When Your Lab Instructor Is More Negative Than Positive: A Psychological Analysis of Negative Bias In Academia

Hey Snarklings,

Before I start, I just wanted to get 1 thing clear: This isn’t a rant, rather it is a psychological analysis of people who work in academia as professors or lab instructors. It’s socially common for people who work in academia (college or any other educational institution) to have developed some sort of narcissistic persona or disorder which can not only impact themselves but the students that they teach on a regular basis. This is important because, thousands of student fall victim to their overarching expectations which just results in students feeling bad, a lower GPA, and a never-ending cycle.

I will be posting my lab report and the instructional guidelines (which I most definitely followed, ask anyone lol). I’ll also put up the comments which I will analyze using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and Revision IV (DSM-IV). A couple of anecdotal will also be discussed. Okay without further a due, I think it is time to put my neuroscience degree to good use.

*Note, just like all my other posts I always change the names of these people for privacy reasons.

My Microbiology Lab Report and the Guidelines

So the following is the expectations listed in the guideline that was posted by my lab instructor (I suggest that you open each image in a separate window for convenience), let’s call him Kepler Uranus or K. Uranus for short.

 

I, myself, tutor young high schoolers and one of the most effective pedagogical method is to give constructive criticism. In other words, you compliment the things that they did right so that they can continue doing those good things; positive feedback to encourage good skills while stating parts that did not work so well or could be improved on. If you deviate from this method, like K. Uranus did, it’s no longer constructive criticism instead it is insulting. If you look at the yellow highlighted sections, you can see that it is just straight up saying what is wrong and no comments on what was done decently. This is also bad because now the student (poor moi) does not know what I can improve on for the next lab report. I am basically here just looking at my lab report and thinking, “everything is wrong then?”

I also want to point out a common logical bias found in K. Uranus’s comments. They are not highlighted but you can see that he uses the subjunctive tense a lot with phrases like “should have” or “would have been.” This points to the impression that K. Uranus’s idea of a good lab report is the only good way to do a lab report. This may correlate to closed-mindedness to other forms of rhetoric, which again is common in people who work in academia (remember the egotistical and narcissism traits in psychology? Oh how I pity this lad). Now what is really egotistical is that K. Uranus stated that “Everyone can benefit from having someone to proofread their lab reports. It can be difficult to tell if you are being clear in your own writing, so having a friend read it can be very helpful.” In my lab report, there are reviews from other students stated (I have no idea if K. Uranus even looked over them), but having a pre-assumption is not very indicative of the whole situation. So, personally, I would not have done that and would have investigated further.

High-Ego Scientists at the Top of the Hierarchy

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Narcissism, a personality associated for a need of power and according to the DSM-IV: “An enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment. ” Now, before I continue to remember that with any category, a person may not hit every criterion, but shows

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

  • K. Uranus tends to keep it a habit to let everyone in the lab that he is always correct and is never wrong. Ex: Goes up to random students to a workbench and tells them what they’re supposed to be doing even if it is the wrong experiment.

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

  • Did not observe

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

  • K. Uranus tends to abuse his power as a lab instructor and promotes himself as top-notch, even though that lab instructors are not the same thing as PhDs or MDs.

(4) requires excessive admiration

  • Did not observe

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

  • K. Uranus hits this criterion many times that one sentence is not enough

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

  • Did not observe

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

  • Hits this criterion many times that one sentence is not enough

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

  • K. Uranus tends to align with people in the lab who are also lab instructors to boost self-ego and self-image

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

  • Treats students as incoherent children with mental retardation. Has a petty persona against people who contradict him. Arrogant actions often get in the way with working with students since it burns bridges; students tend to feel insecure due to his actions so they do not seek any future help.

So as you can see these traits are very volatile and do not benefit both K. Uranus or any of the students in the lab.

Analysis: How Did Narcissism Make Its Way into Academia?

