November 15, 2016

The Most Important Course I Never Took: Learning Emotional Quotient

Posted by AGU Career Center

It has been a while since I was in school, as a student or as a professor, but I still remember the anxiety and excitement of new people and surroundings. In many ways, heading off to college was a rite of passage. My brothers and sisters had all gone before me, but then again, none of them successfully completed the requirements for a degree. If I made it, I would be the first to graduate in my family. As you probably already guessed, I did make it through, but my journey wasn’t without a few bumps, bruises, and lessons along the way.

If I had it to do again, I would want someone to give me the “Talk” about networking, emotional quotient (EQ), and making friends. Instead, I got “Talks” about everything else: study habits, managing my budget, doing well in my courses, and other things. To make it worse, I heard cautionary tales of students that joined fraternities and other forms of debauchery. As far as I know, these stories are no more real than the ones first published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812. I will say that leaving a breadcrumb train, real or electronic, can be useful in finding your dorm room after dark.

I don’t want to diminish the importance of a sound technical education based on science and theory, but you should know that once you graduate, EQ will be more important for your professional success than IQ. Malcom Gladwell wrote a popular psychology book about this phenomenon a few years ago that you can read between writing reports and researching other academic topics, if you have the time.

Many of my career counseling friends would even go so far as to say, “It is your technical skills that will get you the job. It is your low EQ that will lose the job for you.”

EQ encompasses a lot, but on a very practical level, it is a measure of your ability to successfully interact with others. Can you work on a team? Can you make friends? Can you moderate your emotions to react in socially appropriate ways when other people are losing their stuff? For an introvert like me, it is also a measure of how well you can override your instinct to run away from social events involving small talk and finger food. It may feel like you are dying, but you are (probably) not.

Like the other topics that you will tackle this year, start at the beginning. Make a couple of new friends, and if it makes it easier, approach honing your EQ skills from a technical perspective; you can think of your new friends as experimental subjects. Observe these new friends over time to learn their triggers. What makes them happy? What makes them sad? Try to manipulate them into a state of euphoria. Things that make them happy may also make others happy. In general, this is the way humans work. As you advance in your studies of the human condition, try to also be aware of your emotions and expressions. Practice moderating your mindset and energy levels. Positivity coupled with moderate to high energy will be more attractive to others than being a negative energy suck … just saying.

For advanced studies, branch out and interact with other people. Make friends and acquaintances throughout your college years. These are the folks who will serve as the foundation for your future professional network. And just a note of caution, the Earth and space sciences sound bigger than they are. The community of practice is really quite small; you are likely to be stuck with these people for the rest of your life. Try to play nice.

David Harwell is the Assistant Director of Talent Pool at the American Geophysical Union.