Saturday, August 11, 2007

Detection methods: harmless idiots or scheming assholes?

You know how sometimes it's easy to assume a European guy is gay because he's more sensitive and better dressed than your average American straight guy?

The theme for today is: how do you know if someone is actually try to fuck you over, when it's possible they're just really bumbling idiots who are too self-absorbed to care if their actions affect others?

I've realized of late that this is a big problem for me. My gaydar is okay, but my idiot meter is on the fritz.

I've been trying to lower my standards, not expect so much, not be so hard on people, but I think it is backfiring.

Then I don't know if I'm giving people more credit than they deserve? Are they really that clever? Am I really more unlucky than anyone else?

Or am I really surrounded by so much incompetence that it's hard not to end up with fallout all over my face?

Is there really anywhere better? Is this as good as it gets? Can't I just expect to find more of the same no matter where I go, because I'll always have to work with people, and people generally suck?

Nothing like a friendly reminder at the end of the week that I would be very lucky if I could just be left alone to do my work.

Where is that ivory tower when I want to be up in one, and leave all the raving idiots below?


At 6:07 PM, Blogger Geeka said...

Your idiot meter may be on the fritz from over-use.

I recommend a serious night of drinking with other scientists, none of whom work on your particular biological oddity of choice.

You can always fall back on your crap detector.

And I feel your pain, I was telling people for years that a particular thing about HIV had to do with exosomes and tetraspanins. They thought I was nuts.

(Seriously, blogger just gave me ooota as my human detector word verification thingy?)

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are several answers, IMO. Here are a few of mine.

a) Work with more undergrads. They're not trying to fuck you over, and have no political agenda, so anything they do wrong can be attributed to incompetence. :)

b) Other people's ignorance will hurt you just as much as their malice... so only talk your work over with smart and nice people, because even if they're nice and incompetent, their bad ideas may fuck with yours.

c) Perhaps slightly OT, time spent fretting over other people's selfish lazy actions (as opposed to their malice) is really, I think, time wasted. As a trivial example, we have a common gel bench. When I want to work on it, I shove the mess other people have left on it out of my way, and then clean up my own mess when I'm done. Certain other people in lab rant and rave instead, and then spend their time cleaning up and scrubbing down the bench. They're the ones really losing out here. :(

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Propter Doc said...

I don't think the grass is greener anywhere else, which makes me sad. I think I work with some of the most inconsiderate, neglectful idiots at times (well most times if I'm being honest). I suspect I'm luckier than you because I'm not required to be actively involved in their work or existence other than lab sharing so I'm way less likely to get fallout.
People suck.
I was talking to Dr R yesterday that I can't take the thought of doing another postdoc because it is another PI. I don't want to work for the forgetful-therefor-neglectful kind, or the too-busy-to-care kind. I've worked for both of those types now and I cannot do it again. I don't want to have to mop up PI aftermath anymore (the upset students, the angry students, the dumb time consuming suggestions, the resentment that neglect brings).
How does it go? Prepare for the worse and hope for the best. Screw that, it only means you'll get your hopes dashed.

Yet somehow we keep going...because there is no choice from here.

Lil' Dr Negative

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous PhysioProf said...

The world is filled with inattentive, uninterested, diffident, incompetent people. Part of growing up involves accepting this fact and adapting to it.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Wow, physioprof, that was really condescending, and not constructive at all.

If you're so grown up, why not give us constructive advice on how to deal with these types, if you're already done the hard work of adapting?

Geeka, that made me laugh. I am trying to schedule a drinkfest for sometime this week. Wish me luck with that. You know it's bad when we're too depressed and angry to drink, for fear of what we might do when we take the safety off.

Anonymous who suggests working with undergrads, I have to partly disagree. At least in my field, most undergrads do have agendas. They want to get into med school, and they want a rec letter. Actually one of my current debates is whether I want to take my student back after summer vacation. Really not sure about that. But I totally agree with b and c. I don't clean the gel bench, I just push other people's shit aside.

Propter Doc, it really helps to know you're out there and still hanging in, somehow. My current PI is both forgetful and too busy, but what's sad is that my current situation is, in a lot of ways, a lot better than previous ones, or at least, it's not yet clear that my PI is my main problem. Lately my irritation is with the little people who are... weeds. They are totally out of their element, and they will leave sooner or later because they can't survive, but until then they are just gumming up the works.

At 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen you belittle or bash gays, transgendered persons, hurricane victims, foreigners and republicans to make some dumb point about how difficult your life is. The way you absent-mindedly toss people you don’t like, or people who represent something to you that you don’t like, into monolithic categories that you pretend to understand, is maddening.

