a moderately successful novel) and a comparatively large effort in writing them. While I truly hope that electronic books will make a big splash, the actual printing costs are only a small percentage of the total price. But, to get back tot he original point: the university itself as an administrative unit does not make money from the books. And many univerisities acitvely support and offer book exchanges and used book sales since they are fully aware of hte costs.

      • Stubbs says:

        A college rule which limited professors to the same edition for at least a fixed term, say five years, would increase the number of used books in circulation and postpone the large price increases that publishers have traditionally instituted on publication of revisions. And the availability of used books would have the effect of keeping the price of new books lower by virtue of their competition for sales.

        Some colleges in this country used to have (they may still have–I haven’t been in the business for twenty years) rental text systems which applied such rules to text changes by professors. This policy resembles the way secondary and primary texts are handled by school districts in the US currently. Where the purchaser is the decider (school administrators) the change-books-without-a-thought model of colleges holds no sway.

      • redrock says:

        I agree that one should find ways to reduce textbook costs. In one of my classes I recommended the older edition and still had most of the class show up with the new one…. strangely it also does not work when I put all the books on reserve, they are very very rarely checked out in the library. However, our discussion takes us away from the original point: the book issue is not something which makes a university or an administrator rich (that was the starting point of my comments.) And the professor does not get anything out of it either, maybe a free book once in a while, and writing a textbook is not connected to big advances, or fat percentages from its sale.

  3. Ian says:

    I don’t know what the situation is like in the US, but in the UK my conclusion is that the campus career service that existed even 10years ago is not as effective or as well funded as it needs to be, let alone as it was. The thinking seems to be that having dumped a whole load of stuff on the net, that they can reduce the people power. It was never going to work, and in this economy the result is rising youth (sub25) employment. The days that college names got graduates “automatic” employment area gone, and the careers services need to wake up and get graduates working – else they won’t have a new intake, and hence no money themselves!

  4. D says:

    I’m a big believer that the disruption of higher education is nigh. Your point about career centers is a good one. It’s probably a business opportunity: create a research firm that tracks results of alumni, cross reference with self-assessments by those same alumni as to how useful/not useful their training was.

    I also believe that internships are the new education. Engineering schools got it right with coop programs. Universities should embrace that for all their degree programs. I would gladly hire a women’s studies or Renaissance poetry major into my startup for six months at the right (low) price.

    • Jean says:

      Every time someone says something to the effect of “internships are the new education,” I think of Disney’s version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Internships are as old as the hills – we just used to call them apprenticeships, and they were requisite for entry into basically any trade or field. Come to think of it, some of Micky’s tasks in the cartoon don’t veer too far from actual internship work I’ve seen, either. Maybe we just needed a more white collar word to use so people didn’t feel like they were going to college to become a plumber or a stone mason or something.

      (Absolutely no disrespect intended to those professions, btw. They and their like are the nuts and bolts that keep the world together, and, good God, I fear the day when the plumbers’ union goes on strike.)

      I personally value college for the intellectual community that it offers: information may be free, but critical thinking, contextual analysis, open debate, intellectual exploration and access to a community of like-minded seekers who share their insights and offer you real-time feedback on yours are invaluable.

      I’m speaking of qualitative and subjective value, of course. I suppose you could try to quantify the value of intellectual exchange, but what’s the point of that? In an age when information is free and abundant, a community learning experience is a luxury commodity. It’s not without inherent value, but it should be regarded as a luxury rather than a necessity, and budgeted for accordingly.

      • D says:

        Oh I agree that there’s a lot of value in community, I just don’t think it needs to cost $100k over four years (or whatever the going rate is these days).

        One of the best things I learned at my first real job was that you can have friends of all ages, not just 2-3 years on either side of your own.

    • Tim Mojonnier says:

      There is a difference between a coop and an internship. A COOP actually involves working at a company for a real salary. There are various technical schools that have COOP programs where people actually do work in their field of study. These programs greatly benefit students and employers.

      In contrast, some internships pay nothing and involve work unrelated to a student’s major, e.g. being a “gopher.” These types of internship have marginal value for the student other than providing general exposure to the “world of work.”

  5. Siddharth Deswal says:

    Here’s an interesting fact, b-schools in India don’t have career centres, they have Placement Committees (composed of full-time 2 year MBA students) who do all the running around.

    Also, the most important criteria when ranking a school is its “placements”. If a school can’t provide 100% placements, it falls in every ranking there can be. Being in a supposedly “top” b-school myself, I know that no one here actually gives a damn about the “learning”, we’re all here only for the pay packages and nothing else.

