Overcoming perfectionism by embracing imperfection and learning to ask for help

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Overcoming perfectionism by embracing imperfection and learning to ask for help

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The ambition for perfection may be one of the effective drivers for high-achieving students. Perfectionism, however, can be paralyzing for students, especially when embarking on a major research project. The issue is not going away––according to a study published in 2018, perfectionism has increased significantly among young adults since 1980①. On the other hand, while perfectionism tends to have a purely negative connotation, research suggests that there is in fact a healthy way to be a perfectionist②. While one style of perfectionism leads to self-doubt and obsessing over past failures––what psychologists term maladaptive perfectionism––adaptive perfectionists set high standards for themselves without dwelling on the past. It is important to reframe maladaptive perfectionism to avoid being paralyzed and overwhelmed. Pioneer scholars share that their research experience pushed them to overcome maladaptive perfectionism while continuing to hold themselves to high standards. By embracing the “imperfection” of rough drafts and learning to seek help without embarrassment, these Pioneer scholars grew as learners and researchers. 

Yifei (mechanical engineering, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from China, quickly learned that the perfectionism that had allowed her to excel in high school classes was actually a hindrance to conducting authentic research.   “I used to be a perfectionist, because I found out that achieving perfection is the best way to achieve good grades in traditional studies as a high school student. But after I started to develop my paper, the first struggle I encountered was the brand new process of using the Oberlin Library and using the Pioneer Writing Center to check my essay. I struggled with that because I found out that there are so many books and so many resources that I could reach. According to my former habit, I would just read all of them to achieve perfection, but that is impossible… I struggled, and I found out that I was uncomfortable with not being perfect. From all those papers, I needed to select the ones I could handle and that were useful for me,” she explains. For Yifei, overcoming her perfectionism meant being adaptable and realistic about what she needed to succeed. 

Charlie (biochemistry, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, found themself paralyzed by maladaptive perfectionism while writing their rough draft. “I needed to work a lot on time management. Although I was able to manage throughout most of the program, when I was writing the rough draft I found that I was so intimidated by writing it that I couldn’t get myself to write it in time,” they explain. Charlie worked through this challenge with their professor, who gave them feedback and encouragement throughout the process. Their advice to current Pioneer scholars?  “Just write. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s a rough draft.” 

For Yining (literature, 2018; anthropology, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from China, the key to approaching perfectionism in an adaptive way is knowing that he can’t do it alone.  “There are benefits to handing in an imperfect draft. Although I may be a perfectionist, I know I can’t achieve a perfect paper alone. I might need advice from the Writing Center with regard to how I can improve my writing, clarify my arguments, and strengthen my thesis. In order to be a perfectionist, you have to accept that your drafts are imperfect, and you have to improve them by consulting others’ opinions.” A willingness to make mistakes and accept constructive criticism from peers and mentors is crucial in research. 

Pioneer’s structure forces students to let go of maladaptive perfectionism. Small cohorts, one-on-one mentoring, and frequent draft submissions mean that students cannot hide in a classroom. More importantly, Pioneer scholars are supported in becoming adaptive perfectionists, holding themselves to high standards while feeling comfortable asking for feedback and advice. Pioneer’s Writing Center provides personalized feedback on drafts, as do faculty mentors and peers. By embracing the imperfection of rough drafts, Pioneer scholars find the support they need to improve and move forward.

① https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/01/perfectionism-young-people

② https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Impact-of-Perfectionism-on-Students-The-Good-the-Bad-and-the-Indifferent.aspx

Dear educator friend,

In the critical process of preparing students to transition to college, you are key. The
ramifications of your guidance are far-reaching.

The Pioneer Research Program believes that it, too, has a role to play in preparing students of special potential and passion for learning. This is a role we trust you will appreciate knowing about. Our mission is to offer a deep and otherwise unavailable opportunity to exceptionally motivated young scholars who want to learn and research at the college level and to explore their potential for innovation.

What makes Pioneer a unique deep-dive learning experience is not just the mentorship of distinguished professors. It is the rigorous quality controls developed conjointly by Pioneer and Oberlin College. Professors (must) adhere to rubrics for

1) setting learning goals;

2) syllabus development;

3) oversight, feedback and evaluation, and

4) grading standardization.

This rigorous academic system is supported by thorough admission process and a high-minded ethics code. The combination gives students an exceptional learning experience that is brought to fruition in a college-level research paper documenting their findings.

You can follow this link Pioneer’s concrete academic system to learn more about the academic system. Academic quality control and academic oversight assure Pioneer’s focus is on learning and learners, and therefore all of our practices were built upon the following principles:

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Because of its high academic and ethical standards, the Pioneer program has earned the trust of college admissions departments and formed the basis for the ground-breaking collaboration with Oberlin College. Pioneer scholars get two college credits upon completing their Pioneer research.

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Pioneer has a rigorous admission process. Students who have genuine academic interests and are highly motivated are a good fit with Pioneer’s values. Pioneer’s founding board insisted that Pioneer commit to a professor-blind policy during the application process, ensuring that applicants have authentic field interest and correct priorities. Consequently, no information about professors is released before admission to the program. This policy is much appreciated and respected by universities. Professor-blind admission policy
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If you have additional questions, feel free to let us know how we can help you by emailing info@pioneeracademics.com or calling 855-572-8863.


Matthew Jaskol

Founder & Program Director