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Career complaining/alternatives

  1. May 18, 2014 #1
    I realize I'm lucky to have a government job in science right now, but I want to see if something better is out there.

    Are the experiences I've listed below common in all work places, or just at mine? If you have a better experience, what industry do you work in, so I know where to apply.

    1) People rarely work together. If anything, one persons success makes other people look bad in comparison. Management's evaluation of employees is preventing collaboration.

    2) People frequently fail to admit ignorance on a topic, but that doesn't stop them from trying to sound like experts. It can take me weeks before I realize I'm barking up the wrong tree.

    3) I caught a number of serious fundamental and technical experimental errors in publications that prevent result reproduction. But it doesn't seem many journals care about getting the story straight so I don't know where to publish my results.

    4) The amount of embellishing required to publish leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I went into science for idealism, not to sell snake oil.

    5) The computer / network people prevent me from getting work done. The have inserted their own procedural code right at the interface of the software and hardware. I realize their work was important when they started a couple decades ago b/c the old scientists didn't know how to use computers. But people from my generation can make decent OOPs code in their sleep. Now they are just trolls under the bridge.

    6) The projects I'm working don't get priority (and rightly so, b/c they are very boring). But since it's what I was hired to do, I do it. I have to spend a lot of time fighting for resources necessary to get the job done. I'm hoping as I become more senior, I'll get put on projects with more priority and will be able to get them done in a timely manner.

    7) I spend a good fraction of time trying to look busy and work on other stuff I think will be important.

    8) The system we maintain is so large, nobody knows how the whole thing works. Some people (bosses) think they do, but the technicians often tell me "yeah, it was supposed to be like that, but there was this problem, so we had to do this instead". So when I go back to boss and say "this is the current situation", they get upset. Some times its directed at the messenger (aka me) and sometimes at the situation. But either way, the project has to be re-evaluated from scratch. And then a few months later, the boss forgets this interaction and asks me to do the same project again, and the circle of non-life continues
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2014 #2


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    Your points #1 and #2 are very common. Point #5 does happen, but I'm not sure how common it is. Point #7, based on my experiences, is not very common. Again, that does not mean it not happen; only that it seems much less common.
  4. May 18, 2014 #3
    #4 is common in academia when you consider how prestigious Nature / Science are. It isnt likely to have some HEP theory result on it because of its sales considerations marketing has to factor in.
  5. May 18, 2014 #4

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    #4: You are looking at things from the wrong perspective. Unless your publication is so monumental ("hey, dudes, we just found the Higgs boson!"), it does not speak for itself. You have to be willing and able to blow your own horn.

    #5: Sympathize with them. Buy them a beer when the team goes out for happy hour. Those sysadmins face lots of problems you are completely unaware of. Understand the problems they face and they will help you set up that weekend long Monte Carlo simulation so that it will use close to 100% the processing capability of your system. Abuse them and you'll never run that simulation, ever.

    #6: Every large organization has some widget manufacturing process that is a leftover from some previous millennium. The problem as new hire is that you don't know until after the fact that you were hired on to keep some archaic project going. If that's the case, you need to bail, ASAP. The only skills you will learn on such a project are skills that were applicable to that previous millennium.

    #7: That's point #4, all over again. And #6. Ideally, your job should make you so busy that you don't have to look busy. You instead have to wonder how it got to be 7 pm already when you came in at 8 am and skipped lunch. That you have to make yourself look busy might well be a sign you have a dead-end job.
  6. May 19, 2014 #5
    #8 is real common in aerospace. In our lab, systems spec things in English units, but the things are actually executed in metric. No one really knows what is going on.
  7. May 19, 2014 #6
    According to my experience all of these things can also be encountered in very large, non-governmental organizations. You just need to replace 'publications' by some other metrics a company uses to assess your performance.

    In order to check if an organization matches this pattern I would ask:

    How is the performance of individuals and departments assessed?

    Red flags: Metrics that are vaguely defined, logically inconsistent, or you cannot control them as an individual at all, or they foster competition between profit centers - so that a colleague from another departments rather asks 'Do you have a project number I can submit my time entries to?' than helping you. I have seen organizations that basically make it impossible to get any work done without formally breaking rules and whose employees complain about having to meet metrics on a 'scorecard' ('make all little lamps on the dashboard go green') rather than really supporting customers.