  6. Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog says:

    If you’re digging the nature vs. nurture debate, read We Need to Talk About Kevin. It will blow you away. It’s fiction – but very, very provocative (relative to this very subject). And the best part is that the movie is being released shortly – starring Tilda Swinton. Watch the trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLRgAe2jLaw

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I read the Post-Birthday World, by the same author, and it was so long and so densely packed with snooker information that I had to skip to the end. So when someone told me to read We Need to Talk About Kevin, I was like, are you kidding me? It’s longer than the Post-Birthday World, and that was too long. But now, well, if I’m going to be obsessed with nature vs nurture, maybe I can get through a long book in the name of the debate…

      Penelope

      • emily says:

        I’m posting a link as a break from reading this latest post. Sometimes I want to hang onto them for a long time because of what they might end up meaning. Thank you!

        Read just the first few pages here where the main character writes a letter to her estranged husband: http://bit.ly/y2EIAq

        She also has a great interview from a few years back where she talks about whether she sees this book as an explanation of why she choose not to have kids.

    • MBL says:

      Another nature/nurture must read is Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax M.D Ph.D. My favorite part was how the teaching style of math shifts from “geared towards girls” to “geared towards boys” around middle school. Hmm, I wonder if that strikes any chords. The theory that girls’ interest in the Fibonacci sequence is piqued when related to nature rather than just a formula is fabulous. Vi Hart did an AMAZING, fun video relating it spirals and plants http://vihart.com/blog/doodling-fibonacci-1/
      She has many other great videos. The wry social comentary is a bonus.

      • MBL says:

        Oh fun! I just saw that Vi has posted part 2 of the video with part 3 to follow. She has also just teamed up with Kahn. Who knew?

  7. Joanne says:

    I did an internship as part of my engineering degree – PAID. Internship is important, exploiting students is not ok.

    I’m interested in seeing more about compounding.

    (and Colin Firth didn’t write Girl with the Pearl Earring…)

    • dec1 says:

      Who said anything about exploitation of students? Internships and co-ops are probably the most valuable part of any higher education program…and most of them are paid. Students emerge more savvy and connected with the “real world”. Penelope is right on with her comments in this area. There is far too much focus on education for “enlightenment” sake and not enough for what it was meant to be…training and preparation for a career.

      • Nessa Speirs says:

        You’re right that internships are important, but there need to be limitations on what someone can make a student intern do for “college credit.” Especially in a climate where students are already usually working another part-time job just to be able to go to school. At a certain point, the amount of work done at an internship merits a paycheck or at least a stipend. Many places create unpaid internships just to get free labor from students rather than actually mentoring them.

      • Katie says:

        Most internships that college students participate in are in fact not paid. They are mostly done in exchange for college credit – which means students are paying their schools to receive credit for unpaid work. It’s incredible how few paid internships there are outside of engineering and other sciences.

    • D says:

      Try doing this in the arts. Arts organizations are almost universally nonprofit and short on cash. They can barely afford to pay their FT staff, much less interns.

      Nonetheless, the experience I gained working at a nonprofit right out of college (for peanuts) was instrumental in helping me develop and entrepreneurial mindset, which in turn led to me starting my own company.

  8. Irving Podolsky says:

    I entirely agree with you about parent’s limited influence over their children and that kids shape themselves as they grow up. My sister and I were reared in the same house, with the same parents, going to same schools and yet we are entirely different personalities. So different, my sister and I don’t talk anymore. (Her idea, not mine.)

    I also agree with you about redefining goals and methods as you move towards your desired results. For me this process applies to ACQUIRING IDEAS. Which ones do I accept as productive and constructive? Which ones do I accept as “truth”? Since I make all my life decisions based on ideas, I better make sure I’ve vetted them the best I can, and “upgrade” whenever possible.

    Finally, I wish my university had had job placement center when I graduated. It does now.

    But thinking about it, HAD my department helped me get a job in Hollywood, I never would have ended up directing porn. Now THAT a learning experience!

    Irv

  9. VioletteCrumble says:

    I can not believe I have not heard about that book until now. The nature vs. nurture debate has always fascinated me, and I just bought that book for more info. on all the studies.

    I love reading your posts about child education, and whether or not college is necessary in today’s economy. Right now I am grappling with the decision to remove my son from a wonderful private school, to send him to public school, so that we have enough money for he and his brother to do all the other activities they are dying to get involved in, but are too expensive for our family. Reading that, “We don't need to spend money on shaping the child when the child is already in the shape he or she will be” is making me question the importance of the private school education even further. I look forward to reading the book, thanks!

