The Me Generation

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Learning Objectives

  • Learn how generational differences can cause conflicts and misunderstandings in school and at work.
  • Learn tips to improve communication and build rapport between you and those of a different generational background.


“I was used to being at the top of the class and getting really good feedback from professors and people telling me I’m the rock star. And he never ever did that. And so that was hard. I felt like I was definitely out of my element to be in a place where someone wasn’t pumping me up all the time.”

“There were also some personal things going on in my life so I kind of felt like, OK, I need to bring him up to speed. And I felt like it’s important — it was important to me, not necessarily to be vulnerable with my personal stuff but to get him to understand where I’m coming from.”

“My advisor expects me to be available to him day and night, but I simply refuse to give up my nights and weekends.”


We all long for more free time, and we all wish we received more recognition for our work, right? It sure seems that way, but there is some indication that the younger generations of our culture are especially demanding of things like free time and positive feedback. In fact, it is possible that many common conflicts and misunderstanding between advisors and advisees (see Common Concerns: Advisor Issues) can be explained by generational differences in values and expectations.


After how hard I have worked in graduate school, I deserve to land a high-paying, well respected job.

True or False: Does the previous statement represent "me" generation thinking?

Answer: True. If you agree with this statement you endorse some common beliefs of the “Me” generation. Many companies have expressed concern about these younger workers who demand a high degree of flexibility and time off, often act and appear unprofessional, and are likely to quit once they become bored with their jobs. Professors and college instructors also tend to agree that the newer generation of students are needy, entitled and lacking in work ethic (ouch!). Corporations have poured a lot of money into research to help learn how to adjust to the expectations and work styles of younger employees in order to improve productivity and increase1 retention.

Data on the “Me” Generation

According to Dr. Twenge, who compared data from the Baby Boomer generation with data on what he has dubbed the “Me” generation (people born after 1970), compared to the Baby Boomer generation, “GenMe” is: 2

  • less concerned about conformity and adhering to social norms
  • less deferential to authority
  • more open about their personal life and more blunt about their opinions
  • more likely to externalize problems
  • more inclined to place a higher value on leisure and work/life balance
  • more likely to feel entitled to wealth, success and praise
  • more concerned with the individual self (in other words, more self-centered)

He summarized what was found to be the major differences between the values of the Baby Boomers and “GenMe”:

Baby boomers Generation "Me"


Journey, potentials, searching

Change the world

Protests and group sessions



Philosophy of life


Already there

Follow your dreams

Watching TV and surfing the web



Feeling good about yourself

GenMe: The Self-esteem Generation

One of the many social, economic and political factors that helped to shape the younger generation(s) was the push for increasing self-esteem among children in the 80s and 90s.2Teachers and parents were told that there is nothing more important for psychological development than to shower children in unconditional positive regard. Children were told:

  • Everyone is special
  • Just be yourself: You are good enough just the way you are
  • Follow your dreams: You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it
  • Put yourself first
  • Never settle for less than you deserve

Parents, teachers and counselors held good intentions for introducing these mantras, but many believe the efforts have backfired. Younger generations are often described as being the most narcissistic and entitled generation of all time!


Which of the following values and characteristics are most like that of the Millennial generation born between 1980 and 2001?

Answer: C. Being a multitasker is a characteristic and value associated with the Millennial generation. Being pragmatic is characteristic of the X generation. If you consider yourself a workaholic, that trait is most associated with the Baby Boomer generation. Being a conformist is descriptive of the Traditionalist generation.

CareerWISE Tip on Generation “Me”

How NOT to look like a member of “GenMe”:

  • Avoid disclosing too much personal information to your advisor.
  • Ask for feedback and direction directly (and use the feedback you asked for).
  • Set boundaries for yourself, but be sure to follow through on your commitments.
  • Set boundaries for yourself, but show that you are willing to do quality work and meet deadlines.
  • Take initiative with research and projects, and try to troubleshoot problems on your own.
  • Dress professionally.

CareerWISE Point on Generation “Me”

These generational research claims are sweeping generalizations of groups of people specifically from American culture and on populations in the millions. As you learned in the module titled "Your Personality and Preferences", culture, gender and personality traits also all factor into how well you get along with another person, independent of age. Still, being sensitive to potential generational differences between you and the key players in your career (like your advisor) is another tool that can help youto improve these important relationships.


  1. Alsop, R. (2008). The trophy kids grow up: How the millennial generation is shaking up theworkplace (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation me: Why today's young Americans are more confident,assertive, entitled — and more miserable than ever before. New York: Free Press.
  3. Rosen, L. D. (2007). Me, MySpace, and I: Parenting the net generation (1st ed.). NewYork: Palgrave Macmillan.

Being "Queen" of the Team
Playing a variety of roles as the only woman in the department.

Climate in Graduate School
How to make friends with colleagues to encourage a supportive environment.

Lack of Women Role Models
The importance of sharing stories of sexual harassment with others and realizing that you are not alone.

Dealing with Inappropriate Events
Suggestions for how to deal with sexist comments.

Woman vs. The Man
Describes an incident of receiving a lower grade than a man for similar work.

How Do You Know When You're Ready?
The importance of learning from failed experiments.

Seeking Support Outside the Department
How to refute sexist comments and challenge gendered assumptions.

Advisor Issues
How a positive advisor challenged his students to think for themselves.


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