How to get along better with your coworkers

We work in teams for much of our work.  And if I adopted a parakeet for every time I hear “teamwork makes dreamwork,” I’d have an aviary.

But, I think that statement needs revision–they need to change it to “good teamwork makes dreamwork.”  Because, let’s face it, you’re not ultra productive on every team, and it can stem from different reasons.  But, one major hindrance that I’ve noticed personally and with my friends is that they have trouble getting along with their coworkers.

Sometimes, it’s actually no one’s fault if you don’t click with your coworkers; you may just have completely different personalities or styles of communicating, and you just don’t mesh together.  Other times, there may be distinct qualities we don’t naturally gravitate towards.  But in my experience, creating effective teamwork is much less about the work and more about the team.

You see, I think that with the right mix, a highly effective team could tackle some of the most complex and arduous tasks.  We can’t do every task independently, and collaboration is one of the keys to success.  The challenge is creating that bond within people, where they feel like they can rely on each other enough so that obstacles crumble in their midst.

So, insert the main 2 problems you might have with your co-workers: your personalities don’t blend well together, or there’s something specific you dislike about them (or both).  I’ve thought a lot about this problem–what’s hindering us from making really good relationships with our coworkers, and what’s in our power to change that problem.

Situation 1: Personalities Clash

You’re type A, they’re type B.  Sometimes, it just doesn’t mesh, and your basic thought processes don’t align well.  And, that’s okay.  You don’t have to be best friends with who you work with, but you do have to work together.

So, just work together.  Focus your conversations on work; this way, you’re both being productive and finding a common interest in your conversations together.

A big tip I learned from my supervisor at my internship this summer is to identify the coworker’s personality, and play to what they’re like.  For example, if your coworker is super professional and results-oriented, make sure you plan your meeting ahead, have the deliverables in front of you (or at least in mind), bring a pen and paper, and get to the point when you’re talking.  You can’t change them, but you can change how you interact with them by knowing how they operate.

Situation 2: “I don’t like that about you”

Sometimes, we find that a certain trait someone has just bothers us; it’s like you just can’t look beyond this one thing s/he always says or that one habit s/he has.  I used to come across situations like this, but I thought of a trick to help solve not being able to look past what you don’t like about someone.  And it’s not really about changing them–it’s more about changing yourself and your perceptions about them.

Let’s pretend you have this coworker who always needs to have the loudest voice in the room.  It may be annoying, but if you change how you view them from a negative to positive perception, like “they’re not afraid to be heard,” it plants that positivity seed in your mind.

Is it corny?


But, focusing on something you admire about your coworkers can help you realize why they’re on your team and what they bring to the table. Think about what your coworker brings to the team that the team wouldn’t otherwise have; what specifically does s/he add that everyone needs?  It helps you to recognize the value of your team which can give you more confidence in them.




Why you’ll keep getting smarter when you graduate school and start working

I love school.  I love to learn new about new things and how there’s always something you can know more about.  That was one of my favorite parts of college–being able to sit in a library, pick up any book, and find out something I never knew before.

I think, societally, we’ve developed this idea that schools are our only learning hubs.  And, sure, I don’t know if any other places have so many diverse subject matter experts and books in such small radii, but I don’t like that we often believe that the only place you can learn is school.

As I graduate this fall, I’m basically trying to figure out my next moves: what I want to go to school for next, where I want to work, and what I want to do (and attempt to enjoy life every once and a while with a vacation).  Like the origins of many existential ideas, I was thinking about this in my car on the drive to work: what’s the real difference between school and work?  Why do you need school before you can work?  Do you need school to continue learning, or does learning come in many forms?

That, friends, spawned an inner dialogue that pervaded the whole trip–and it’s an hour long drive.

School gives us the foundations for what we need.  To understand higher level concepts that you’d learn while working, you need to start with a bunch of relevant topics and work your way up.  Take molecular biology: you need to understand organic chemistry, cell biology, and calculus to get a grip on the subject.

