Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Myers-BriggsThe first week of the supervisory management course was all about getting to know who you are and who the people you manage are. The course I am taking decided to go the classic route: Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs is a personality test that classifies your personality using 4 descriptors. Also, did you know that Myers and Briggs were a mother-daughter science pair? Pretty cool. Anyway, in the test, you answer some questions, and it uses your answers to give you some feedback about your personality. You can find an online version here. Other versions cost money, and are more detailed, but they are pretty similar. I should say that almost everyone I talked to who took a management or leadership course started by taking some sort of personality test. It didn’t really matter on the exact type of test, but they all basically had the same result – getting to know yourself.

After you take the test, you get put into personality type categories. For the Myers-Briggs, the four categories are:

Extravert (E) or Introvert (I)

Sensing (S) of Intuition (N)

Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)

Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

Some of the names are unfortunate because there are good/bad connotations, but you have to understand that each one is a measure of how you intrinsically deal with the world in a variety of ways. Also, the personality type you get depends on where you are and what you are doing. For instance, my personal personality type was different when I was at home with my kids than when I was at work.

Extravert (E) or Introvert (I): This is about energy. How do you draw energy and what spends your energy. If you are an extrovert, you get energized by hanging out with people and talking. Being alone is draining for an extravert.  If you are an introvert, hanging out with people is tiring and takes up energy, but being alone is revitalizing.

A fun exercise to do with your research group: Have them line up based on how extroverted or introverted they believe they are with extreme cases at the far ends. Working with the 2-3 people nearest them have them answer this question: How do you feel and act if you have to go to a party for work? Do you want to go to the party? When you are there, who do you talk to? The answers are quite interesting. You will find the introverts will not want to go to the party and will only talk to people they already know. Extraverts will be fine or excited about going to the party and will talk to all new people.

Things to think about when managing or talking to extraverts: They think out loud and may say things off the cuff but not truly believe them. They may seem more into or excited about things than they really are. They often hate silence in conversations.

Things to think about when managing or talking to introverts: They are more likely to think before speaking and may need time to think about the ideas before they answer. They may seem unexcited or less attached to ideas than they actually are. They are comfortable with silence in conversations.

Sensing (S) of Intuition (N): This is about information gathering. How do you notice or take in information about the world around you. Do you notice the forest (broad, general) or the trees (individual components, close). If you are a sensing, you are interested in the details and have a high attention to detail – you are interested in the trees.  If you are an intuition, you are interested in generalizations and larger concepts – you are interested in the forest.

A fun exercise to do with your research group: Have them line up based on how sensing (detailed) or intuition (general) they believe they are with extreme cases at the far ends. Working with the 2-3 people nearest them have them answer this question: Give directions from the room you are in to your house. Sensing people will give very specific directions using cardinal directions, street names, and landmarks. They will likely even give directions about how to get to the street from the room. Extreme intuition people will give very general directions – maybe point toward their house and say, “that way.” In my research group, people were pretty in the middle, which I think is a good thing for experimental scientists. They are focused enough to see the details to follow the directions correctly, but are interested in the big picture about what the experiment is saying.

Things to think about when managing or talking to sensing: They will need a lot of details. Giving general directions about what you want them to do, will not work. If you are an extreme intuition person, you will have to try to be a bit more specific when talking to students who are sensing.

Things to think about when managing or talking to intuition: They will be fine with less detail, and will think you are micromanaging, if you give them too much detail. On the other hand, they might not be able to determine the details and might not have an attention for detail needed for complex experiments or analysis.

Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): This is about decision making. What do you consider most when making a decision? Do you rely on facts? Or are people’s feelings more important to you? If you are thinking, you make decisions based on the facts and that is more important than people’s feelings. You will be a hard-ass, if you need to be. If you are feeling, the most important thing to you is how others feel. The facts are not as important as making others happy.

A fun exercise to do with your research group: Have them line up based on how thinking or feeling they believe they are with extreme cases at the far ends. Working with the 2-3 people nearest them have them answer this question: How do you pick a gift for someone else? Thinking people will try to pick out something useful and extreme thinkings will just opt for money – the ultimate useful gift. Feeling people will not just want to buy a personal gift, they will often want to make the gift for the person. As a follow-up question, ask them: Do you want to be present when the person opens the gift?

Things to think about when managing or talking to thinking: They will value and be convinced by facts over emotions of feelings. Use data and facts for examples and to convince them of your decisions.

Things to think about when managing or talking to feeling: They will care more about the personal feelings of people. You can make emotional pleas with them to convince them of your decisions.

Judging (J) or Perceiving (P): This is about how you organize yourself and your work. Judging people will pursue things linearly. They make lists, and they have a straight-forward approach to solving a problem. They don’t necessarily have clean desks, but the mess is organized. They prefer deadlines and might self-impose deadlines. Perceiving people work sporadically seemingly on disparate parts of the project. They can seem disorganized and often work best under pressure of a deadline.

There is no fun exercise on this. Most people think that the judging way of doing things, with making lists and approaching problems linearly, is the best way to go about getting work done. Because of that, most people will think they are judging, even if they aren’t.

Things to think about when managing or talking to judging: They will work best when given direct instructions in a linear fashion. It is best to give them deadlines and specific straightforward instructions.

Things to think about when managing or talking to perceiving: They will work best on a variety of things within a bigger project at the same time. They will need help keeping track of what they have already done, and making sure they don’t lose track of the tasks needed to be done. Many people are naturally perceiving, but try to force themselves to be judging. By understanding their true nature, you will at least understand their natural tendency, even if you both agree that a linear fashion is the best way – it might not be possible for a perceiving person to perform their tasks linearly.


I did these activities with my lab and I asked them to take the Myers-Briggs. They thought it was fun and interesting. It was a great way to get to know their peers and how they experience the world. It was super fun! I have a WomanOfScience friend who says she has always done this with her research group, and it really helps her to understand where her students are coming from and how they make decisions and can be convinced and persuaded of what is best for them (this is important when giving feedback – more on that in future posts!).

What do you think? Do you do this? Do you already know how your students are? Post or comment here. To get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

Comments on: "Management: Know Thyself and Themselves" (3)

  1. merryncole said:

    I think this is a great way to approach matching a new researcher to a research group. In the two graduate programs I’ve experienced, I’ve interacted with a lot of potential research advisers. I am fortunate to have one this time that I really click with. In both programs I’ve seen people who have amazing research, but our personalities just don’t mesh. I’ve also seen people who i get along with great, but our research interests just don’t overlap. I think that in a lot of cases the personality fit between a student and research/graduate adviser is not considered as much as it should be. It’s not necessarily the most important thing, but if you and your adviser have completely different personalities and don’t understand the other person’s style, it can create an unpleasant situation where productive research doesn’t happen.

  2. Interesting. I’ve heard critiques of the Myers-Briggs test but using it like this, to start conversations, sounds useful.

    I totally agree with Merryncole, the personality fit between student + advisor is quite important.

  3. […] is actually pretty diverse, and that is in the mixture of introverts and extroverts. I have discussed before that I have had people take the Myers-Briggs test as a way to understand their own selves better. […]

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