What Millennials Do and Don’t Do

Our generation is an anomaly. We refuse to do things their way, so they call us entitled. We refuse to sit in cubicles, so they call us spoiled. We refuse to follow their plans, so they call us stubborn. What they are slowly realizing, however, is we’re not lazy, stubborn or entitled. We just refuse to accept things as they’re given to us.

Ran across the quote above from a list entitled “50 Things About Millennials That Make Corporate America Sh*t Its Pants”, and while I don’t completely agree with the entire list, I think it makes some valid points. Often we evaluate that the current “young people” generation’s behavior by previous generation’s standards: If they look like they’re not working, then they’re not. They complain but ultimately will do nothing, when in reality they actually might. As someone who is “between” generations (1982, my birth year, is at the end of Gen X), I see a lot of my beliefs in this list, but also see the value in previous generation’s points of view. Yes, it may seem strange to wear a suit and tie (I don’t wear ties), but to previous generations this was the same status symbol message that newer generations crave by ditching them. In other words, your parents and grandparents wanted a job where a suit and tie were required because that meant they were doing well and making decisions that mattered. Today we want a job without one for the same reasons. 

Love or hate Millennials, but like every generation before them, they’re going to change the world. Perhaps not as radically as they (or others) think, but it’s each generation’s job to shake things up a bit!

Why An Ulta Sale & Steam Sale Should Be Seen As Just As Awesome

By: Jeremy Keith

Earlier today a friend of mine, who is an avid gamer, posted that a sale at makeup retailer Ulta was like “a Steam sale but for make up”. Having been to an Ulta last year during the holiday season to buy presents for family members, and witnessing it’s “Best Buy” like structure (The place is kinda like a makeup geek’s dream, I suppose), I get the reference. But what I really like is the implication that women should be comfortable with both establishments – as psyched about a sale at a retailer stereotypically associated with the opposite gender as she is psyched about a sale at a retailer stereotypically associated with the same gender. While in the aggregate, the gender gap in gaming seems to be closing, digging deeper reveals that there is still a pretty big gap in what types of games men and women play (Give you a hint: Women don’t typically play action games or first person shooters). Because women might not choose to play certain games, the belief persists among gamers and game designers that it’s an all-male club, which hurts not only game development (At least Lara Croft wears more clothing now) – it also sends a subtle message to young girls that “hardcore” gaming isn’t appropriate for them. Even though we know that while games in general can have positive psychological effects, this includes (and perhaps is most seen) in first person shooters. In short, there aren’t “boy” games or “girl” games, “men” games or “women” games – there are games – and if you prefer to play some of the rougher around the edges sorts, or the role playing sorts, or the “Farmville-esque” sorts, you should feel like it is an option to you.

Please – Look Out For Each Other

Warning: This post might be a bit of a downer, but consider it a Public Service Announcement from your friendly neighborhood psychologist.

Today is the day in Introductory Psychology that I talk about mood disorders, schizophrenia, and suicide. (Three separate topics that can share common elements). The last item on the list holds special significance to me. I’ve lost students before to suicide, and can tell you that it shakes you to the core.

The first time was a few years ago – a summer intern of mine left for Fourth of July holiday and never came back. I got a call from her home institution with the news. Thankfully someone had remembered her mentioning she was doing an internship with me – otherwise I might not have ever heard anything. She had a history of depression, but was on the path to recovery. Sadly that’s the most dangerous time for people – no one gets better in a  linear fashion – every recovery has good days and bad days. If the person has suicidal thoughts on one of those bad days, and now has the energy to actually act on them (as opposed to when they were in their deepest depressed state), it can lead to tragedy.

Suicide is one of the most vexing of problems for my profession to handle. On one hand, some believe it is a legitimate option for the truly depressed or disturbed (A former professor of mine once said “I believe that people have the right to commit suicide… just not while they’re seeing me for treatment!”). Others believe it to be morally wrong to allow to happen. I don’t know where I stand on the personal right issue – but I do know where I stand on the prevention issue: If you have any fear that someone you know and love (or even just like) is thinking of suicide, you need to talk to them about it.

(The myth that talking about suicide will only “put the idea in their head” is exactly that – a myth. Talking about suicide saves lives).