Someone explained to me that building your knowledge base is more like building a pyramid than a ladder: when you solidly learn all the basics you need, you can become more and more specialized as you reach the top.  Your foundation is strong, and you have a broader wealth of knowledge beneath you as you climb the pyramid.  Conversely, ladders aren’t very steady; if you had a ladder instead, it could easily topple over if you lost your balance (or, in this case, went outside your subject matter element).

Related image

But, at some point you’re done with formal training.  Like this picture, you have a bunch of knowledge clusters and you’re ready to put it to use.  That’s where working comes in.

When you’re working, you’re not only revisiting concepts you learned in school (assuming you’re doing something related to what you studied), but you’re connecting everything you learned beforehand.  You’re becoming smarter, because you’re starting to understand why you took a class in X or had to do a lab in Y.  You’re making new connections based on your previous knowledge, and you’re using these connections to solve meaningful problems in your job.

I took this class last year about how people learn; when you’re “passively learning,” you’re reading books or listening to lectures.  You’re not really retaining a whole lot, because you’re not engaging your brain.  It’s like your brain is a river bed, and the information to be learned is the flowing water.  Your brain isn’t getting a lot of time to interact with the information, so it isn’t going to remember it as well.  But, now pretend you’re a river bed in the water is moving more slowly.  Now, you have more time to interact with every water molecule.  This is the rough equivalent to “active learning”: solving problems, having discussions, and applying what you’ve learned.

When you start working, you’re making new connections to the seemingly random knowledge from school.  You gain an understanding for why you learned what you did, and you’re able to appreciate your discipline and its complexity.  And the more you’re exposed to as you continue working, the more connections you’ll form.



What to do if you graduated with a major you weren’t happy in (the spider web analogy)

Perhaps you just graduated.  Or you’re about to graduate.  And you’re looking at your degree audit and thinking “oh my lanta, how’d I make it through college studying this?”  Or, more importantly, “what am I going to do with this?”

When you’re 18, it’s a miracle if you can figure out your college’s convoluted bus system or remember the dining hall hours.  At 18, it’s incredibly difficult to know what you’ll want to do forever–without access to a crystal ball from your local fortune teller, how do you know what you’re thinking about studying will get you to where you want to be in 10 years?

We choose majors for different reasons, but whether you’ve known from the beginning what you’ve wanted to study, you based it on salary, you had influence from your family, or you just liked how it sounded, your major in college does have some effect on your life.  It doesn’t define your life, but it can open and close career doors.

As an electrical engineering major, you haven’t learned what you need to be a neuroscientist.  That’s not to say you can’t learn–just that your EE program didn’t prepare you for a neuro line of work.

So here’s the dilemma: when you’ve studied something you can’t see yourself doing for a year out of school, let alone forever, and it’s too late to switch.  You want to be the neuroscientist, but you’re trained as the electrical engineer.

You can only gain so much exposure by reading required course outlines or articles about what people in your major do.  And, often by the time you’re qualified enough to intern somewhere to test the waters, you’re too deep in the coursework to be able to switch out if you don’t like it.

It can be frustrating–it’s like when you take the wrong exit on the highway, because you can see in your mirrors where you should be going, but you just keep getting further away with time.

It’s okay if what you studied in school isn’t a perfect fit for what you want to do now–it just means that you have to find some connections between what you’ve studied to what you want to do.  It’s like you’re a spider, creating a bridge (your connection) between two tree branches (where you are and where you want to be).

There has to be something you’ve learned that applies to what you want.  Now, it’s your job to find it.

The key is to look at what you’ve studied through a different angle–for example, why your background in electrical engineering (what you are) gives you an edge as a neuroscientist (what you want to be) (your connections being analogizing logic signals to neuronal impulses, understanding how MRIs and EEGs work, and being able to think of the nervous system as a big circuit).

