News - March 10, 2016

Highly gifted. Then what?

Carina Nieuwenweg

They get 10 out of 10 all the time and they are arrogant. Just two of the prejudices up for discussion in the Week of the highly gifted, from 11 to 19 March. The organization wants to make it known that highly gifted people don’t just have high IQs; many of them are also highly creative, sensitive and driven. Resource asked three students what being highly gifted means for them.

Photos Sven Menschel

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Sarina Versteeg, Master’s student of Aquaculture and marine resource management

‘I’ve known I was highly gifted since I was at primary school. I was an underachiever at school. When I ended up in hospital with joint pain, an alert doctor guess that the underlying cause of the problem wasn’t physical. He sent me for an IQ test. After that my parents and I had quite a job to get me through primary and secondary school. The main thing I notice is that I have broad interests and can sometimes be terribly driven and perfectionist. I am involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. But even in class I sometimes notice I’m different to other students. I process information a lot faster and in fewer steps. Sometimes I only need one slide to grasp steps A, C and F. If the teacher then carefully explains A, B, C, D, E and F, I switch off. I can´t concentrate anymore and I take out my mobile or do something else.

Highly gifted people are often highly sensitive as well. That is something I notice in my university life. I am quicker to notice a subtle tone of voice or a change in body language – things that no one usually notices. That can be useful but it can be difficult too. For example if a person is bothered by something but would rather keep it to themselves.

There is a lot of prejudice, unfortunately. When you say you’re highly gifted a lot of people jump to the conclusion that you think you are better than other people. They expect you to understand everything instantly and get all top grades. I am perfectly satisfied if I pass my courses at the first go, as long as I can do a lot of extracurricular activities and express my creativity.’

A lot of people jump to the conclusion that you think you are better
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Angelina Horsting, Bachelor’s student of Molecular Life Sciences

‘I don’t delve particularly deeply into my textbooks, but I do look for a lot of extracurricular activities. That is quite a difference from the average student. Studying is more something I do on the side than my main activity. My interests are very broad too. Ecology, economics, art. I could study any subject really. That does make it difficult to make decisions. But there too I notice the highly intelligent aspect of being highly gifted. I manage to juggle a lot of balls at the same time, and to do a lot of other things as well as my courses. Committees, photography, organizing events. Just as long as I can express my creativity in them. Not everyone understands that. Some people think I do too much and they are quick to judge me for it.

Do people know I’m highly gifted? I think the people who know me well do. But I don’t think about it a lot. It came up when I was a child and was often at the pediatrician’s because of allergies. He noticed it and set the ball rolling. My mother had realized early on that I wasn’t the same as other children. I was always complaining of being bored and that I didn’t learn enough at school. I seemed to be insatiable.

It plays a bigger role at times. A little while ago I was having a hard time finding the right balance in the things I did.  I couldn’t say no to things. Even though my agenda was absolutely full, I kept on actively looking for things to do. In a situation like that it helps me to know where that urge comes from and how to deal with it.’

I was always complaining of being bored at school
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Teun Fiers, Master’s student of Earth and Environment, and Climate Studies

‘Highly gifted is a tricky term, I think. It sounds like something purely positive which gives you a certain status. But actually it has its limitations as well as its advantages. There is not much room for creativity in the education system. Creativity is encouraged but at the end of the day, it has to fit within the system. You are taught to think along specific lines, so that you can pass the test later. Logical, but a pity too sometimes.

What I notice about myself is mainly that I am good at absorbing a lot of information at the same time, and making connections between things. I make links that other people don’t make so easily. I also do a lot of extracurricular activities. I am active on the student council, where I am on a lot of committees as well. I thoroughly enjoy the activities I do in Wageningen, but I do notice that it is less creative than I would like it to be.

This year I’ve been focusing on talent development in Wageningen University: I want to give students options for developing themselves optimally. This is based on my conviction that people must do something with their highly giftedness, otherwise it’s of no use to you. Personally my satisfaction comes from the fact that I do something with my talents, not from the fact that I have them.

I am convinced that highly giftedness is not purely inherited. That is why I’m not sure I would really call myself highly gifted. A test I did at 15 indicated that I was. But I think part of that is thanks to my environment. My parents stimulated me to develop outside school. They were proud of the fact that I had the most sanctioned time off school, because I took part in a mathematics competition and went to India on an exchange.’

It has its limitations as well as its advantages