    How long does it take on average until a new employee or a contractor can work with all relevant IT systems?

    Your item #5 is an excellent test as I think IT support processes often reflect the overall obsession with compliance, quality management etc. versus getting something done. I am not against security of course but I know cases of such companies where this process took months - and these 'over-managed' companies in general meet all your other criteria.
  8. May 19, 2014 #7
    I appreciate all your replies.

    Step one, convince my group to go to happy hour ;-)

    I've had a number of of times when I started work at 8am and went past 7pm and loved every second of it. I wish the job was like that more often.

    What sort of issues do you guys deal with at work?
  9. May 19, 2014 #8
    These are common problems in any large organization. The larger they get, the more opportunity you'll have to see them in action. And since very few organizations can approach the size of government, you're going to see all these problems and more.

    This is one warning I give to people who seek jobs in large organizations. You do get resources and you do have some job security --but the bureaucracy that it takes to run an organization like this will suck your soul dry.

    I recommend a happy hour on a regular basis with people you respect and trust. Sometimes all you can do is to cry in your beer. You won't fix those problems, and frankly, they're not yours to fix. But at least you'll know that you're not alone, and you'll feel better about what you CAN do.

    Remember, if they really knew what they were doing, you probably wouldn't have a job.
  10. May 19, 2014 #9


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    Of course, the other option is to leave and find another place to work -- perhaps a smaller company, but that could entail a whole new set of issues of its own. Another option is to never stay in a single company or organization for longer than 3-5 years max.
  11. May 19, 2014 #10
    There is something to be said for working at the same place for decades.

    First, you learn where all the deep, fundamental problems come from. Those who flit from place to place are rarely ever around long enough to learn how things got the way they are.

    Second, you start to think differently about what you design, write, or build. You take ownership of things because you know that the project will have your name on it and it will follow you around the company for the remainder of your career.

    Third, with experience comes a certain gravitas of "been there, done that" that the others can plainly see on the plan drawings and documents. You know what worked, you know what didn't, and you can help to guide new people toward something either untried, or away from mistakes that were made in the past.
  12. May 19, 2014 #11


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    I'm not sure whether I'm remembering right, but I think in some other thread you said something about industrial physics and women, and how management was better there in giving regular hours, instead of constantly having to work too many hours in a week. How does this tie in with that?
  13. May 19, 2014 #12


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    You raise good points. That being said, given the economic situation in many parts of the world (including the US and Canada) for the past 20 years and the ease with which companies can lay off its workforce, it's becoming increasingly difficult to work in one place for decades.

    I speak with experience as someone who has been laid off (due to restructuring or loss of business at the firm) a total of 3 times over the past 13 years of experience as a statistician in various different companies and organizations.
  14. May 19, 2014 #13
    The downside is that in the way companies do things today, it can be hard to move up if you aren't willing to jump ship. I've changed jobs twice in the last three years (which is the extent of my entire working career).

    In the first case, I discovered that I'd shot too low in my initial salary negotiations and asked for a raise to move me closer to market value. The company declined the raise, and in my next performance eval told me I wasn't a team player (apparently team players work for free), so I jumped ship to a different company (where the salary was quite a bit more than it would have been had I gotten the raise).

    In the second case, I was getting a bit bored with my work responsibilities and asked my boss if I could take on a larger role. He said not until I moved up in title to sr. data scientist, which would take a few more years. So I switched jobs again, now I have more responsibility (and more salary)

    In both cases, the companies were not known for moving people forward in their careers internally, and had reputations for hiring outside the company rather than promoting from within. I'd love to build up deep domain expertise in a field, but I'd need a company willing to work with me. By assuming their labor force is going to turn over constantly, companies have created work environments that force it to happen. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
  15. May 19, 2014 #14
    If you're under 30, with no dependents to support, long term employment is not a good path to take. The company I work in is smaller (currently about 1500 employees). My bosses knew how to work the system and they made it worth my while to stick around. But I was very close to leaving several times.

    Promotions do not come quickly. I have never seen anyone get promoted more frequently than once every two or three years. However, I have personally known two who started off as an operator or technician and made it all the way up the organization to our equivalent of Chief Operations Officer.

    It requires diligence, patience, diplomacy, and a willingness to do the dirty work that nobody else wants (doing performance evaluations and firing people, setting budgets, and standing in front of the media when things go poorly). I know, it doesn't sound that bad until you've been mired in the political hate and discontent that goes with it. That's when you find out why the job pays the way it does.