An article, named “Science falling victim to crisis of narcissism“, talks about the cut-throat environment that shaped the hostile nature seen in people like K. Uranus. I believe that due to the cut-throat nature of the environment, academia is filled with people trying to get recognition for their scholarly work, while the pre-meds running around are making frenemies along the way. Because of this, the scientific community is actually a good place to study how a social dominance hierarchy and narcissism shape social interactions within a community.

Scientists with High-Ego at the Top

Things that I have noticed by high-ego individuals in top academic positions like K. Uranus:

  • these types of scientists tend to score high on traits like agency, hostility and arrogance, factors that all relate to narcissism
  • personality analysis suggests that students entering the science field or profession score high in agreeableness and are less ambitious and agency-driven than students majoring in medicine, law and or business

Due to these findings, people of high-ego personalities in leadership positions in the life sciences (ex. my microbiology instructor K. Uranus), suggests that the hostile academic environment promotes pressure to keep the most ambitious students or that well0liked scientific apprentices are somehow transformed into dominant leaders when they reach power.

 

Factor 1: Social attention for status

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  • To rise in the hierarchy is to become more visible, or more popular (think of it like brothers and sisters fighting for parental attention)
  • The importance of social attention for human status is easy to understand for us scientists, as we seek
  • In hindsight, this dependence on visibility explains why even if the published work is the same, the outcome for a scientist’s career (or whatever is left of it) will differ if published in a famous journal than a random one.

Due to the above reasons, recognition separates the successful from the failures. This means that when K. Uranus is recognized by her peers, he is more dominant, which means more driven and more egotistical.

 

 

Factor 2: Narcissism shaping the scientific community

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  • Personalities are self-delusional and determine lifestyle interactions with other people
  • They create a filter between our conscious understanding of the world and our real action
  • As a product of evolution, humans have not been equipped with a mind to think and act with impartiality (treat everyone the way we want to be treated), but to take advantage of others

A first influence is the career path chosen. We expect a narcissist to be more attracted to a curriculum that provides a way for power and title – such as a surgeon or a lab instructor for a microbiology lab (K. Uranus).

The second influence of narcissism is that the desire to get ahead could boost the motivation to succeed, thus reinforcing passion, a key factor for success in science

Experts in social-personality suggest that narcissists are actually not usually any better than the others, but they perform better when they get their recognition. So higher dependence of narcissism on peer recognition makes them alive when getting public attention. In other words, without recognition, K. Uranus is virtually nothing since he does not have a vial of “life force” or essence to drink out of.

Collateral Damage: Self-confidence and the ability to gain more power by destroying others.

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Self- absorption, and desire for originality are traits associated with narcissism that can be positive when done right (K. Uranus did not present any positive interaction of confidence).  For example, a positive of self-confident individuals are more being more persuasive, especially with acquaintance since self-confidence tends to be viewed as a sign of competence in humans. K. Uranus, on the other hand, showed a lack of empathy towards his subjects thus, the self-involved confidence did not vibe as competence but rather as a mask. This is probably why everyone did not go to him for help when we were all working on our lab reports.

Another thing to look at is the effect of reputation. Think of reputation as your electric bill, if you can maintain your energy consumption at a nice level then you are happy. If not, then you might find yourself at either extreme: Low or high. The two facets of reputation are scientific drive (S-Drive) and narcissistic drive (N-drive). N-drive tends to be very high in narcissists since it is associated with inflated self and dominance. K. Uranus’ N-drive seems to belong near the medium.

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One thing that I have learned throughout this experience is that although that I have to deal with people like this, it is making me better experienced to deal with more difficult people in the future. This includes self-inflated, egotistical narcissists and I am proud of the work that I have done so far.

Here is my midterm grade for microbiology. 40/43 = 93%. I had to use a redacter to black out the other students’ grades and student number for identification purposes, so I am sorry if it looks weird. In summary, regardless of what or who you’re dealing with, you can shine bright like a diamond and make these self-absorbed snooty snob buckets look like cheap rusty copper. So keep on grinding guys.

 

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Ciao for now and stay flossy everyone.

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How to Deal With Unpleasant Colleagues: Over Competetive Pre-Med Students

Well, long time no see my little Snarklings!

