A nuclear engineer who can’t work under pressure

This piece about students handling pressure is older, from early February, but I wasn’t blogging back then when I read it, and I am blogging now. It’s an interesting article that discusses a distinction between two genotypes, the effects of a gene on the brain’s ability to clear dopamine, and the effect of that ability on academic performance of various sorts. There’s no way to summarize the really interesting part in quotes, so go read the whole thing. I’ll settle for quoting the overall conclusion about competition:

Maybe the best thing about academic competitions is that they benefit both Warriors and Worriers equally. The Warriors get the thrilling intensity their minds are suited for, where they can shine. The Worriers get the gradual stress inoculation they need, so that one day they can do more than just tolerate stress — they can embrace it. And through the cycle of preparation, performance and recovery, what they learn becomes ingrained.

To this I’d only add that being able to perform under high pressure is itself an important skill, one that is needed in many fields. When the stuff hits the fan, you hope you’ve hired the person who isn’t going to freeze on you, who isn’t going to panic. You want to have hired the person who can keep their head when all around them are losing theirs. For some fields, this isn’t really an issue: you don’t need high pressure librarians, for instance. And no poet I’ve ever met needed to make a snap decision NOW.

Now, I fully admit that how a small child handles stress isn’t necessarily indicative of how the adult he or she will become will handle stress. I also recognize that there are many types of nuclear engineers, and some work solely in design. But still, this tickled my funny bone:

Just knowing he won’t be taking the tests in March has put Noah in a better frame of mind about school. “The pressure is off his shoulders now,” his mother said. When he doesn’t grasp a concept immediately, he can talk it through without any panic. “He looks forward to science class and math class again,” Muthler said. “He wants to be a chemical or nuclear engineer.”


  1. GEORGE LARSON says:

    After reading the article and the plight of little Noah I am not convinced this is about a boy with a hysterical genes. There are 3 ways to pass a test. 1. Know the material and show that you know it. 2. Cheat successfully. 3. Mess with the heads of the other test takers to push down the average till you look good. I suspect the third option is going on here, possibly not intentionally. If the administrators, teachers and parents are hysterical about high stakes testing how could a child avoid not catching some of the hysteria? Why does he believe, “They didn’t teach us everything that will be on the test”? Even if it is true why does he believe a catastrophe is eminent? Why is not knowing something on an exam a catastrophe? Why is he being frightened and who is doing the frightening? Who is doing this: his peers, his family, the school? Good teachers and parents don’t just teach they build confidence and trust. That may not be happening.
    Maybe he should fail a test and see the sky does not fall.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    When my dd switched from Montessori to “regular” school, she wasn’t used to taking tests with a whole class. She was somewhat apprehensive. So I rewarded her the day of a test (not the day she’d get the results) with a small treat. She got less nervous and actually started looking forward to test days.