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Matthew Wieder

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Can we "engineer" our own interests through repeated exposure?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we learned about muscle contraction and how individual muscle twitches build on each other until tetanus (complete contraction of the muscle) is reached. Muscles are made up of small individual contractile units called sarcomeres which when they contract by themselves change the length of the muscle and produce a force that is negligible. However, when the sarcomeres contract in unison, the tension force produced is great enough to allow us to perform all of our normal day to day activities.

We also had a discussion in class about science education and how to get more young people excited about science -- often times in class there was a certain interaction with a role model who provided key influence either in a positive or negative direction.

This led me to think about the idea of life changing experiences. Is it ever a single experience, a specific interaction with a teacher or other role model that leads us to the career choices we make or, are we more influenced by the small events and sets of circumstances that "sum up" and provide this life altering influence?

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  • Mar 29 2012: This was a topic of research for the Advanced Machine Learning course taught by Dr. Anand Rangarajan at the University of Florida. We surveyed people on several factors ranging from questions borrowed from the Myers-Briggs test to what websites they frequented. We did identify trends in how people with certain preferences and personality types chose a particular career. For example, the mechanical engineers in our dataset were more likely to build their own computers than their counterparts in computer engineering or any other career. People who severely disliked being alone were less likely to be in graduate school. Our dataset was tiny and may have had a heavy sampling bias. Also, the problem we were studying was slightly different from the one in this topic. Nevertheless, it did seem like it was often a combination reasons rather than a single predominant one that separated people belonging to different careers.
    • Apr 3 2012: Hi Sindhura,

      I definitely agree that, in most cases, it’s not just one factor that pushes a person toward a certain career (or decision for that matter). Everything that happens to us, however small and insignificant, has the power to influence our thoughts and perspectives. Even when it comes to major decisions (such as choosing a career path), I don’t think that there is one factor that has a stronger influence on a person’s choice than all others. Ironically, if you asked someone why he or she decided to go to a given college or to choose a given career, most would give just one reason. Is this one reason the truth, though? Probably not. We might rationalize our choices in retrospect, but are we ever 100% certain that our rationalizations are the true reasons behind our actions? Essentially, our decision-making process is not too different from the process of muscle contraction in our bodies. Just as the different components of muscle have an (equally important) influence on muscle contraction, a variety of different factors have an equally important influence on every one of our decisions.
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          Apr 3 2012: Ariel,

          I too can relate to my experiences in my secondary education to answer this question. From when I was young, my parents pushed me toward math and science. This reflected to my experiences in the classroom, as I always favored math more than humanities.

          However, my school also played a huge role in this, as they separated students based on their mathematics abilities and humanities abilities. They pushed students to take honors and AP courses. Those who weren't pushed to felt as if they weren't suited for the material, and it may have held them back from pursuing that material. I was pushed to take AP's in math and science, but not in humanities. This made me more influenced to pursue an engineering path.
        • Apr 4 2012: It seems that a lot of what influences people's career paths is others' expectations of them. In a society in which executives are valued, it is no surprise to find many young adults interested in the business -- one's self-image is a strong factor in the selection of interests. In truth, the human psyche is very flexible and can take an interest to almost anything.

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