Monthly Archives: January 2012

Success: Backfired

“This argument is like a gun. It can easily backfire!”

Being successful (especially despite all the odds aka nobody believing in you) is great. Rewarding. And ego-boosting, if you ask me. Who would not like that? /Raise your hands. I will ask a first-grader (or a sociologist?) to count them. “Hold your breath and count to ten, fall apart and start again…”/

The trouble comes the moment your work turns into success which subsequently turns into more work. The good news is that you are not a loser (yet), the bad news is that you are more likely to become one. Why? If you are expected to perform a greater number of tasks while keeping the amount of your time constant, you are eventually going to run out of opportunities to inflate the number of working hours (assuming nobody owns Hermineone´s time-turner – for that matter: in case you do, I would gladly buy it from you). Just to clarify: Breaking down under pressure counts as the ultimate fail(ure).

Example: I started a debate society at a university with no tradition of debating in English and succeeded in having not only enough members to have regular debates, but also in sending these people to international debate competitions. The boomerang effect now resulted in debaters requesting special “tournament-related” preparation sessions where they would get more practice in case-building (read: coming up with smart arguments) than at normal sessions. And really, how could a truly caring, dedicated coach say “no” to them…?

This leads me to an important observation: Whether you are launching a project, applying for a job or conducting research, it is just as crucial to have plan B in case of failure as a true plan A+ in case things go three times better than you would have dared to wish in your wildest dreams.

Note: A post on “how to say NO” coming up soon…

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Posted by on 30 January, 2012 in Entrepreneurship, Random


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Founding a Student Organisation: For Dummies

September 2011. Twenty timid freshers who have just arrived to Tilburg are sitting under a big oak tree, having lunch. Anne, their mentor, converses with a girl with a naughty smile who looks anything but shy. “So, what would you like to do in your free time? Would you like to join some student organisation?” – “I am not sure about the latter; but I would love to start a debate club for English-speaking students.” The mentor nods and a small doubting question mark reflects in her eyes. She has already heard so many ambitious remarks, yet has never seen any finished project.

Three weeks later, these girls meet again. “How´s your debate club going?” smiles Anne. She is expecting a yielding, hesitant answer along the lines of there not being enough time. However, she could not be more wrong. “Quite well, thanks. So far we have five members and meet weekly in the P-building. Wanna join us?”

Believe it or not, starting a student society is not as difficult as you would expect. I will now provide a formula for mathematicians, normal people can skip the following paragraph.

S = e* (r + t + p) + a + l /where the Success (S) of your undertaking is determined by your enthusiasm and perseverance (e) times your resources (r), time (t) and quality of your plans (p); plus a bit of good advertising (a) and luck (l)/

Firstly, if you want to be a leader of a new student organisation, you really need a thought-through plan of how exactly this would work /surprise, surprise, surprise!/. Who can become a member? How? Is there a fee for members? What kind of activities will you do? Are you going to apply for university funding? …

Secondly, you need to make sure you have the necessary resources for this ambitious project. Can you afford to dedicate your time (and possibly money) to this? Can you design, print and distribute flyers, posters, or approach individuals and talk them into joining? And perhaps even more importantly – can you persuade people not just to come once, but to come regularly? /It´s just like with dates: Getting the second one is more difficult than the first one./

Thirdly, you have to be sure that this is what you want. If you yourself do not care enough, how can you possibly expect others to care about your social group? Even if you are not successful within a month, you should not give up. Rome also wasn´t built in a day. Be enthusiastic, make yourself seen and your cause heard. Be prepared to answer tricky questions and always reply to the point and with a smile.

Lastly, you will need a pot of luck. Easier said than done, eh? Yes and no. It would be great if you secured support of some professors (or even the Dean of your faculty), but it is not necessary. It would help you a lot if you found more enthusiastic people who would help you with this enormous burden – just like it would be awesome if one of your friends had a degree in Advertising strategy, or something. But you can do without!

When you cannot copy posters, draw them! When you cannot persuade your classmates to join, try it in a different class. If you want people to listen to you, hand out cookies (no, seriously – at least they won´t talk during your presentation as they will be too busy eating). The possibilities are endless. /As a debate coach with 2+ year praxis, I should know./

So, dear Reader, there is really just one thing I want you to remember: Go and give it shot. There is no use sitting at home and crying over how lazy others are. Go and talk to people. Persuade. Go and do what you have always wanted to. The world is yours.

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Posted by on 16 January, 2012 in Education


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Viva la Exam Period


Exam periods are amazing. Not just because the PMSing (or, actually PESing) of your classmates ends /by definition/, but mainly because it is the fastest, cheapest and most reliable diet available. No excessive sporting, no excessive eating of stuff only rabbits (or vegetarians) consider edible, no tricks. Not persuaded? Read on!

If you are one of the people whose life story is something along the lines “I keep losing weight. Unfortunately, it keeps finding me.” you should definitely consider going through say, 10 days of tough exams (one per two days is ideal). The more difficult the subjects, the better.

How does the process work? There are very simple rules to follow: First, do get enough sleep. Even at a cost of not being able to memorize everything – it is likely that if you suffer from sleep deprivation, you will learn at a slower pace anyway. Second, do study. Meaning – do not procrastinate. If you want to burn some calories, you need to be thinking hard. Thirdly, drink a lot of water or green tea /no sugar!/ – something above 2 litres per day, preferably 3. Why? Check out this medical site. Finally, do not gorge yourself on sweets /rewards/ – maximum one treat per day. This is quite easy if you live alone (and are not fed by your mummy).

The expected weight loss ranges between 1 to 2.5 kilo per week (hey, don´t ask me to calculate the variance; I´m taking a Statistics exam tomorrow!). No pain. In case you are a control freak, it may be even more due to stress – which regrettably negates the positive effect of weigh loss on your health.


Honestly, given the number of overweight people in Europe, I would make harsh exam periods mandatory for everyone. Perhaps I have finally found the reason not to dread exams…



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Posted by on 10 January, 2012 in Education, Random


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The Moral Hazard of Cleverness

A pile of notes, three textbooks (500 pages each), infinity minus one Power Point presentations and Facebook discussions of exercises. In other words, four exams to go. And two students: dancing in a club, drinking beers and chewing. (No, not chewing. Popping!) What´s going on?

Unlike their 20-or-so classmates who have already given up studying and opted for coffeeshops instead, they are still planning on getting straight A´s (and not going mad in process). Interestingly, they are victims of a very specific type of moral hazard: Their own brightness. Somewhere deep inside they know that they do not have to study three weeks straight in advance for an exam; they know that 2 days somehow will be enough (empirically tested: yes, they are right). They postpone the unpleasant moment when they have to bury themselves in the books – and procrastinate in the meantime.

Sure. They could have gotten 100% on the exam. But why bother? If they do not study, they will pass anyway. If they study a little bit, it will suffice for an A. (Who cares about bonus points?)

I wonder. a) Is everyone (in theory) capable of learning that fast? If so, why do so many people fail their courses? b) Can this unique learning speed be taught? Trained? How? c) Does working hard during the semester play a role? How big? d) Does this moral hazard impede learning in the long term?

What an irony it is not these “straight-A´s-guys” who go down in history: The stupid ones do.

Any thoughts, dear readers? Any answers to my musings? Any strong feelings to vent? Tear my notes to pieces in disagreement or slap my back nodding, I shall be equally grateful for both.

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Posted by on 3 January, 2012 in Education


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