Sweeter carrot and sharper stick

I believe it! For mechanical activities, the concept of the rewards and bonus would work better. But when we are talking about the rudimentary cognitive activities the reward idea would not work at all.
Our current system in universities are mostly based on the reward-punishment methodology. A number of advisors, even here, are asking their students to stay in their office, they might check on them three times a day to see where they are there or not. I would say it does not work at all, and they kind of know it. Even some of them force their students by saying that “you know who is the boss here, and if the boss asks you to do something you got to do it”. Nope that is not the way! Having a conversation with Dean DePauw, we might call some of these actions as academic bullying, but that is what we are faced with in many places. I mean a person who chooses to go for a higher level program, definitely knows that he or she should be a hard-worker, but people who are in charge they have this conspiracy theory that the student is running away from working and they have to push them harder with ridiculous rules and silly works, or set up some reward-punishment program.
My experience tells me that the intrinsic motivations are far more important than extrinsic ones, I mean as the financial issues are solved by the first step; the rest is purely about intrinsic motivations. I wish we could tell folks in academia that the world has been changed, the carrot and stick game does not work anymore. They are trying to box students in, not letting them to fly over new areas and find the real things. Take a look on the greatest achievement people came up with before, In how many of them money, bonus, rewards or punishment were the main reasons for such achievements? Probably none.
I personally agree that Autonomy, mastery and purpose are the hidden golden keys for individual better performance. I had so many related experiences with these three golden keys. I know people who came with absolute great ideas when they were chilling on their vacation doing whatever they wanted to do (Autonomy). I know people who dance for themselves without getting paid, and their videos are being watched like crazy on YouTube (Mastery). How many doctors we know that they work voluntarily just because they feel they have the responsibility for the human being wellness, and many neat medical techniques are just developed right there while helping other people (Purposes).
I wish we could let people working in all the university disciplines know that the old-fashioned educational methods of sweeter carrot and sharper stick do not work anymore. But, this question remains for me and it is: How can we get people to change their rusty mindsets?


12 thoughts on “Sweeter carrot and sharper stick

  1. Interesting perspective! It makes me feel lucky that as a graduate student I do not feel this way. My advisors never micromanage and I am free to learn, fail, ask questions, and investigate topics that interest me – on my own time. I feel that I am an independent and highly motivated learner + applier and this mentoring style allows me to flourish. If I found myself in the position as you have described, I believe my motivation would be curbed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Bailey. you mentioned a good point that the doing the independent work by a highly motivated person would lead him/her to flourish. Thanks


  2. Thanks for the post. It reminded me of my professor who, when i asked him about going on vacation, told me “sure. I figure you want to graduate someday so you’ll get the work done.” I appreciated that, went on vacation, and got the work done. I do think that graudate students may deserve more credit than their professors give them and hence deserve aome more autonomy but all that is based on trust and past results. I would be totally okay with my adviser getting on my case and checking on me if i hadnt been delivering as promised. We often want autonomy without resppnsibility and that is never going to fly. I heard someone tell me that they would give their son more freedom when he thought he would use it wisely and there’s also something to be said for that mentality. I also disagree with your comment about money as motivation because a ton of things have been invented ans discovered becasue of monetary reward but you’re right that intrinsic motivation has also inspired people to do great things. I think it takes all kinds of motivation to really get the most out of ourselves and others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tyler for your comment. Trust is a key factor in adviser and student relationship, and I would say they both ( adviser and the student ) should try to build that environment. Thank you


  3. Thank you for this post. Interestingly, your post leads me think about the topic “Sweeter carrot and sharper stick” through more an wide frame. The idea of academic bullying can be defined differently by cultural backgrounds/nationalities or more. But I believe there is always some kind of academic bullying over different cultures. I guess that might be because of education system we have or it also could be due to one’s personality/ethics too. Another thought I’ve got through reading your post is how university evaluate their faculty. As a member of faculty, we probably will influenced by how university evaluate our performance, when we decide how we evaluate the performance of student.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree, the way that universities try to evaluate their teachers should be revised to some extent. And the way we are judging students should be done differently. Thanks.


  4. This was a great post! I really enjoyed reading it! From my own experiences in grad school, I definitely do much better when I am in an environment where I can explore things that are interesting and important to me, and I can do that at my own pace.

    And to Hana’s point, it gets pretty complicated when you consider how faculty are evaluated by universities and how that might affect how faculty interact with graduate and undergraduate students. I have witnessed people talking about changing things while at the same time giving you advice on how to conform to those very same things. It can be exhausting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for post. and I agree with you, Also, I believe There is no way that you can explore things without having the permission to work independently. I mean having a specific frame is necessary but at the same time be independent to explore explore new areas. Thanks

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interestingly, I have gone through exactly the same experience you describe in your post. Being asked to physically stay in our lab, having no control on the research direction ( due to funding restrictions) , and being pushed in the hard-working narrative when the problem was definite not the amount of time spent on the project.
    I appreciate your this post in the sense that it provides a critical view of the graduate studies. While sometimes the topics in our class seem to focus on teaching experience in class, it is important to remember that learning is not limited to classes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Arash, and you bring a good point that the learning is not limited to the class, and I agree with that completely. Thanks


  6. Good afternoon Ali,

    YES, really enjoyed reading your blog for reasons I’m sure I don’t have to explain. Academic bullying has taken on larger than life proportions in graduate studies primarily because “if I had to go through this then so do you” mentality. However, it takes open and frank discussions to plant the seeds of change and thankfully we are allowed freedom of speech (thus far) to have those discussions. Part of the power dynamic at play loses it’s control when horror stories are verbalized, because, some professors are completely oblivious to it. Loved it!


    Cheers, Lehi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Lehi. if we want to remove all the negative mentalities (which takes a lot to do), I agree, the constructive communications, and frank discussions should be made for the change, but a lot of people would not like that idea, and I guess we both know why. Anyways, thanks again for bringing up such great points.



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