STREAM and "Talent"

Is "talent" really so important in STREAM subjects? If not, is there anything else?


Patrizia Favaron

12/29/20222 min read

I guess almost all of us STREAM people sooner or later was told "talent" is absolutely necessary, if you want to become a scientist or an engineer.

What is not as clear is what the word "talent" actually means. The only clear thing is that if someone takes a breadcrumb of their precious time to tell this to you, then you are likely to not have it.

I told it is very often difficult to say what "talent" means, but I'm not entirely true: in cases I've met, "being talented" is the same as "being as me, who judge you are talented or not". A measure of similarity, by someone imagining themselves to be the universal measure of talent. As far as I've seen, most people is then very happy not being considered having talent.

Nonetheless, in some fields being considered a talent, a genius, is still highly praised. A reason: it suggests a ranking, a hierarchy, and being "on top" is quite often considered a bonus. Quite often, but not universally! Some people (me included) has always had difficulties understanding where the fun is, in having a well defined place in a pecking order and spending an inordinate amount of time doing silly thing (including taking stupid risks) in the attempt to maintain or improve it. After all my relationships are "with" people, not "on" them.

My limit, possibly.

Yet the problem exists, and I often wonder whether being so keen of one own brilliance, or not, may affect student performances. My feeling is, it will tend to be: adversely. Many of the "non-talented" will tend to undervalue their ability and the claim of "no talent" will just act as a confirm. And many "talented" may just be overconfident more than really competent: being told they are "talented" will also act as a confirm, this time decreasing not their self-esteem, but involvement. Both attitudes are harmful, although for opposite reasons.

In my teaching activities (mostly one-to-one, as a tutor during theses and labs) I've found an effective line of conduct is to weed out the whole genius thing: everyone has their own specific talent, brilliance, and passion. I grant them trust. Unconditionally. And, guide them concentrating on the problem at stake, not on themselves.

In many cases (actually most of them) this approach worked well.

And, it was easy to apply: not because of some merit from me, just because of its objective ease. The one-to-one setting, with adult people, gets simpler to develop a relationship. I wonder what the result could have had been, in case of a large class or younger people. But I have no data nor anecdotes to share.