If you’ve found that what you thought you’d like at 18 doesn’t suit you at 22, that’s okay–after all, if our older selves could advise our younger selves, we’d never make mistakes.

But, your next objective is to figure out how to get to where you want from where you are with what you have.  Building that spider web-bridge could be as simple as jumping into your next job or more complex, where you’re building each strand at a time–and perhaps your time and resources needed depend on how far apart the branches are.  The bridge could require further education, a temporary job in the middle of what you want with what you have, or advice from someone who’s been in your situation before.



What to do when you feel like everything’s falling apart

The world is wonderful and beautiful, but that can be hard to see when a crisis punctures your perception of it.

When we’re in crisis, we often shut down and repress or blow up and stress.  Neither helps us get back to our goal of feeling good again.  From someone who’s felt her life was in shambles more than a tempered glass windshield after a hail storm, many things that feel like the end of the world are actually components of a new normal.

1.  Cut out the what-ifs:  My brain loves what-if statements.  “What if I’d done this instead?” “What if I hadn’t said that?” “What if I hadn’t thought like that before?”  Giving your mind infinite imaginary scenarios is letting it play alone in the playground of anxiety.  When you’re in distress, you want your mind babysat.  You need to keep track of what it’s doing, so you can keep yourself focused and correct any misconceptions later.  And, when you play what-if games, you’re not dealing with reality anymore.

2.  Hold your horses:  Take a minute and breathe.  It’s like trying to eat chips and salsa while you’re riding a bike: each needs its own time to complete, and you can’t do both at once (either you’ll spill your salsa or fall off your bike which leaves you hungry and hurt).  Poor analogies aside, you need to deal with one thing at a time: the crisis and life.  When you’re feeling like things are falling apart, this is something that probably needs attention, because it’s affecting how you feel.  And how you feel affects basically every other part of your life.  Stop what you’re doing for five minutes and think about what’s wrong.

3.  Don’t expect to solve your problem in those five minutes:  The only problems that get solved in five minutes are the ones you find the Quizlet answers to from the semester before.  You need to dedicate more than a Starbucks order waiting time’s worth of time to fix what’s wrong with how you’re feeling.  Give yourself time to process what’s going on, analyze how you can solve it, and enact your solution.  This can be really helpful, because a lot of the times these crises come with a lot of anxiety, and giving yourself just a couple minutes to make your move is an unnecessarily stressful deadline to put on yourself.

4.  Don’t feel like you need a solution right now:  Going along with the part about anxiety, don’t come up with unrealistic deadlines and expectations for yourself.  You’re already having a hard enough time, so giving yourself a little bit of leeway and letting yourself process the situation before acting takes some of the pressure off.

5.  Understand that everyone feels like this at some point:  It’s isolating when you feel like you’re the only one going through an experience, but you being solo is rarely the case.  Even just that thought, that someone else has faced a problem like yours and persisted can bring you solace.  There’re people you can talk to who want to help and listen, and your only obstacle is finding those people.



Why you should celebrate rejection

Let’s be genuine: everyone’s going to face rejection at some point, and it’s painful.  You feel like they weren’t able to see everything you could add, or you were dismissed too easily.

I’ve been there many a time, and it’s difficult to realize that what you want doesn’t necessarily want you back, whether it’s a job, a friend, or a school.  We come up with these scenarios in our heads that if we had only got this one thing, then we’d be so much happier/more successful/wealthier/healthier/less stressed/the list is infinite.

Rejection is hard, because we think that what we want is automatically what’s best for us.  But, what if it’s not?  What if we can do better?

Pretend you want this job, and you think it’s the best option for you.  And you try so much to get this job, but you get rejected in the last round of interviews.

In a way, it’s actually a positive thing, because the job probably just wasn’t right for you.  Perhaps there was something that person saw that might’ve inhibited you from excelling.  When we face rejection, in a way, we should celebrate.  That person knows what they expect from you better than you might, so that rejection really saves us a lot of frustration later when we’re in a situation we’re not right for.  Maybe you just weren’t right for the position–and that’s no one’s fault.  All it is is a bad match.

