Monday, May 19, 2008

Relating to authority figures.

I said I'd try to write one thing every day.

I am a minority in more than one way (female in science, scientist in the US, etc).

But some days I think the one minority group that best defines me is how I relate to authority figures.

So far as I am concerned, I don't care how old you are, how male or female, what color, what orientation, or what your job title is. I don't care how you dress or how you smell.

If you know what you're doing, I will respect that. If you can demonstrate obvious competence, knowledge, expertise or skills, I will respect that. Even if you're an asshole, if you're good at what you do, I'll respect that (even if I don't respect you as a person).

If you're not good at what you do, and you aren't even trying to improve, I won't respect you. Even if your job title says I have to.

I won't always say so, of course, and like most adults I know you have to go along to get along, and I usually try to do that even if it's painful and difficult most days.

But I continue to be amazed at how few scientists are like me. I guess I thought there were more of us in science than there really are. To me it's all about being objective, seeing through the bullshit, and facing the facts.

One of the facts is that there are a lot of people in positions of authority who didn't get there because they were competent, or have more knowledge, expertise or skills than anybody else. It could be argued that they have at least one skill, which is how they got the job. But it might not be at all related to their actual responsibilities on a daily basis.

This is one of the fundamental things that makes me wonder if science is really the right career for me.

In some ways, I think I would be much happier among avant-garde artists. Something about the spirit of rebellion and seeing the truth regardless of how shocking it might be.

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At 1:42 PM, Blogger JSinger said...

In some ways, I think I would be much happier among avant-garde artists. Something about the spirit of rebellion and seeing the truth regardless of how shocking it might be.

I can't say I know any, but I would be astonished if they weren't every bit as obsequious towards prominence and celebrity (by the extremely minimal standards of what qualifies as "prominence" or "celebrity" in either career) as scientists are. Probably more so.

At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's why you need to be the boss. i'm the same way too.

At 6:49 PM, Blogger Ψ*Ψ said...

YES!!! I agree completely. Respect must be earned.

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous working said...

In my experience, it's the same way in the corporate environment. Sometimes the worst person at a task gets promoted just to keep him/her out of the way!

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

yeah, I mean avant-garde like Laurie Anderson. Like Andy Kaufman. It's always the crazy ones!

At 2:05 AM, Anonymous JaneB said...

I'm like that too - and it still causes the odd problem even now I'm faculty/as near to tenured as you get in the UK - but it's how I am. And how I think scientists SHOULD be. So tough for everyone else who wants to play hierachy games!

At 6:26 AM, Blogger kcsphil said...

I like this piece. Reminds a lot of all the false patriotism the US is infected with these days. PLEASE! You aren't a Patriot just because you wear a flag pin on your lapel - you are a patriot for standing up for true freedom and equality. Likewise, you aren't a scientist because you wear a lab coat - your a scientistbecause you adopt a way of thinking, a desire for robust inquiry, and a willingness to question everything. Tose scientists who don't question, who give respect simply based on titles or status, they are theones doing science in.

And glad to hear your work is back to YAY!

At 6:53 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

I really don't this being very different in any other profession including science industry and avant-garde artists. If you ever wanted to see an old-boys club (with a few token girls) read about modern art history.

I understand what you are saying in this post, but I think its important to realize that few people are great at everything. It's very possible that a mediocre scientist can become a very good science administrator even if it's not the aspects of administration where you interact with that person. It does wonders for sanity to pay attention to people you disrespect until you better understand why they have their current job and why there good at it. Sometimes people really are incompetent, but there are usually fewer of these than at first glance.

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I can't agree on the 'smell' part. I tried working with someone who didn't shower for two weeks and I couldn't. I don't want to be around that person no matter what kind of scientist they are. My judgment of them is affected subconsciously and I'd rather not think bad things about them all day.

Sorry, I'm weak and frail and I'm going to follow my senses on this one. Probably because I read Patrick Suskind's 'Perfume' one too many times, but that's one attribute that I can't overlook.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Jake said...

I'm partial to the Peter Principle. Note how scientific career stages focuses on different things. Undergraduates must focus on signing up for easier courses and being good at solving textbook problems so they can maximize their GPA and get into grad school. Grad students must focus on doing good research or being a good grunt so someone will hire them as a postdoc. Postdocs must focus on writing as many papers as possible and getting seen as much as possible so someone will hire them to faculty. New faculty must focus on writing grants, so they can get their lab going, etc.

Due to the way things are set up (with each prof. creating 10+ phds over a career) people are promoted to their highest level of incompetence and then they are out.

It might not even be incompetence but simply an incompatibility of values. We can probably all think of a researcher whose work we believe is crap but which he thinks is highly exciting and promotes whenever he gets the chance rather than spending time double checking. Guess who gets the promotion?

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you!

I recently left my lab and changed to another because of this exact problem with my PI.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger butterflywings said...

I feel the same way.
Yeah, I think the people getting promoted because they bullshit well happens in just about every line of work you can think of.
So get the artist thing though. Although I would like to be a writer. I am a neurotic introvert.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are such a loser!!! i haven't looked at this blog for over a year, or maybe two, and here you are whining about the same old crap. don't you realize that academia is a place where conformity is rewarded above all else. but you stay, and begrudingly conform to the rituals, because you are a risk adverse individual, which is quite normal for a woman. in other words, your avoidance of reality is making you unhappy, a well it should. go do something different with your life already! however, i have eight inches of something that would make you really happy for a few hours. sorry, i had to put a perverted comment in there cause it's what i do. i am a man-child. and you once stated that you have a nice rack. me like.


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