  10. Crystal says:

    OK
    But how is your bruise?
    I can’t read this blog anymore without thinking about it.
    I just scan for a DV theme or a good fight picture.
    If I don’t see them, I just move on to something else.
    Sorry.
    Maybe you could write a DV blog instead?
    Pro-DV, of course.

  11. Katherine says:

    You might read the most recent National Geographic cover story about identical twins. The research suggests that even though indentical twins may start out with the same DNA, that DNA can be altered. For example, both twins are on the autism spectrum but one is severely affected while the other is mildly affected. Or the twins where one is in the advanced stages of Altzheimers while her twin is not at all affected. It is a fascinating article.

    There are also great, and pretty astounding, comparative stats about the differences between identical and fraternal twins.

    Really great read. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/01/twins/miller-text

    Katherine

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. I’ve been carrying that issue of National Geographic in my car with me, everywhere I go, to remind me to write about it. And then today I got in the car and I couldn’t believe I forgot to link. So I’m glad you added the link. Thanks.

      And, I have to say that the stories of twins in that article are just incredible. The studies of twins raised separately are stunning – it’s incredible how similar their lives are. And it’s amazing that researchers have been able to duplicate those nature/nurture conclusions with siblings who are not twins.

      Really. This research just blows me away. And it also has implications for careers. Like, the twin research intimates that we are sort of pre-destined for our careers. I have to look into that more.

      Penelope

      • Katherine says:

        I had read about the Jim twins a long time ago and I thought “Okay, interesting but probably a really quirky coincidence” because scientists didn’t have the data they have now. Now, I don’t think it is a coincidence at all.

        For me, the most interesting story was about the Chinese twin girls being raised apart but regularly visit one another. There you see their mannerisms are often identical but their interests are different. That’s the perfect example of nature vs. nurture.

        I also would like to see a study done on kids from a large family. What makes one kid a doctor and another a criminal and another an artist? Hmmm..I’ll have to Google and see if there’s such a study.

      • Nowgirl says:

        Lionel Shriver! Love her difficult, funny women; the lead in PBW was uncharacteristically wussy. I can’t make it through Kevin but loved So Much for That, and her early novel Checker and the Deraileurs is one of my all time faves, with a great, desperately nerdy sidekick trying to attain a flow state and the volcanic Syria schooling the manic depressive Check.

  12. Emma Isaacs says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Have just ordered it. Amazon owes you one for facilitating the sale ;)

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      You’ll be happy to know that every time you click from my blog to buy a book, Amazon gives me some percent. I think it’s something like 4%.

      Penelope

  13. Pklagrange says:

    Great post. Just a quick correction: “Girl With the Pearl Earring” is by Tracy Chevalier. The movie stars Colin Firth & I believe Scarlet Johansson.

  14. Tom says:

    How do you and other homeschoolers deal with Caplan’s view of nature-vs-nurture? If nothing you do will change how your kids turn out, why not leave them in public school? You can still build memories by coaching their t-ball team or taking them to Disney.

    While we didn’t homeschool, my wife gave up a thriving career to be a stay-at-home mom and put in many, many volunteer hours at the kid’s school. If Caplan is right, then maybe she should have kept working.

  15. terri says:

    So do you think that the boys who have sex early in life have the same fatherly example as those that don’t. Hmmm…maybe the study focused on parental actions, not words…

  16. Alex Van Tol says:

    Another good one. Penelope, you are a real thought leader. Your musings and connections are years ahead of many of the rest of us. Always interesting to read. You keep me pointed in the right direction. (And it’s OK: my personal life’s a mess, too. Everyone’s will be at some point.)

  17. MoniqueWS says:

    Penelope wrote: The age that boys first have sex is determined genetically.
    *****************************

    Would you please cite the research for this? Thank you!

  18. KateNonymous says:

    Penelope, do you distinguish between types of institutes of higher learning? A research university and a liberal arts college, for example, have different purposes. Wouldn’t you therefore measure their values using different benchmarks? And that’s just the beginning, really.

  19. David Yakobovitch says:

    Compounding was done a few years ago, Fake is too fake, lean startup is just old news.
    I bet you will overwhelmingly go with nature vs. nurture. It’s a HUGE topic that is resurging everywhere in America.