Rejection gets us down now, but it lets us soar later, because it makes us go out and find the opportunity we’re more suited for.

Think about it like this: you can only have one job at a time.  If you end up working on this job you hate, you’re wasting time not doing something you’d be really good at.  You need to open up that space to allow the good opportunities to take it.

I think that the key to getting what you want is accepting the fact that you don’t always know what you want.  You can’t predict every experience, so you have a limited point of view when choosing the “perfect option.”  I’ve had this happen a million times, where the thing I thought I wanted actually wasn’t right for me at all, and what I thought I didn’t want was the better match.

I’m going to be cliché and say that I think everything happens for a reason.  If something didn’t work out, it’s because you’re meant for something better.  You’re meant to be happier/more successful/wealthier/healthier/less stressed/the list is infinite than you’d be with that thing you thought you wanted.  When you begin to recognize rejection as one step closer to getting what you want, that’s when you’re unstoppable.




6 life lessons I learned from my toughest semester ever

Wow.  It’s been a while.  3 months and 12 days!  103 days!  I could go on with the conversions, but my point is that there hasn’t been a post on here in too long.

The gap in semi-interesting thoughts spawns from a semester that was perhaps the most difficult I’ve ever taken at Penn State.  Classes gave me trouble that I didn’t expect, and there were plenty of sleepless nights and less-than-wonderful days.  I hate taking breaks from blogging, because it’s one of my favorite things; alas, the things you do for an undergrad degree.

However, I learned so much from the past 15 weeks that I thought I could combine some of it into a post to celebrate the return of your favorite (and perhaps only) fake blonde, sunflower-loving, engineer/blogger girl.  So, here it goes: 6 life lessons I learned from my toughest semester ever.

1. You don’t have time for toxic friendships: I’ve talked before about how to spot and handle a toxic friendship, but this advice gives more perspective on that post.  When you have limited extra time to give to people, you want to give as much as possible to those who make you feel good about yourself.  And of course this isn’t to say that just because you don’t talk to all the good people in your life all the time that you’re subconsciously saying they aren’t worth your time.  This point focuses more on giving people who don’t add to your life less attention.  Especially when you’re stressed, you need really good people to fall back on and tell you things are ok.  That’s what’ll get you through.

2.  Rejection is inevitable, but it feels amplified when you’re stressed: When you’re working so hard for something and it doesn’t end up working out like you wanted, it’s easy to become more discouraged.  It can make you feel like you’re ill-equipped to handle what’s being thrown at you.  When you’re stressed, your judgement is clouded and you aren’t thinking like normal.  Moderate rejections and closed doors feel like crises, and it’s hard to shake off.  But, the key to getting through this is using perspective.  Look at your track record–you’ve prevailed over rejection before, and all that one closed door means is that you’re meant for a better opportunity.

3.  Sleep, meals and exercise should be scheduled like a class: You’re not a robot.  You have basic needs that help you function at your best.  It can be easy to cut out one of these components, because you might not see immediate consequences like you might if you miss an assignment or don’t study for an exam.  Consequences in your health take longer to appear than two class periods.  This is something I struggled with, because sleep and exercise are usually the first to go when I have too much work.  But, good health is what’s going to take you beyond those assignments, and poor health has lasting effects.  But, penciling in a bed time or a 30 minute exercise session and sticking to it could fix this–it’s something I’ll try (and probably write a post on) next semester. 🙂

4. Showing you’re a leader isn’t “how many leadership roles can you take on”:  Instead, it’s “how well can you do in the ones you take on.”  This goes back to the value of your time; you could spend your time being mediocre at a bunch of things, or you could be really impactful in fewer things.  This concept isn’t revolutionary–I’ve seen it be used everywhere, but it’s really relevant here, especially when you’re managing an operation.  It’s different from a class, because if you take on too much during a semester, you’ll just get lower grades (read: yourself).  But, in a leadership role, if you don’t have enough time to dedicate, you risk affecting an entire operation (read: other people).

