Optimism, Procrastination and Innovation: My Work Experience at SIL

 

When I first envisioned work experience, emails after email from my zealous careers advisor urging us to choose a placement forcing me to consider it, it sounded shit. 

It was basically school, but longer, with similar goals, but harder, with less guidance, when guidance and extensive feedback had essentially become the crutch for my education whilst attending Sydney Girls High School. The only appeal of work to a sixteen-year-old student such as I was the money I stood to gain- until I realised it was only experience and the payment I would gain was knowledge and enlightenment! My bad.

Additionally, me failing to deliver through with the quality of work expected wouldn’t be similar to crying over and brushing off a flunked maths test or english essay. It would reflect badly on myself, my reputation, my school and, worst of all, disappoint my place of employment. Weird to realise that your actions have consequences, huh?

This sobering awareness resulted in the matter of organising my work experience being swept neatly under a lovely thick rug of homework, studying for exams, sports and other opportunities for procrastination. I was optimistic, in that cliche hopeful student way, that I’d wrangle in a placement soon enough.

Surprisingly, I was wrong. 

Roughly five months later, when the work experience notifications had still not ebbed and their tone become slightly more threatening email by email, I realised that, although my exams had ended and holidays were approaching, the apparent easy task of finding work experience had still not been achieved. With yet another wave of optimism and sweet procrastination, I circled the last week of June on my planner to finally start working, and instead spent my time catching up on lost sleep.

June came and went in a flourish of binged Netflix, and came with the realisation that I needed a placement and acceptance soon, for both my school and my own pride. Slowly my bright approach to work experience withered away, becoming more and more ragged and rushed as I send email after email to various companies, and got no response. Finally, after two weeks, I discovered a hopeful light in the dark drudgery of sending messages crafted to absolute perfection. It was reminiscent of Plato’s prisoner in the cave being led up into glorious light and freedom.

I had emailed, ding ding ding, you guessed it, the Science of Innovation Lab, and was accepted. If the thick copy of The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo on my desk was any indicator, I was ecstatic to have been accepted by a lab that mapped the psychology and neuroscience behind innovation.

Now, months later with my week at SIL almost finished, I realise the importance of work experience, and I am extremely glad that I was able to undertake it here.

I experienced a myriad of opportunities that would have remained unknown to me if not for SIL. My first university talks were from Branka Spehar and Lenny Vartanian, whose presentations on the arcs of their careers before they became inaugural professors, were astounding in their perceptions of education and descriptions of their childhoods. Later, a talk from Richard Bagozzi, one of the most cited scholars in Marketing and neuroscience would open my eyes to the links between machiavellianism and the occupation of sale managers. A visit to the UNSW Museum of Human Disease was intriguing in its display of preserved human organs and allowed me to marvel at the advances of medicine over time, as well as the morbidity of human decay.

The skills I accumulated whilst at the lab are some I will strive to apply in my daily life.

Independence, self-discipline and an open mind, as well as the Agile Science method of academic research, were paramount to the basic research I had conducted on optimism, unrealistic positive bias and optimistic improvisation, and I hope to apply these ideals to my studying as I further my high school education.

Later came yet another realisation; the reason for my gravitation towards optimism had been because I myself had displayed the very characteristics of unrealistic optimism whilst searching for work experience! In Conscious Will and Responsibility, Elisabeth Pacherie and Patrick Haggard define optimistic improvisers as those who make decisions about what and when they’ll do a task, but don’t set clear guidelines for themselves. For example, you could say, ‘I’ll clean up my desk next Tuesday’. But, on Tuesday, the act of cleaning up itself would actually consist of you tossing out the accumulation of a term’s worth of wrappers and tissues, patting yourself on the back and ignoring the piles of notes and textbooks remaining unsorted on your desk. 

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Unrealistic optimistic about the apparent ease of achieving work experience, I, in a true teenager fashion, put off finding, contacting and confirming work experience until roughly half a year had passed.

Thanks to my work experience and basal research, I’ve reached the simple, enlightening conclusion that optimism is good, yes, procrastination is terrible, yes, but optimism and procrastination are one’s worst enemies, and I hope you and I can both strive to avoid her oily grasp. I entered the lab an ignorant, excessively optimistic student, and I leave as a slightly less ignorant, realistic student.

Thank you, SIL, for everything!

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Pratishtha was a whip smart young year 10 student that breezed into the labs with teenage sass for one memorable week in November 2018. Whilst she didn't get to actually pick apart brains (disappointing, we know), she did get to pick apart her own brain; which she insists was enjoyable (we'll take her word for it).

 
Gen Z Pratishtha