Ugh. The first month of the semester is coming to a close and here’s what I’ve been up to.

  1.  2 APA styled lab reports for physiological psychology (neurobiology) based on documentaries (there’s about a dozen of them, oh dear I know)
  2. A lab report for my organic chemistry lab and another one for my microbiology lab
  3. A for my perception and sensation class next week (yup, a lot of review and practice tests)
  4. over 200 practice problems for organic chemistry (because in order to succeed you do need to suffer)

and between all this chaos, volunteering at my local hospital, helping out at a science camp for kids, and many hours spent stu(dying) and doing the advance reading to stay ahead of my classes. I can do this! I say that with pride because there is no other option out there. On the other hand, one thing I need to work on is not letting people beat me down, or people who make me feel less of a human being. If you have followed my journey then you would have known my struggle with mental health, my past suicide attempts, and my struggling identity and purpose to continue living my second chance at life.

Inner me: Wait. Woah when did this turn so serious there?

Me: Yeah, we both know why we’re here. It’s a part of us.

Inner me: Dang. You’re making me feel so uninformed…

Me: Well yeah. It’s called suppressed memories.

Inner me: Oh, right.

Me: Dude, You’re a neuroscience/biopsychology major…

Back to the topic on hand

Being in classes filled with pre-meds, pre-pharmacy, pre-dental, pre-optometry, and pre-nursing students (yeah I know that’s a lot of pre’s) is really tough. Most of our classes are graded on a curve so not a lot of camaraderie exists. No one is willing to help you unless if 1. They pity you or 2. They’re your friends (ps I don’t have a lot of friends at uni since many people are so judgemental and rude). So everything is pretty cut-throat and not a lot of students do not know the definition of human decency or kindness.

Now today, (the 26th of September, 2018) started like any other day. I got up went to class, drank a latte, read over some notes and prepared for my dreaded microbiology lab. Before I entered my lab one of my close friends from last year came up to me and asked how I was doing and why he hasn’t seen me at all this semester (well duh, reasons above in my checklist haha). It felt great to see someone actually remembers me (I’ve been feeling really invisible).

Hold on to your chairs this is where things go downhill

While in lab another student was watching me like a hawk (which most definitely disturbed me). Turns out I was using the wrong technique in culturing a bacterial agar plate. It’s okay! As a student, you’re supposed to make mistakes so that you can learn how to do it better next time. This is one of my mantras: Always seek improvement, before or after a mistake does not matter, just improve since it’s never too late and never too crowded! This student comes around and starts belittling me and snickering with her pals at their workbench. I will admit I try to not give a care about other people since all they want is my reaction, but it did sting a lot (think a bunch of wasps, hornets and bumble bees impaling you at once. Ouch). What is more shocking is that these people are our future’s physicians, surgeons, nurses, caretakers, etc. One of them is apparently a first responder which made me even more disappointed with how they treated me and other students. How can the people put their trust in a first responder when the way that they treat someone is horrendous? I do not understand that mentality. Although that the other student has taken this class before, that did not give her the right to belittle people when she knows darn well that it’s their first time.

I felt so exhausted after. After cleaning up my station and washing my hands (twice because it’s microbiology ew.), I left the lab and she already had one more thing to say to me in the most condescending tone ever (think Paris Hilton and Donald Trump were trapped in the same body):

Student: “Soooooooo how did the lab gooooooo?” *side stare*

Me: It went fine thank you.

At that point, I ran down to the staircase where no one could see me and started crying. It was already raining outside so I was just going to make up a story that I was outside and it was raining so that’s why my face got wet. But in reality, I cry too much. I was thinking is this how my future colleagues, attendings, instructors, interns, residents will treat me? How can I survive both academically and emotionally?

