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2018

Last month, Macmillan Learning welcomed to our New York office economist and author Betsey Stevenson to discuss choices, communication, and her time working as the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2010 to 2011.

 

When I first saw the announcement for Betsey’s talk, “The Power of Communication,” I'll admit I was a little skeptical. What does an economist have to say about the power of communication? Yet as I listened, I found not only that she had a lot to say on choices and communication, but that her words of advice could apply to anyone trying to make solid decisions and get ahead in their respective fields, even if those fields had nothing to do with numbers and data.

 

 

 

Betsey began her talk by highlighting the three key principles she has followed throughout her life and career: 1) have no regrets, 2) communicate, and 3) do your best. These may sound simple and easy enough to follow, but as Betsey could attest to, they're anything but, and will be challenged repeatedly throughout one's career.

 

In Betsey’s case, the first principle, have no regrets, was tested when she had to choose between her ongoing career in academia and accepting an offer from former President Obama to be an economic adviser for the Department of Labor.

 

Thinking like a true economist, she realized that the key to making a choice without regret is to know and understand the costs and weigh them against the benefits. Life is full of risks that we take every day without thinking about it (getting into a car, for example), but it's when the risks are unfamiliar that the choices become harder. As Betsey said, the key to making a choice is to "Make the best decision I can with the information I have at the time." By doing that and carefully weighing the risks, you can make a choice you're comfortable with. Then, regardless of what happens, if you start to feel regret you can remind yourself that you made the best choice you could at the time. Sure, it's not as easy as it sounds, but it's the best way to move forward confidently with your choice, and in Betsey's case, it worked out in her favor, with her enjoying her time as a chief economist and later finding a teaching position at the University of Michigan.

 

After jokingly acknowledging that economists aren’t always the best communicators, Betsey then shared an important tip for communicating: "don't think about you, think about your listener. What do they want, think, and need?" Even if you aren’t the best speaker, if you can think of your audience, emphasize with them, and get in their head, you can communicate effectively. For example, if you start to explain something to someone and they say, “I’ve got it,” stop explaining. They’re telling you that they already understand, and you can both move on in your discussion.

 

Her last bit of advice was to do your best. When making choices and communicating, it’s important to think about the information you have, weigh the costs and benefits, make the best choice you can, and then be adaptable to whatever changes you’ve chosen to make. “Your brain is out to get you,” she said, with psychological traps like procrastination, which you can beat with lists, tiny tasks, tiny rewards, and acknowledging progress being made. Other psychological traps to avoid include overconfidence, assumptions, and not taking the time to process information.

 

As an economist, author, and speaker, Betsey Stevenson gave us some excellent advice during her Macmillan visit, and hopefully this advice can be useful to you throughout your career, and with your students.

 

For more from Betsey, check out her talk, “Making Economics More Inclusive," or her panel on “Economic Empowerment."

In this day where issues like fake news, civility, and civic engagement are constant topics of discussion and debate, journalism’s role as the “fourth pillar of democracy” is growing in importance, with technology propelling the industry into the future of communication.

 

Communication studies remains one of the most popular college majors, with journalism falling under the same umbrella. Even for those not studying it, student journalism brings value to any educational institution because it instills values of discipline, dedication, critical thinking, and effort. Those who actively participate gain a transferable skill set that will lead them to success in any career path. And for students who choose simply to read the student newspaper, they become informed citizens on current events and the community around them.

 

Real Work Environment. The only scholastic club or organization that truly simulates a real work environment is a student newspaper. Student writers develop skills in analytical and critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, multitasking, and a sensitivity to deadlines -- the same attributes that are typically highly sought after by employers.

 

Participants practice managing their responsibilities, leading and working in a team, and even desensitizing themselves to and growing from criticism. Through their different roles in the student newspaper, students boost their résumés and portfolios through writing, photo, and video samples, as well as layout and design skills, editing techniques, public relations, and even social media strategies. Students can explore these different areas of journalism to find their niche and test out the field in a safe environment, all before they even graduate.

 

For those who work on the student paper but don’t ultimately pursue a career in journalism, these experiences are not lost in the future. In addition to the previously mentioned skills, the importance of clarity and economy of words will transfer into any field. Effective communication is invaluable in relationships as well as professional life.

 

Communication Etiquette. Student journalists learn the values of fact checking, correcting their errors, exercising transparency in their writing, questioning opposing viewpoints, and perhaps most importantly, carefully considering the impact of their words. These same principles translate into students’ lives in both the real and virtual world, providing a guideline for ethical communication online and in person. Students are forced to take ownership of their words, actions, and decisions no matter the outcome.

 

Learn from Successes and Failures. Faculty advisors tend to take on a laissez faire approach, giving student journalists the liberty to make their own decisions. Students are treated as professionals as they are held accountable for any errors in judgment, reporting, or criticism and are forced to regularly make decisions regarding ethics, privacy, and the truth. It hurts to get a disappointing grade on an assignment, but it’s far more embarrassing to experience negative public feedback on a misprint, glaring typo, or accidental empty space.


Synthesis of Classroom Learning. Student newspapers provide a practical synthesis between classroom learning and real world experience. In conjunction with their classes, students have the opportunity to apply what they’re learning in the moment.

                        

 

Free Speech. Independent reporting arms citizens with information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge on the local, national, and international level. Although vital to good journalism, independent reporting is endangered today due to the prevalence of aggregates and online news, coupled with the decline of robust print reporting. This watchdog principle that is integral to democracy can be reinforced in student journalism by teaching students the need to inform the public through reporting that is objective, truthful, contextual, and readable.

 

Building Professional Relationships. Student journalists are forced out of their comfort zones and into the real world to report stories. They learn to effectively interview sources, report clearly and accurately, and remain professional throughout the process. In addition to the confidence that journalism builds, students can also develop a network from the sources they meet, peers they work with, and faculty members who guide them.

 

Students overwhelmingly describe the experiences they gained from working on their schools’ newspapers as positive. While student journalism requires dedication, it is extremely rewarding -- often in the form of a job after college. It can also be fun for students to befriend like-minded people, and empowering to get their work published and see the influence they have on their universities.