The hard part to grasp is that the warning signs are hard to spot, even for trained individuals. My former student had no warning signs I could see (although I felt guilty that I didn’t try to find them), and appeared to be a motivated young woman working her way through college. She talked about her family and friends, and was upbeat in every interaction I had with her. So while you should be aware of any warning signs, you also shouldn’t hold yourself responsible for not seeing them – they’re easy to hide and often an individual is motivated to hide them.

A year later, after my intern passed away, I was teaching a course at Columbia. One Sunday night, around midnight, an email hit my inbox from our administration: A student in my class had committed suicide by jumping from the top of her dorm building. In the Ivy League, this isn’t (sadly) an uncommon occurrence. Students get stressed out, depressed, isolated, and desperate to make the pain end. I had the sad duty of informing my class, which I did the next day. I took a few minutes after lecture to inform them and let them know of services they had available to deal with the loss of a classmate. She hadn’t been in class for a few weeks (an illness had taken her away from her studies, which also likely contributed to her stress), however I could see a few visibly shaken students among the group of 90+.

This suicide was likely different in 1 way from the first: Premeditation. It would be interesting if it weren’t so sad – the plain fact is that many suicidal thoughts come and go rather quickly. While some may be depressed for a long time, have dramatic shifts of personality, make plans, and the thoughts of ending it are frequent for them, others have the opposite. They’re generally happy people who get stressed and in a “perfect storm” scenario, they have just the right level of stress, frustration, depression, and ability: So when the suicidal thought happens, they act on it impulsively. Stories of people who have had suicide attempts fail are easy to find – a common theme is that when the attempt fails (the pills don’t work, the rope breaks, the gun misfires, etc..), generally people stop and go back to their lives. They don’t look for another option immediately. While some might be argue that those people were just looking for attention, it’s unlikely that’s the case. What seems to happen is that if an act to end one’s life with deadly force fails, the idea is temporarily (or permanently) abandoned. This opens up the scariest of possibilities: Suicide is not always a planned action that serves to end suffering. It can be a temporary impulse that strikes at the opportune time to create destruction.

The deaths of both of my students hit me hard, in different ways, and it’s a pain I hope no one reading this ever has to share. To that end, I ask that you consider the following suggestions:

  1. If you know someone who shows even the smallest warning signs (like these) then please talk to them, or help them get the help they need. It’s not overreacting if it saves a life, and even if the person wasn’t serious, they now know you care and may seek you out in the future.
  2. Recognize that in some cases, those who seem to be “out of the woods” (i.e. recovering from depression or psychological illness) are most vulnerable. Don’t let your guard down just because they’ve been in therapy for a few months and seem better.
  3. Provided that you’re doing #1 & #2, release yourself from guilt if you miss something and tragedy strikes. Due to the unfortunate stigma was have toward mental health illness in the world, those who are suicidal often hide it as best as they can. No one is a mind reader.
  4. Remember those who have been lost, to death in any way, and respect their memory by finding the energy to help others.

Rest in peace, my former students.

ReverseHosts is Offering a Pretty Nice Deal: 512 MB VPS for $12/year

Wanted to pass this along to anyone looking to set up their own virtual server. ReverseHosts has a very nice deal right now on 512MB VPS servers – only $12 a year! For those of you looking to run online experiments, this is a great way to get started if you’re tech savvy enough to run your own server. If not, they also offer web hosting plans which will set up all the nuts and bolts for you (i.e. Apache, MySQL, etc…). I’ve been using ReverseHosts for about 7 months now and have found the team very responsive to issues, and the servers perform as advertised.

Use the coupon code WHT512ANNUAL to get the $12 a year price on either the SDVPS 512 or ATLVPS 512 (Depending on if you want your virtual server to be in the Atlanta or San Diego data center). Using my affiliate link also helps me out a bit (if you’re so inclined – costs you nothing).  Simply click the link, navigate to the order form, and choose either Open VPS Atlanta or Open VPS San Diego. Watch though – these deals tend to go fast.

Not Cruel, Freeing

A friend of mine joined the choir at her church awhile back. After a few months of stressing out over making sure she was always on time for each practice and recital, one of her fellow singers made an off-hand comment saying “We made due without you, we’ll be OK if you’re not here.