While I was wiping away my tears and thinking to myself, “Maybe I should have gone with my suicide attempt, maybe I am wrong to be here. I don’t deserve to be treated as a human being with rights. Maybe I’m not normal.” Then someone (let’s name her Jupiter), came up to me and said “Hey long time no see, you were one of my students last year for freshman biology! How’s second year going? Probably pretty good, I always graded you with high marks!” Jupiter could tell that I was in pain when I answered with “yeah… things look good right now.” I told her what was up and she said to me that “people who act like that probably have it worse than you. Don’t pay attention to them, focus on your own needs and use your negative experiences as motivation. And of course, learn from their mistakes so that you can be a better person.” Then something clicked. I started to realize how my years of studying psychology came to reflect on how these people act

  1. In physio psychology, the evolution of the human mind only increases rates of survival, but perfection is not one of them. Thus, mistakes such as the cognitive processes of feeling more powerful than somebody or knowing how to exploit somebody for personal gain is present in primates.
  2. There is no such thing as a “normal brain”. Clinically speaking there is a standard to compare on what is physiologically and psychologically normal but all brains are different. That is why we have people who fall on either side of the extreme such as Donald Trump on one end and Hillary Clinton on the other. And then there are people like me in the middle.
  3. Encephalization gave way for modern humans to grow our brain in terms of mass thus, more neurons meant more ways to think and that included ways that are not so kind but malicious (such as what happened to me). Yet, while neurons gave humans the ability to think and learn, it is the individual who chooses what to learn and what to unlearn (negative behaviors). That is what many pre (whatever goes here) need to work on at this moment. My mom told me to give a janitor the same amount of respect that I would give to a lawyer, a CEO, or doctor because, in the end, we all die the same way, we all have the same fate, there is no comparison

These people are struggling thus so their only output (emotional boxing bag) is to look down on someone. I call this passive psychotherapy (You’re venting in a way that does not need a direct confrontation with a professional).

Self-reflection

Instead of feeling bad for myself, I started to feel pity for those people who belittled me. I started to have empathy and sympathy since they did not learn the fundamental basis of mutual respect for another human being. Although that what they did was their way of release or purging, they need to learn from their mistakes because one day they will have a patient’s life in their hands. Thus, the way that you treat someone (or lack thereof) may correlate with how you may react or interact with patients that come from different backgrounds.

What I learned today:

  1. In the future, I will have a voice and I will stand up for myself since this will prepare me to become a better doctor when there is a need to stand up for a patient. If I cannot stand up for myself how can I stand up for let’s say a patient who is in the ICU and my future attending says, “let him go, he’s not worth it.”
  2. according to neuropsychology, evolution does not make human brain perfect and can actually result in negative effects such as narcissism or sadistic tendencies (sadism is when you start to get pleasure from people’s suffering).
  3. Pre-meds or pre-(anything else haha), need to learn that although that it’s super competitive, do not lose your humanity, you’re going to need it in the future
  4. There will be people who will try to tear you down. That is life. You cannot choose who hurts you but you can choose how you react to them. And by writing you this post, I’m choosing to react to it in a positive matter instead of developing suicidal thoughts or feelings
  5. Competition makes everyone better, but remember that there is a difference between healthy competition (building up) and negative competition (tearing down). I suggest, do not compare yourself to somebody’s accolade since they are different, but try to compete with yourself. Again going back to my mantra: Improve yourself; strive for constant self-improvement and make yourself a better person than you were yesterday. 
  6. If you make a mistake (like I did in the lab) it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, one of the lines of the Hippocratic Oath (old version) states “I will not be ashamed to say I know not.” You will not know everything, but that is why you are in school; to learn!
  7. Some people’s minds cannot be changed and that their words can cause harm to another person’s well being, but the words of the people who are genuine, and sincere, and kind (like Jupiter), are truly the ones that matter. So focus on the positive people they are worth more than those snooty people.
  8. Treat those people how you like to be treated. Bible version: whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them (Matthew 7:12). This will outline how you will see and treat other people both professionally and personally. Make sure you make responsible decisions.