    [I agree with you 100% about Career centers. One reason I chose University of Florida – 3 million alumni nationwide. Sure it’s no Harvard, but extensive connections.]

    I bet $100 (so I’ll buy one of your products year-end) that you’re going for nature vs. nurture. Let’s see if I’m right!
    Yes, this is a contract, so I am required if you want to take me to court! :P

  20. Tim Mojonnier says:

    Although bolstering the importance of career centers would be beneficial, it is simplistic to think that this is the solution to solving the problems that exist in higher education. John Dewey once said that life is for education, education is not for life. In other words, the purpose of a college degree is not simply to get a student a job; rather, it is to provide them with the ability to become an educated citizen, to think critically and analytically, and to develop a love of learning so that they can keep up with the proliferation of knowledge. Also, there are some undergraduate degrees that necessitate graduate school, e.g. a pre-med or pre-law degree.

    Rather than focus on developing career centers within traditional universities, I think that we need to develop a vocation school option, an environment where students can learn about a specific trade such as a paramedic position, welding, computer repair and the like.

    • Heidi says:

      “Also, there are some undergraduate degrees that necessitate graduate school, e.g. a pre-med or pre-law degree.”

      The schools that offer pre-med and pre-law as majors are ripping off hopeful students.

      Medical schools and law schools accept lots of students who took the required pre-med or pre-law courses but majored in something else. A lot of pre-med courses can count for your major if you major in biology, a lot of pre-med classes can count for your required electives if you major in history, etc.

      Harvard and MIT doen’t even offer pre-law or pre-med as majors, and medical schools and law schools definitely accept some students with Harvard or MIT undergraduate degrees each year.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I have “The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Parents Matter Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More” by Judith Rich Harris (written in 1998) on my list of books to read for 2012. Sounded like an interesting read.

  22. lynne whiteside says:

    the compound effect is very interesting to me. as a small business owner I do projects (because there is no work right now) that fill my time with creativity and information for potential clients to inform them about my business. Pictures speak to everyone looking for ideas for their home, so my project for the last year has been uploading pictures to show paint colors I have that can be yours. this is a small project that is compounding into a history of my talent. I thought initially that this project was pretty much a time filler, but now realize I’ve created a continuing story about color for the home. I’ll continue this project for clients to view online and then, hopefully, this will turn into a job for me.

  23. Erin says:

    I was a student worker in Career Services when I went to college and now I work as a Career Advisor for a school with both ground and online campuses. For a large non-profit university, they simply don’t have the funding to “place” students. There are usually about 5 people in the office working their butts off to help students with interviewing, resumes, researching careers, setting up career fairs, and helping facilitate interviews with companies that come to those fairs. The school I work for now is for-profit and we help our students to have the skills to write great resumes and cover letters, practice their interview skills, and we even help to search for jobs in their area. But, there are simply too many students and too few of us to “place” students. Maybe I just see the other side of this as a professional, but you need to be able to have the skills to get your own job. You’ll hopefully have many years to work and, since most people change jobs every 2 years, you can’t rely on calling your alma mater to place you in a new job each time. Maybe it’s because I graduated college 10 years ago when the economy may have been better, but I never expected anyone to find a job for me. And it’s not just up to the school and the education you received. The job you get is never just about your education. It’s also about your professional background (assuming your are an adult learner) and skills. It’s also your personality and professionalism. So, maybe more of the school funding can be allocated to requiring students to take a class on how to find a job, but I think that should be it. Use your education, keep developing as a professional, use the college alumni association and your own network, and feel proud to have found a job through your own efforts. When it comes down to it, a lot of people won’t do what it takes to find a job. Some will, don’t get me wrong. But others want to sit at home and apply in bulk to postings on CareerBuilder.

    I think its a much more complicated issue that also involves employers being a lot choosier in this economy, simply because they can be. Am I misunderstanding your point, Penelope? Sorry, this was written pretty fast in a reactive state. We work hard to help students and I don’t like seeing the schools being blamed for the jobless issue.

    • Erin says:

      I just wanted to add another thought to this, Penelope. I think it can come down to a different philosophy on college and whether you go for “a career” or for more academic reasons. I know you feel that, if people want to learn, they can do it on their own for much less than it would cost to take a class. However, for example, reading the works of Jane Austen on your own is fine, but isn’t the same as taking a class with a learned professor who can instruct and help you develop the ability to read it critically, recognizing themes, symbolism, etc. I sent your post to a few others with my feelings about maybe, at most, requiring students to take a class about career search preparation, and I think this response sums up my feelings best.

