Friday, May 23, 2008

Can I stand this person for 6 hours?

Found this post over at Mad Hatter.

It's a nice post. The airport test makes a lot of sense and I only vaguely remember having heard of this before, so it was worth thinking about.

In some ways yes, being stuck somewhere for a few hours due to bad weather is a lot like science

...except it's not.

Here's why: on a layover, there's no WORK to do.

Seems to me that if you select for people based on the airport test alone, you're going to end up with people who can't/won't do their share of the work (see recent post by Mad Hatter on lab jobs).

Of course most people screen by CV and the absence of obvious scientific faux pas, and then assume that the candidate will be reasonably competent.

But from those two things, you actually don't know anything about the candidate's competence at all.

I've posted before about this, a lot, but one of my biggest beefs with science is that we don't select for the right things.

And when we get it, we piss on it. We kick these people out whenever we get the chance.

Going home early? efficiency = laziness

Requesting reagents or equipment? work ethic = impatience

Asking for feedback? communication = aggression

I have to wonder if it's always been like this. After all, modern science began as a hobby for rich white guys, didn't it?

But since some people seem to think science is just, you know, a fun layover where all you have to do is sit around and talk about cool ideas, it's not hard to understand how it got to be this way.

The real question is whether we can do anything to change it.

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At 8:35 AM, Blogger andrea said...

I would equate:

Asking for feedback? communicatiion = incompetancy

but I agree with the other two. Some advisors don't really believe they are there to teach their graduate students, no matter what lip service they give to it.


At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Betsy said...

Have you read about Zappos hiring process?

In a nutshell, after a 4-week training period, they offer you $1000 to quit. That way, they only keep people who really want to be there, not the ones who are only in it for a quick paycheck. It's brilliant.

I could see something like this working in science too. At my biotech, we really seek out people who are ambitious and enthusiastic. It's tough during the hiring process, but it pays off big time in the end. When your employees really believe in what they're doing, they will produce for you.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


so THAT must be what I'm doing wrong.


not asking for feedback = arrogance

right? I can't win.


never heard of that before. definitely counterintuitive. but right now if somebody handed me $1000 I'd have a hard time deciding, especially since I'd be willing to quit for free!

At 10:34 AM, Blogger andrea said...

Ms PhD,
"right? I can't win."

Mn, yes. You may find this post of interest. (slightly tangential, but I'm sure that you can find things that will trigger other thoughts, or useful applications; those seem to be what you specialise in!


At 2:44 PM, Blogger JaneB said...

I was told at my last appraisal that

asking for feedback = needy and neurotic

Also, once I was in charge of getting all the module syllabi collected together for some bureaucratic exercise. One person proved elusive, so I handed them to my Head of Dept without Elusive's. and commented on the fact that Elusive was the only person who hadn't been able to give me copies of his syllabus. HoD says: 'Elusive's brilliant, you can't expect brilliant researchers to be any good at administration'.

Er... way to insult the rest of us.

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

"You should be an administrator" was one of the nastiest things a former advisor said to me. He had already made it very clear by that point that he thought administrators were the ultimate worthless losers.

And yeah, I'm 99% sure I'm seen as needy and neurotic because I ask for feedback on some things.

And I'm seen as arrogant because I don't ask for feedback on others.

But since no one is required to justify these criticisms with examples when they proclaim them, nobody hearing these things realizes how completely irrational and contradictory they are.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

I think it's all about what's being produced.

Coworker leaves at 5 pm each day but is producing papers? No questions asked.

Purchased reagents result in faster experimental results, which lead to more papers? No questions asked.

Feedback asked on scientific results, which lead to more papers? No questions asked.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Mad Hatter said...

"...if you select for people based on the airport test alone, you're going to end up with people who can't/won't do their share of the work..."

That's definitely true. It's not easy to tell which people will pull their fair share of the weight from a 30 minute conversation, but I guess someone you like who doesn't do his/her share is slightly more tolerable than someone you despise who is equally lazy/inefficient....

Thanks for the link!


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