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Are You Drifting Into Decisions?

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 8, 2015

People are faced with choices and decisions every day — some are inconsequential and some are life-changing. Maybe you are trying to decide whether or not you should go to graduate school or whether or not you should take that job you were offered. Try to think for a moment about the last big decision you had to make. How did you approach that decision? Were you forced to actively choose or did you drift into that decision?

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, describes drift, her coined term for the decision you make by not deciding or by not taking responsibility for a decision. She aptly points out that drift can start very subtly and even though the word drift denotes a touch of laziness, drifting can actually be a ton of work. Rubin recounts her first experience with drift:

“I drifted into law school. I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, it seemed like a legitimate, useful way to spend a few years, it would keep my options open…I didn’t really think much about the decision.

Just taking one drifting step can you set you in a course that’s very hard to stop. In my case, I drifted into taking the LSAT (the law-school application test). “Why not, might as well, could come in handy, maybe I’ll be glad I did,” etc. This is a good example of the fact that drifting doesn’t always mean taking the easier course; it was a lot of trouble to prepare and take the LSAT, but it was still drift.”

Her experience might resonate with you. So, how can you tell if you are drifting? Rubin developed a quiz.

Check the statements that apply to you. More checks mean a higher chance of drift.

__ I find myself doing or getting something because the people around me are doing it or want it. (E.g., Everyone else in my lab is applying to medical school, so I think I should as well.)
__ I often have the peculiar feeling that I’m living someone else’s life.
__ I often think, “This situation can’t go on,” but then it does go on.
__ I spend a lot of time daydreaming about a completely different life as an escape from what I’m doing now.
__ I find myself getting very angry if someone challenges the values that I think I’m working toward. (E.g., working like crazy as a fifth-year postdoc, and furious if someone argues that money and security aren’t important.)
__ I complain about my situation, but I don’t spend much time trying to figure out ways to make it better. In fact…
__ I fantasize that some catastrophe or upheaval will blow up my situation. I’ll break my leg or get transferred to another city.
__ I find myself having disproportionate reactions. (For example, I have a friend who wasn’t admitting to herself that she wanted to be an actor, and she decided to give it a shot after she started crying when someone started talking about acting.)
__ I feel like other people or processes are moving events forward, and I’m just passively carried along.
__ There is something in my life about which I used to be passionate, but now I never allow myself to indulge in it. In fact, it makes me uncomfortable even thinking about it.
__ I’ve justified certain actions on my part by assuring myself, “I might as well,” “It can’t hurt,” “This might be useful,” “This will keep my options open,” “I can always decide later,” “I can always change my mind,” “Nothing is forever,” “How bad can it be?”


Being indecisive isn’t always negative. Sometimes hesitation allows you to gather more information in order to actually make a decision. However, it can also be really hard to admit that your indecisive phase has expired and you are now drifting. How then can you conquer drift and finally make that decision?

Well, it will be different for each person. It can help to start by firstly trying to let go of your perfectionistic tendencies. Perfectionism can lead to a fear of making the wrong decision. Maybe you take that job or enroll in that graduate program and you hate it? Remember, you are allowed to change your mind in the future and make a new decision which will better serve you. Part of one’s life and career can be trial and error. Give yourself the gift of that flexibility. Also, a big part of making decisions that are right for you means tuning into your emotions and trusting that you know yourself better than mentors/ advisors/ parents/partners who mean well.

Guide to Cover Letters

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 14, 2015
OITE Guide to Cover LettersYour cover letter is often the first document an employer sees. It serves not only as an introduction to your résumé or CV but to you and your writing style. Take advantage of this opportunity to expand upon your qualifications. A cover letter also allows you to: » Elaborate on important experiences/skills and relate them to job requirements. » Explain your experiences through anecdotes that work in conjunction with the information provided on your résumé/CV. » Highlight the fact that you took the time to tailor your job application. » Provide a sample of your written communication skills You should always send a cover letter with your résumé or CV.  The only exception would be if the position description explicitly states "no cover letters". How can you go about creating one? OITE has created a newly updated Guide to Cover Letters. This guide will help you create your own cover letter and is full of:
  • Recommendations and tips
  • Formatting requirements
  • Variety of sample cover letters, including an email inquiry sample
Remember, the OITE also has a Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae.  If you need additional guidance,  make an appointment to discuss your documents with an OITE career counselor.
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Maximizers – Doing Better but Feeling Worse

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 21, 2015

Career decision making is something that everyone struggles with at some point; in a recent blog post, we wrote about this struggle, which can lead to a tendency to drift into decisions. Turns out, there are two basic decision-making styles. Which one are you -- a maximizer or a satisficer? Maximizers tend to take their time and don’t feel comfortable choosing until they feel they have explored every option and have chosen the absolute best. Satisficers on the other hand prefer to be fast rather than thorough and they tend to choose the option that first meets all of their needs because it is good enough

The word “satisficer” comes from the two words “satisfy” and “suffice”. Most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle; however, people can be both a maximizer or a satisficer depending on what’s at stake. For example, maybe you are a maximizer about your apartment/home but a satisficer about the kind of car you drive. To determine your decision-making style, Barry Schwartz, Psychology Professor at Swarthmore, developed thirteen statements to help score your maximizing/satisficing tendencies. 

For each statement, rate yourself as 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). The higher your score, the higher your maximizing decision-making style. 

1. No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it’s only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities. 

2. When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to. 

3. When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch one program. 

4. I treat relationships like clothing; I expect to try on a lot before finding the perfect fit. 

5. I often find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend. 

6. Choosing a movie to watch is really difficult. I’m always struggling to pick the best one. 

7. When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love. 

8. I’m a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels, etc.). 

9. I find that writing is very difficult even if it’s just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things. 

10. I never settle for second best. 

11. Whenever I’m faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren’t present at the moment. 

12. I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life. 

13. No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself.

 A study published in Psychological Science in 2006 entitled, Doing Better but Feeling Worse found some differences between maximizers and satisficers.   Dr. Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice” followed 548 job-seeking college seniors at eleven schools. They found that maximizers landed better jobs and their starting salaries were about 20% higher than their satisficer peers. According to the authors though, “maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with the jobs they obtained and experienced more negative affect throughout the job-search process.” How can this be when the maximizers seemingly should have been happier than the satisficers? In a world with seemingly endless options, so many possibilities can actually paralyze decision-making. Researching every last option can be daunting and extremely stressful for an individual. Plus maximizers may always wonder if they made the best decision. How then can maximizers learn from the group of more content satisficers? If you are a maximizer making a decision, some strategies that might work include finding a way to narrow options down earlier in the process. You can do this by simply creating a list of your top three guidelines/priorities and adopting the first solution that satisfies them all. A big part of this decision-making is taking a leap of faith which can be challenging. For you maximizers out there, what has helped you make decisions?