      “I agree, it would be a nice idea to offer a course or 2 on resumes, etc. like you mentioned. It would definitely at least give students an inkling of what to expect. But that's as far as a university *should* go. Because if they focus on careers, academics suffer. I want the schools to court physics professors, as she puts it. I want to study with the best, not study under someone who I could probably teach more than they could teach me, but have a professional career counselor.

      And was the same way. They have 2 career fairs and an internship fair every year, plus all kinds of other services to help students. If people don't use it, that's their problem, not the school’s.

      Also, for some of us, class sizes do still matter. And going online is not a viable alternative to a large class. U.S. News and World Report's criteria is relevant for academics, which is who it's geared towards. If you want to see job placement statistics, I'm sure there are plenty of lists geared toward that which use relevant material for that group.”

      • Heidi says:

        This is *especially* relevant for stduents who want to get hands-on experience in classes with labs!

        When a class requires a lab, economies of scale show that it’s less expensive to several students to share a lab than for each student to build a lab at home and watch lecture videos.

  24. Laura Brown says:

    I totally agree about the title of Caplan’s book. I decided to purchase his book after hearing him interviewed. The bookstore placed it in the parenting section which I guess makes sense. If I hadn’t known what the book was about I would have run out of the bookstore as soon as I saw the title.

    I have 12-year-old fraternal twin boys who could not be more different temperamentally, personality-wise, physically, etc. Even as newborns, they nursed differently, maintained different sleep patterns, one cried, one cooed, etc. Having two children who are the same age and sex and are raised in the same home behave so differently from birth pretty much convinced me that most of my previously-held notions about the influence of nurture were misguided. Caplan’s systematic synthesis of the research on twin studies validates my experience with my boys.

    Realizing the true influence I have is both humbling and liberating. I can’t take as much credit for my kids’ successes as I would like. In turn, I don’t have to feel as horrible about my parenting when they screw up.

    Highly recommend the book to all current and future/potential parents.

  25. NetM says:

    I can’t help but read number 1 as an excuse absolving you of responsibility for the environment you provide your children. How convenient that environment is meaningless. This means you can continue your violent tango with your husband and not worry about your kids.

    M

    • Can't stop watching says:

      Yes, that. I wonder how Penelope dismisses the importance of the various forms of assault she survived as a child to the formation of her character? Or does she think it’s coincidence that she was beaten and molested as a child, and wound up with an abusive husband?

  26. Jennifer says:

    I sometimes feel like Penelope’s blog is directed toward the 1% or something.

    Maybe I should throw out there that in 2012 I think the divide between the parents who obsess about home-school and ballet lessons and parents who don’t even know where their kids were all day widens.

    “once basic needs of a child are met, parents do not really affect how their kids turn out.”

    Many parents need a primer on what the basic needs of a child, at each stage of their life to 18, are.

    Probably most people who read this blog can fulfill all their children’s basic needs. Unfortunately there are many people out there who do not know what their child’s basic needs are. Drive through any urban area or volunteer at any city school. Please don’t tell those parents that it does not matter what they do.

  27. Sharlyn says:

    Fake is an art. Cool. Well really true. People love fake things and stick to it mostly because they have no money.

  28. cyndietodd says:

    Re the rise of career centers

    There’s an article in Business Week today about a new idea for paying for college tuition that may provoke universities’ self-interest in getting graduates employed as soon as possible: http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/blogs/mba_admissions/archives/2012/01/paying_for_college_delaying_the_inevitable.html

  29. Patti says:

    Re. 1. Nature vs Nurture – I really enjoyed The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris. It let me park a whole lot of guilt.

    We do so many crazy backflips to raise children who turn out to be amazingly like we are. (And I can tell you that my parents didn’t put nearly the same amount of time into parenting as we do and they had the same results).

  30. MBL says:

    I think that a poor, unexamined Myers Briggs parent/child match can be devastating. I’m certain parents can facilitate or hinder a child becoming their most authentic self.
    Now that I think about it, there may be some sort of compound effect going on with nature/nurture. Poor nurturing can close off avenues for nature to assert itself. When this happens repeatedly at new junctures, the compounding effect of building upon natural strengths is thwarted. Maybe?

  31. M says:

    I totally disagree about number one. Parental and family dysfunction leaves a huge influence on a child’s life well into adulthood. Healthy family dynamics leaves a very positive influence. You yourself have pointed out how your family background may have affected some of your life problems, at least I think you have pointed it out. What parents do has tremendous influence in a child’s life in many many many ways and affects emotional health, education, social relations and much more. Nature is strong but nurture also plays its part.

