Marc Wilson, David Seymour, MP and should students harden up

Professor Marc Wilson is most upset by David Seymour’s suggestion that students who are under stress should harden up. Seymour was misquoted, but that is not so important for the purpose of today. What Wilson said in a rambling op-ed more about his gripes at student loans than student mental health was:

So, if David Seymour did advise students and, by extension anyone, experiencing the burdens of stress-related mental health issues to “harden up”, I think that’s reprehensible. There might have been a time when university was all about carousing the week long at taxpayers’ expense, and cramming at the end of the year, but that time has long gone.

One of the purposes of undergraduate study is to work out if you have chosen the right vocation. In the very beginning of the first year of medicine, new students are confronted with blood and dead bodies and all sorts of things that are not for the squeamish.

Another thing that is not for any prospective medical student is an inability to cope with stress. Doctors have lives in their hands and have to manage that calmly. New police officers are in the same position. They have to cope with a lot of death and misery. They need to learn quickly whether they can even hope to do so.

Doctors must cope with tremendous stress and still succeed. My father was a doctor. He was a changed man when he retired such was the burden of stress lifted from his shoulders. My brother and sister-in-law are also doctors as is a nephew. My late sister was a nurse. I have a nephew who is a police constable.

Some years ago I saw a program about the sports preferences of doctors. Those doctors that like extreme sports happened to work in emergency departments of hospitals. Those doctors who were somewhat overweight and rather disinterested in sport especially dangerous sports ended up as paediatricians.

I always remember an old flat mate of mine in Canberra whose father was a surgeon. He had no illusions about what was required of surgeons. They had to have tremendous arrogance and someone else to tell them what to do. If you are going to open up someone with a knife you must have tremendous self-confidence and ability to cope with stress. It is helpful if you actually know what you are doing as well but the key thing is a steady hand and cool head.

Many professions are high stress occupations. Anyone choosing to enter a high stress profession must find out soon whether they can cope with the demands of other people’s lives in their hands.

You do students no favours by sheltering him from the fact that they have chosen a higher stress occupation. If a medical student cannot cope with exam stress, you do worry about their ability to cope with someone’s life in their hands. That will be every day when they do their residency in emergency departments in their first year after leaving university. Better find out quickly. New lawyers work long hours too.

In my first year at university, I used to look at the first year medical students and worry that my life will be in some of their hands should I show up at a Tasmanian emergency room in about six years or so.

Personality traits including conscientiousness and emotional stability have important influences on occupational choice:

High Openness is strongly over-represented in creative, theoretical fields such as writing, the arts, and pure science, and under-represented in practical, detail-oriented fields such as business, police work, and manual labour. (Myers and McCaulley 1985, pp.246-8).

High Extraversion is over-represented in people-oriented fields like sales and business, and under-represented in fields like accounting and library work. (Myers and McCaulley 1985, pp.244-6). High Agreeableness is over-represented in “caring” fields like teaching, nursing, religion, and counselling, and under-represented in pure science, engineering, and law. (Briggs Myers and McCaulley 1985, pp.248-50). Individuals studying or working in fields atypical for their personality are also markedly more likely to drop out or switch occupations. (Briggs Myers and Myers 1993)…

Neuroticism indexes the propensity to experience negative emotions like anxiety, anger, and depression. Persons low in Neuroticism rarely experience such feelings, while persons high in Neuroticism experience them frequently. Neuroticism is also associated with hard-to-control cravings for food, drugs, and other forms of consumption with immediate benefits but long-run costs. (Costa and Widiger 1994; Costa and McCrae 1992)

Much of my diabetes management is about quite frankly hardening up. Do not give in to the temptation of sweet things. Moderate your diet; get some more exercise. It is about acquiring skills and inner strength you previously did not have but for the diagnosis of diabetes. I lost 18 kg as a result.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lindsay Mitchell
    Sep 21, 2015 @ 22:40:44

    I toyed with a letter to the editor but eventually felt little would be gained by airing my response to Marc Wilson. He (self-admittedly) bears a strong grudge about student loans and blames them for student stress (along with other factors). Imbuing students with a sense of helpless resentment and excuse for anxiety seems particularly unhelpful for an associate professor of psychology.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Jim Rose
      Sep 21, 2015 @ 22:49:21

      Universities that have exams are not the place for you unless you can manage a considerable amount of stress. I am not suggesting that stress is a pleasant thing nor the people have trouble coping with it should learn skills that allow them to get through.

      But at some point or another you must admit that some people are more able to cope with stressful situations than others and their occupational and educational choices should reflect. Why go on a hiding to nowhere.

      Like

      Reply

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