I have to wonder whether all the “assholes” you see out there are not some projection of yours.

A reasonable person could ask me why I spent one minute of my week reading, much less posting a comment on your blog. I guess I’m just overly curious about what outrageous thing I’ll read here next.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Whoa! Sensitive much?

I totally didn't mean to imply that gay people are bad in any way. I love gays the way Kathy Griffin loves gays!

I also know that some readers have acted like I belittle transgendered people and chosen to take offense when really there was none to take. Again I say, sensitive much? I have the utmost respect. I really do.

I don't think I've ever belittled hurricane victims except to say that the people who didn't even TRY to get out, I don't get that kind of denial and I'm not sure why I should feel sorry for them. People who couldn't get out for lack of funds or transportation, that's exactly what's wrong with our country.

I'll admit that I hate most republicans on principle. But lately I'm glad to see that even the republicans are coming around on some issues I care about, like getting rid of Bush.

And there are a lot of problems with the way foreign scientists get positions in the US. The main reason that bothers me is because there isn't a fair exchange. I can't go to their country and take a job there anywhere near as easily as they can come here. That doesn't mean I dislike foriegners in general! That's just patently ridiculous.

But I'm happy if I can provide you some entertainment with an outrageous statement once in a while, even if it is, as you suggest, some projection of yours.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Dr J. said...

Just curious, but what are you basing the statement on that it´s harder for you to postdoc in a foreign country than for a foreigner to postdoc in the US?

At 8:35 PM, Anonymous whimple said...

They don't teach you this in PI school, but eventually you're going to not be doing a post-doc anymore, and when that day comes, the chances are good that dealing with or actually managing people is going to be an important part of what you need to do. It will be to your benefit to get these people skills up to speed, and a post-doc is the perfect time to practice, because it doesn't matter if you screw up. Spending some creative energy now to figure out the optimal way to maximize your productive interactions with everyone, including the bozos, is going to serve you well in the future, whatever that winds up being for you.

At 4:12 PM, Anonymous PhysioProf said...

"Wow, physioprof, that was really condescending, and not constructive at all."

I didn't mean it to sound that way. I meant it as a statement of fact. What every successful person, in *any* profession, learns to do is to organize her own behavior so that the actions of inattentive, uninterested, diffident, or incompetent people has a little effect as possible on her ability to achieve her own goals.

An example of this in practice was given upthread by anonymous in his or her story about the messy gel bench. Push other people's mess out of the way, do what you gotta do, and move on. If there are structural problems in a laboratory with things like messes, ordering, solution-making, etc., this is the PIs problem, not yours.

When I was a grad student, I made all my own solutions, and labelled them with secret incomprehensible codes, or wrote on them "Contaminated. Do not use." This way no one else in the lab would ever be tempted to use them.

This insulated me completely from "Who used up all the fucking PBS!?" type stuff. It saved me substantial emotional and physical energy, as well as a lot of time, over the years.

You need to develop strategies to insulate yourself from the behaviors of people whose goals are not consistent with your own.

Only you can figure out specific tactics for achieving that end.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Oh Physioprof, thanks for writing back.

I totally agree and I already do everything I can to insulate myself as much as possible. I have for a long time, and I agree that it helps a lot.

This works so long as you don't need anything that costs money or is shared in any way (like big equipment).

There are some things, though, where I can't come up with an obvious solution that will make everybody happy enough to agree to stick with it, and the PI is not going to step in.

I don't know what to do in those cases. I've tried pleading, cajoling, plying with food.

Nothing works. Or maybe I need to try different food. More food.


I just wish I could wave a magic wand and make my own little four-walled haven to work in.

Oh wait, in theory someday I'll have my own lab...

Yes, that would be best.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there
It's me, SensitiveMuch. I like that name.
In fact, I AM sensitive. Much. I think it is a virtue. One of my many. One that, maybe, you could work on.

See, I'm not a republican, a foreigner, gay, transgendered, and, technically, not a hurricane victim. More like a hurricane survivor, if one has to put a name on it. I've spent a chunk of my life on the Gulf Coast. Let me tell you, when you've had to make the decision to evacuate or not, a few times, and you know what "getting out" entails, then you can stand in judgement of how other people behave uder those circumstances.

Anyway, I count gays, transgendered persons (OK, just one), republicans (OK, just two), foreigners and actual hurricane victims among my friends. I've learned a few things that I didn't know back when I was a miserable, self-centered, perpetually whining postdoc and resident of the Peoples Republic of Cambridge. I hope you have many non-painful opportunities to learn a few things as well.


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