At first glance this seems a bit cruel. Our minds race through the iterations of the saying until we distill the message out: We don’t need you. We’re OK without you. You could fall off a cliff and we would just go on. Pretty mean. However once you realize what this statement actually brings with it, logically, you find it immensely freeing. Continue reading “Not Cruel, Freeing”

Sentiment on Cats Not Influenced by Student Level or Time Of Year

Because I know everyone cares deeply on this issue, I’m happy to report that in a survey of 117 students, slightly less than half (46%) believe that they are “cute and cuddly and I lub them so much” while 53% feel “They’re antisocial and psychotic and I don’t trust them at all”. This difference is not significant (p = .4). Student level (100 versus 300 level class) and time of year (fall versus spring) also do not affect sentiment.

Conclusion: Half the population love little fur balls, fur balls that the other half of the population distrust deeply.

I apologize if this face causes evil flashbacks.  But you are on the Internet, what do you expect?
I apologize if this face causes evil flashbacks.
But you are on the Internet, what do you expect?

Oh, if you’re wondering why I have this data – I use Socrative to collect quiz data from my classes and as part of the first day of class stuff, I have them take a demo quiz. I ask the cat question there, just for fun. I analyze it because I’m a big freakin’ geek.

Musing: What Digital Pictures Mean for Us Psychologically

A quick look at my Dropbox Camera Upload directory reveals that I take about 3-5 photos a day on average. They range from awesome to mundane, moments to remember, and moments that after a task is done, should be forgettable. But I save them all, because it’s too much work to weed through them and I don’t want to miss any golden ones. Tonight I wonder how this will change society psychologically over the next 30 years.

A Screenshot of my Camera Upload Directory
A Screenshot of my Camera Upload Directory

My parents have photo albums that have 10-20 photos per year in them. They are generally key moments, or at least moments when a camera with film in it was handy. There are no pictures of receipts, white boards, lunch, or random people seen in Walmart. But today we take all those types of photos, and more. And in 30 years, I might have around 1,400 photos per year = 42,000 photos that span a giant chunk of my life. What will this mean? Continue reading “Musing: What Digital Pictures Mean for Us Psychologically”

Which is More Difficult? Being a Student or a Professor?

With the new semester starting, I’ve had a lot of interactions with students as of late. Some are returning familiar faces, others are new faces that (in some situations) are new to college completely. They’re all undergraduates, taking 5 or so classes at one time, and many are trying to earn the highest possible grades in those classes.

The voice of the people - left for me on my office door from two students in Learning & Memory
The voice of the people – left for me on my office door from two students in Learning & Memory

It’s interesting to me to think about the roles and responsibilities in academia. The semester sees me shuffling from class to class, preparing lectures and activities, and of course grading. I spend several hours a week cruising around classrooms, telling jokes that my students mercifully laugh at, and making observations about my field and the material I’m presenting. In some cases I need to keep the conversation going for 75 minutes, or at the least direct attention toward an activity or video if I decide to rest my voice. I then retreat to my office, where I answer emails, respond to texts, post more bad jokes online (that my friends mercifully “like”), and grade assignments and exams. I also take time to work on research, follow-up with students and colleagues, and attend meetings.

Students have a similar routine – they move about classes, copiously write what professors like me say, download notes, skim textbooks (or even “read textbooks deeply” on occasion), and juggle requirements along with a myriad of campus activities, jobs, families, and friends.

In my mind it is debatable who has the more difficult job. For example, most of my effort is front-loaded into the semester. I can begin preparing classes months in advance if I like, where my students need to react as material is thrown at them – taking exams when I dictate, covering material that they’ve only had (in the best case scenario) 8 weeks to learn. I’ve learned the same material for over 10 years – so it’s no wonder I consider the exam questions “no brainers” – they came from my brain!

And at least when I do have to learn new material, I can fit it into my head’s schemas of information better than what my student’s face – they’re learning 5 new courses of content each semester with little to no overlap. What I learn from 3 journal articles may very easily overlap central concepts. How much overlap is there between, say, psychology and chemistry? Maybe 5%.

So I try to stay away from the easy way out – I don’t let myself think I have it harder just because I had to do 99% of the talking during the semester, or because I had to grade 50 exams whereas my students only had to take 1. It might be a long trek for me, but the path seems to be rockier for them.

Then again I may be wrong… wouldn’t be the first time! What do you think – is it harder to be a professor or a student?