  32. ssj says:

    It isn’t just “nature vs. nurture” — let’s say it again —

    It isn’t just “nature vs. nurture” —

    It’s a combination of:
    nature (genes etc.)
    nurture (family, siblings, how we are treated at school, good or bad teachers)

    AND chemistry
    (stress = bad chemistry)
    (poverty = poor nutrition)
    (smoke, drink = bad chemistry)
    (live on top of SuperFund site)
    et cetera

    Nature.
    And nurture.
    And chemistry.

  33. Jennifer says:

    Read “Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human” by Matt Ridley.

    As always, it’s not one or the other. What parents do does matter. Not in the sense that they can meticulously shape every aspect of their child’s personality. But they are responsible for paying attention to and providing for their specific child’s specific needs as determined by their child’s nature (genetics). If the child has trouble with math, get them help. If the child has social anxiety, work on that. Chalking it up to “that’s just their nature” isn’t fair to the child.

  34. Long Time Reader says:

    Why did the mailbag go away? I loved that new section of your site for all it was.

  35. Rich Allen says:

    As a retired high school counselor, I pleaded with colleges for years to make public some kind of record on how many of their grads got jobs in their degree area. No dice. “There are too many variables we cannot account for” came the reply. I like the idea that colleges take some risk (help repaying loans) if the student does not get a job. It would be nice to see the college with some skin in the game.

  36. Miles Allen says:

    What has happened to the Curious Farmer? I smell a rat….

    • Can't stop watching says:

      I’m guessing that his reality intersected with Penelope’s PR machine, and he was instructed to take it offline.

    • Laughing Out Loud says:

      Yes, there’s a rat. I started reading this blog for the career advice. Then it became soap opera-ish which wasn’t totally boring, I admit. I thought the Farmer’s blog was interesting too. So it’s all about making money and hoodwinking your audience. Nice.

      • Miles Allen says:

        Penelope has a real problem ….She has stirred up a real mess with her personal life, and has to stop the “bleeding” or reasonable folks will conclude that she’s not stable enough to consider seriously….Can You possibly feel sorry for the Farmer? His family was afraid of what she would do, and decided to split the blanket…..So, this poor guy is dealing with several autistic people, and I reckon she has slandered the Farmer, and is actively trying to ruin him….Like we say here in Texas, it’s enough to make a goat vomit.

  37. Miles Allen says:

    Yeppers, Can’t, that’s how I’ve got it figured…..especially when the cat is let out of the bag in bold print. Ya know, my mother was always pursuing my poor father, ranting, so I know how calculating I suspect Penelope to be…..a Psyop diversion using feminist rage against itself to help the bottom line….fairly clever, and the best part is the feminists won’t ever understand how they’ve been used….

  38. Suzanne says:

    “the value of a school is no longer in the knowledge it spews – anyone can take the classes online.”..a major aspect of universities is not only “spewing” knowledge, but teaching it’s students how to utilize and apply that knowledge.Interacting with other students and professors provides knowledge on how to interact with future employers and employees. I agree that career centers have a tremendous value in aiding students land a job, but they in no way prepare them to actually do the job.It’s also true that anyone can pick up a computer and do some research on a topic, but who will help guide them in the direction they are trying to reach.without professors you wont have educated students who can utilize their knowledge to make informed decisions. The “community” aspect of a university where you meet and interact with people from all over the world teaches you more than just sitting in front of your computer forming your own opinions based on what you alone can come up with.

  39. Derick Casier says:

    Penelope said “The value of a school is no longer in the knowledge it spews – anyone can take the classes online.” I must say that I disagree with that statement. From what I have researched the better the school the better the instructors along with the way information is being persented to the students. The better a instructor can teach and present real world knowledge the better the students will be able to interpert the information as well as interact with others on the subject matter. With the knowledge and confidence instilled by good instructors at good schools. There will always be very busy career centers placing the schools well educated and informed students.

  40. Stacey says:

    5 idea that will influence 2012.

  41. Havaladırma says:

    Very Crazy Tecknoloji. We do so many crazy backflips to raise children who turn out to be amazingly like we are. (And I can tell you that my parents didn’t put nearly the same amount of time into parenting as we do and they had the same results).

  42. Career Choice says:

    It is my first time in this blog but it feels like I have been here for so long. I have learned a lot reading your posts. You write interesting things and you are very generous in sharing your thoughts.

    Thank you very much.

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