5. If possible, don’t make major life decisions when you’re in the middle of a stressful situation: This ties into our talk about rejection with clouded judgement.  Try to wait until things have died down until you make a life-altering choice.  This way, you’re making sure that your stressors aren’t influencing your decision, because in many cases, the decision’s consequences last longer than the effects of the stressors.

6. Try your best: You might not ace every class.  You might not get an amazing performance review every time.  You might not get the internship you’ve been wanting forever.  But, you’re trying, and that’s where you should be proud of yourself. Sometimes, we set our expectations for ourselves higher than we can actually achieve. Even if you don’t reach your perfect-world goals, you’re still achieving so much.  When you try to improve yourself, whether it’s with school or exercise or anything else, you’ll create a better version of yourself than you had yesterday.



8 reasons why millennials are a great generation

They say that baby boomers are the selfish workaholics.  Generation Xers are the unfocused cynics.  And finally, millennials are the lazy snowflakes.

I’ve heard it so many times that I feel like I missed the memo on a script:

“Oh, you millennials… you’re lazy and want everything handed to you without working for it!”

But, what if I told you that the millennials aren’t actually that bad?  What if I told you that we’re one of the most socially and technologically innovative generations of all time–that we have this hyper self-awareness, or that we’re passionate about social reform?

Sure, we’re not perfect, and this isn’t a case to say we are.  As a generation, there’s some truth in what some people say about our patience or self-obsession.  I mean, come on, we sensationalized the selfie.  I’m not pretending there aren’t some bizarre things about us, but I do want to highlight our strengths as a generation. 🙂

1. We’re a highly educated generation: We know the value of a degree in today’s job market.  We get that a college degree is the new high school diploma, and although experience becomes more important in our careers later on, schooling is going to give us those initially job opportunities.

2. We want to enjoy our working environment:  We want to take advantage of the opportunities our employers offer us and benefit from them in more ways than just from a salary.  Sure, your work shouldn’t be your entire life, but it’s a decent part of it, so we want to make it as enjoyable as possible.  This translates into overall happier and more productive employees.

3. We don’t take bullying:  In the past, bullying was a character building experience.  However, as time progresses, the importance of bystander intervention has increased.  We’re one of the first generations to receive formally training in standing up to bullies.  We realize that it can lead to mental health problems in adults, and we want to prevent this type of trauma.

4. We’re catalysts for a mass social mental health reform: We’ll talk about the difficult topics, whether it’s depression, anxiety or suicide.  We know that there’re other people who feel like us, and we want to make people aware of both the issues and that they’re not alone.  We value the mental health days, and we know it’s as important as physical health.

5. We’re interconnected and collaborative:  We get that there’s a world around us.  We can use social media to talk to people in every country.  To us, the community isn’t just our home nation–it’s every nation, because we know we can learn something from everyone.

6. We know that things can fall apart:  9/11 and The Great Recession happened early enough in our lives that we realized that sometimes, we don’t have a safety net.  We know that there are some people who just want to hurt us.  We also understand that not everything is guaranteed, and many of us felt the real effects from the crises.

7. We’re proud of our creativity:  With the dawn of the internet, we’ve found a million ways to creatively express ourselves.  From Youtube videos to Deviantart, we’re not afraid to be break out iMovie or a paint brush and show the world what we feel.

8.  We’re that bridge generation with tech: We didn’t grow up with an iPad in our hands.  We grew up on VHS tapes and passing actual notes in class.  Many of us were teenagers by the time social media really hit, so we understood the pre-hyper-tech world better than generations after us will.  However, we also have a lot of experience with social media, so we can empathize a little bit with both generations.



*Lastly, I’d like to thank Jake Picnic for encouraging me to actually write this post.  As they also say, not all heroes wear capes.*