On Thursday I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. The University runs a free development program for Research students in association with the Careers Service office. You can go to these sessions called “Time Management” and “Learning to Speed Read” and “Managing the Supervisory Relationship,” things like that. I tend to go to the careers ones (“Developing Your CV”; “The Interview Process”) because I feel like my subject is so specialized, I should really get a handle now on what industries I should be considering if I’m not going to stay in academia forever. I’m all about the free careers advice.
But anyway, this particular session was for taking a personality test and then learning how to interpret the results to tell you things like your most effective working style, potential obstacles, and so forth. It was a little bit like having a detailed horoscope reading, except with actual science behind it. But there was that same sense of amusement when something about the test results really seemed to click.
The Myers-Briggs test has sixteen possible outcomes based on four pairs of diametrically opposite characteristics. Imaine four lines stacked on top of each other, each with two opposite characteristics on each end of the spectrum. The test determines how far along the scale you fall for each pair of traits. (The workshop had diagrams. You’ll just have to imagine them.) The pairs of traits are: Extroversion/Interoversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Percieving. Obviously everybody does all of those things, but everybody also has preferences, what feels the most natural for solving a problem or approaching a given situation.
The labels aren’t fabulous as well, because all those words are imprecise and they can have so many meanings. The session leader explained what they’re all supposed to mean for the context of the MBTI test. Basically what happens is, you figure out your score for all the scales and then you get your four-letter combination that tells you which of the sixteen possible outcomes you are. Then we all got a little sheet explaining how our personality type relates to career development.
I came out as introverted, intuitive, feeling and percieving. (All on the right-hand side…I must be left-brained.) The MBTI book has a little blurb that briefly outlines the major characteristics associated with each personality type: INFPs are “Idealistic, loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened.”
Luckily we got some other materials to supplement that somewhat cryptic description. One of the sheets had a list of the most attractive occupations for INFPs. Among the top ten were research assistant, social scientist, and writer or editor! So basically I’m right where I should be. Apparently we also “recognize and respect the emotional and psychological needs of others, even when others may not have recognized or expressed their own needs.” So I would make a really good butler, anticipating everyone’s needs before they even know they have them?
I also laughed when I saw, on a sheet titled “Effects of Preferences in Work Situations,” that introverted people “when concentrating on a task, find phone calls intrusive.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve snapped at people who have walked up to talk to me and broken my concentration. “But it’s only a quick question!” they’ll whimper. “It doesn’t matter, you’ve broken my momentum!” Then I mentally hit them over the head with something.
That sort of relates to another trait of us INFPs–apparently we are extremely easygoing until something contravenes our inner values, which causes us to become as intractable as mountains. “The resulting expression of value judgements can emerge with an intensity that is surprising to others.”
I did find one thing a little odd–my strongest score was on the Percieving scale, everything else was fairly neutral, meaning I could really go either way on those traits. The defining characteristic of Perceptive people is, basically, that they like to leave everything for the last minute and not plan anything in advance. We don’t like too much structure. (Why this particular trait would be named “Perceptive” rather than, say, “Flexible,” I really don’t know.) But I was one of the few people in the room who actually knew what a Gantt chart is, and actually use one in planning out my research. I am extremely organized.
But then I realized that I hardly ever stick to my Gantt chart–it just kind of sits there, and then I’ll glance at it once in a while and say, “Would you look at that? That deadline passed three weeks ago!” Then I try to amend it in pencil, so it fits more realistically with what’s actually happened since I originally planned the Gantt chart. So now it looks a little like a gimpy Jackson Pollack painting. I guess Perceptive people can make timelines and lists and things, we just don’t necessarily use them in the traditional manner, you might say.
So, there you have it: I was born to be a writing anthropologist. This is very satisfying, though it does say on one of my sheets of paper that a potential obstacle for INFPs is that we may wait for the perfect job to fall in our laps. I feel like my perfect job has fallen in my lap, though I’m already nervous about what I’ll be doing when this “job” ends and I have to find a new one.