 

After talking with Jupiter, I also learned another humanistic thing: There are people who will try to break you down (so for me that would be other Pre-meds) and then there are those who will cheer you on (so like Jupiter). I need to remind myself that it is way better to have a few loyal, kind, and genuine friends/cheerleaders than a bunch of snooty, toxic, venomous, fake friends who just want to suck the life out of you. So guys please choose wisely on who you consider a friend/cheerleader because, in the world of a competitive race to medical school you’re going to be facing a lot of difficult people and how you deal with them can be your practice on future difficult patients, attendings, chiefs, coworkers, teachers, etc.

Without further rambling, I want to say that I appreciate all of you and that anything that seems hard right now is probably temporary. Thank you all!

Remember to leave a comment, share, and follow me for more posts like these. Ciao, for now, Snarklings and stay flossy.

How to Make a Study Schedule Based on the 168 Hours Method

Hello Snarklings,

Ok so my sophomore year of university is well underway (I start on the 5th of September!) and I was hoping to give you an idea on how I plan out my study schedule for college. This is based on my personal experience so it may or may not work for you but planning ahead is one key factor that ties in success for anyone who wants to do well in school.

Okay, so this is going to require some basic math. Don’t worry it’s not that scary and pretty straightforward. So in one week, we have 168 hours and we do a lot of stuff like eating, sleeping, doing chores, working out, going to classes, and of course studying. So the question is how many hours do I have left after doing these things? The saying is that for every hour of class we need to commit 2 to 3 hours of study. In most universities (but not all so check with your school’s system) in North America, a “half course” is usually 3 units while a “full course” is 6 units which you can use to log in your hours needed to study.

They say that if you’re taking a full load (usually 5 courses for one semester) you should hit a minimum of 35 hours of study per week. You can find out this number by using this formula: Hours in a Week (168 Hours) — Used Hours = Time Remaining to Study 

  • If you have more than 35 hours of study than you have extra time (which you can either use for free time or use them to get ahead and study some more).
  • If you have less than 45 hours of study per week then you need to manipulate the other activities in your life to make room for that minimum of 35 hours of study

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Here’s my hand written version of the above and I get a total of 115 hours used out of the 168 hours per week which gives me 53 hours of study which is good enough for me to keep up and manage (I break up the 53 hours into manageable chunks and log them on my timetable):

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Just an extra tip, if you were to theoretically study every day (even on a Saturday and a Sunday), you can divide the remaining hours by 7 to see the approximate hours you should study each day to hit that. So the minimum is 35 hours to study so if you divide that by 7 you get 5 hours to study each day of the week to do revision and complete assignments. Since I have 53 hours, 53 hours divided by 7 gives 7.5 hours each day which is of course if I want to use those hours. Obviously, I want a life and need balance so I’ll just stick to 5-6 hours a day and use the rest for spending time with my friends. Like I said, it’s all up to you. Some days I will study 7.5 hours to get ahead since I have 53 hours. At other times I just want to hit the minimum 35 by increasing any of the other activities listed on that time activity sheet (I usually increase sleeping and/or exercising haha.)

Like I said, it’s all up to you. Some days I will study 7.5 hours to get ahead since I have 53 hours. At other times I just want to hit the minimum 35 by increasing any of the other activities listed on that time activity sheet. I usually increase sleeping and/or exercising to give me 35 hours. I can even get a part time job however, I don’t like unexpected shifts that can meddle in my study time.

In the end, you get a basic study schedule that you can use to keep yourself on track like this, which I made for my first semester of 2nd year: I LOVE COLOUR CODING!Weekly Study Schedule PDF_0

Just for review

  1. Approximate a number of hours that you do a certain activity for the whole week
  2. Add them up then subtract 168 hours from that number to give a number of hours remaining to study
  3. Adjust the hours of certain activities to hit the minimum 35 hours of study per week or use those extra hours to either study more or have fun (it’s your decision since you’re an adult right?)
  4. Log those activities on a designated time table and you’re good to go.
  5. Try to stick to this plan as much as possible. If not then looks like you have to face the consequences or compromise (another part of being an adult).

 

If you have any questions please email me or leave a comment below and remember to follow my blog for more updates! Ciao for now and stay flossy guys!