How can I do well in school even if I don’t like it?

If there is no real relationship between academic achievement and attitude, then what motivates bright students to achieve academic success? It certainly isn’t from an abundant passion for school.

–Jihyun Lee, Why the most successful students have no passion for school

Over the weekend I met up with some pretty interesting people:

A statistician who works in HR analytics by day, and on his masters degree in statistics by night.

A computer science professor who’s one paper away from getting his PhD.

And the HR head of my university alma mater, who excused herself early to attend a class for her second master’s degree.

While we met to discuss a project we’re all part of, small talk couldn’t be avoided.

And given everyone’s backgrounds, it should be no surprise much of this small talk was on coursework, interesting class projects, and the research for whatever paper they were working on at the moment.

For someone who did not find value in what she learned in school, I felt very much out of place.


What we had in common: Went to the same top schools, got decent (if not good) grades, and got degrees known for being difficult.

What I did not have in common: I didn’t like it.


Turns out, doing well in school and having to like it don’t have to be mutually exclusive. At least according to this research by Jihyun Lee:


My research has found that there is in fact no relationship between how well students do academically and what their attitude toward schooling actually is. A student doesn’t need to be passionate about school to be academically successful.


So what does impact academic performance? Self-belief.

Collectively, research shows that students’ self-belief in their own problem-solving abilities is far more important than their perception of school itself.


To conclude, Jihyun makes similar recommendations as I did when I talked about why I disliked school: The education system needs to be revamped.

Adults responsible for making decisions about schooling need to be more cognisant about the long-term influences that the school experience can exert on students’ attitudes and beliefs. A stronger emphasis must also be given to the inclusion of hands-on group activities that emulate what they may do in life once they graduate.


The research was based on the results of a survey asked of 15-year-olds globally. Below is a sample of this survey, along with my answers:

(a) school has done little to prepare me for adult life when I leave school

True. Very much so.

(b) school has been a waste of time

Waste is too harsh a word. I made a lot of connections through school which I still utilize today. And I have to admit, coming from a top university has its own perks in today’s competitive job market.

Rather than waste, I’d say the time wasn’t optimized.

If the answer has to be strictly True or False though, then my answer leans closer to true.

(c) school helped give me confidence to make decisions


(d) school has taught me things that could be useful in a job

Given I have a degree in Chemical Engineering but work in IT, then False.

Granted, I am loooooonnnnggg past the age group the study was based on, but its pretty striking how my own experience-based opinion seems to match that of the students’.


My key takeaway from this research: Confidence in your own skills matters. Even more than “passion”.


DataQuest: Day 3-ish.

Quick update to say I’ve given DataQuest a try.

It’s radically different from the Microsoft or MOOC approach. Zero videos, all lab work. They’re big fans of the learn by doing approach.

I’m still on the (free) Python introduction, but already I can say it’s a step above Interactive Python. There are fewer walls of text and more chances to play around with code.

It costs ~29USD a month though. I haven’t been on the program long enough to judge if its worth it.

Also, I’ve decided to go for the Data Analyst path. I feel it’s less intimidating than the Data Scientist path. And I like that the progress bar goes up faster due to the smaller scope (I’m a bit of a completionist gamer, sorry). I can switch tracks later on anyway.

A more in-depth review in the works.

Thinking out loud: College Education

Writing that last post about reconsidering a post-graduate degree made me uncomfortable. I’ve always been a good student. I went to highly competitive science/technology/engineering schools. Many of my friends are in the midst of getting their master’s and doctorate degrees.

So I always get asked, “When do you plan to get your Master’s?” As if it’s already expected.

I struggle to explain that I have no interest in returning to the academe, except maybe to teach.

My need for constant stimulation coupled with poor memory (which is why I write everything down) made for poor exam scores. In a lot of ways, engineering was a good match for me: we had more problem solving-type exams rather than memorization or comprehension. I managed to get by because I had good study habits. But, I didn’t really learn much.

I hated lectures. I hated sitting in class. I hated having to wait for classmates to catch up when I already knew something. And I hated having to slow everyone else down when I didn’t understand something. I would take down notes, but the real studying always happened after I was home. I would read through books and do the chapter exercises. Again and again. If anything, my true lecturers were the textbook authors.

Being in the corporate world has also jaded my view on education. I have been impressed by the academic backgrounds of people I met through work, only to be unimpressed by their actual skills (on that note read: CS degree holders who are not able to code).

They would ask for training, reference materials, a go-to person… and I wanted to tell them,

You’ve got a brain, right? Put it to use.
Try to figure it out yourself first.
THEN ask.

It made me think how much the local tertiary education is spoon-feeding. With the lessons laid out for consumption. With the students conditioned to swallow whatever the teacher gave them as fact. As if the school owed it to the students to pass because of their exuberant school fees.

And because they did so well in school, these students have an expectation that the corporate world will praise them as well. That they’re already competent.

And dangit, the local workforce culture actually supports this thinking!

I was confounded when, during a recent big data conference, most of the speakers’ answer to the lack of analytics talent was the need to re-calibrate tertiary education. I mean yes, we have to do that anyway, but REALLY? That’s all you’ve got?

Have I been alone in dealing with this overeducated but underskilled workforce???

Continue reading “Thinking out loud: College Education”

You may want to rethink getting that master’s degree

What do you do?

It was a watercolor class*. Everybody had their heads down to their work. Brushes flourished, water splashed, and classmates attempted small talk.

Uhm, I work in IT.

The question goes around. I find I’m surrounded by artists: An illustrator to my left, an interior designer to my right, and a calligrapher right across me. They ask why would I be in IT when I like art so much. I can’t articulate it’s not like I dislike IT, so I just go with the obvious answer: It pays better.

The reverse scenario holds true as well. My IT colleagues are always surprised to find out my creative hobbies. That I paint, and that I write. They assume I would be chasing the arts full time if I didn’t need the money.

But why is that? Why are we conditioned to think that art and technology should be mutually exclusive? Why are we uncomfortable when people pursue seemingly unrelated fields?

Specialization, that’s why.

Continue reading “You may want to rethink getting that master’s degree”