    This is the reason why I have avoided management where I work. My theory is that no matter how much extra money I'd make, it can not buy enough booze/antidepressants/psychologists/you-name-it to cope with the lifestyle. I have seen what happened to those who have climbed that ladder. The only ones who don't seem to be bothered by it are sociopaths.

    So be careful what you wish for. I have known several who have wished for these sorts of promotions and later regretted it. Jobs pay well because they ask a lot of you. Some involve a lot of travel. Some involve political heat. Some demand ridiculous hours, and some deal with nearly impossible decisions.

    To the point of the original poster: From where you sit, it is often easy to marvel at the ignorance and stupidity of the things others do. You need to realize that
    1. Not everyone is smart.
    2. Many people are lazy.
    3. Social politics are often used when the hard facts are not comprehensible to the decision maker.

    That's life in the real world. Don't get frustrated. You'll encounter it either coming from a customer from a larger firm or within your own firm. There is nothing to be gained by getting upset over it. If it wasn't a problem, you wouldn't have work. Learn to cope as painlessly as you can.
  16. May 19, 2014 #15


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    But were there those who were not sociopaths, and were bothered by it, but still didn't need booze/antidepressants/psychologists/you-name-it to cope with the lifestyle?
  17. May 19, 2014 #16
    Sociopaths are a matter of degree. One needs to be more and more ruthless with each step higher in large corporate ladders. I'm not saying that sociopaths are a bad thing. But you have to detach yourself more and more from what you're doing. For example, an emergency room surgeon has to be at least somewhat detached to get the job done, knowing that some of their patients are going to die no matter what anyone does. They can't let such things bother them, or they'll never be able to save anyone.

    Likewise, in management, you need to do some ugly things and you can't let it get to you. Laying people off is a terrible thing to have to do. However, if you don't do it, the whole company may go out of business.

    Do I know people who can simultaneously care but be detached? No. I'm sure they must exist, but they're not exactly commonplace. It's sort of like the beauty/brains thing. You know that there must be a few people who have both, but it is indeed rare.
  18. May 19, 2014 #17


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    Not realizing you are incompetent seems to work quite well as a coping strategy - and there are certainly managers who use it!

    As for (lack of) promotion in large companies, in my experience people get identified as being on some type of "fast track" to senior positions either as managers or technical specialists, and those are the ones the company looks after, moves around to widen their experience, etc. Most new entrants might have some ambition to reach a senior position, but simple arithmetic says most of them won't achieve that.

    If you want to get on the fast track, actions speak louder than words. You might have to be already doing the higher level job in practice, independent of what the organization charts says, before you get promoted to it.
  19. May 19, 2014 #18
    Or you can find someone else willing to hire you directly into that job. In my experience, asking for more work responsibility is unlikely to produce the intended results.

    Most of my peers, and myself, have had to change jobs repeatedly because most companies don't seem to want to nurture a loyal workforce- they think you are going to leave in a few years anyway so career development is money wasted. As I said earlier, self-fulfilling prophecy.
  20. May 20, 2014 #19


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    And these companies are right to think people are going to leave in a few years, for the simple reason that in recent years (at least since the 1980's), companies at the first sign of fiscal trouble, mild loss of business or even greater competition have resorted to cost-cutting measures such as layoffs instead of taking other measures (for example, cutting back on work hours or reduced salary, as is more commonly done in companies based in European countries such as Germany).

    A potential worker, seeing the actions of these companies, may well conclude that there really is no point in their being loyal to their employer if the said employer could simply lay them off after a few years. Companies may well respond by therefore not making even a modicum of investment in career development, and so the cycle of frequent turnover continues. It's all a matter of incentives and responding to those incentives.
  21. May 20, 2014 #20
    There's a limited number of managers companies, and divisions within them, need at a given time. In a similar way there are plenty of people in academia who have permanent jobs and are never going to progress from them, or would have to wait decades for a professor to retire or die. Leaving for promotion is more common than internal promotion even in this industry which is a job for life by design. Or rather, because of that. There are more X positions in your entire industry than there are on the corridor where you happen to work, and that isn't a result of American gangster capitalism or Reagan or whatever.

    The OP has identified that research works much like other industries. I'm sure any engineer or technician could relate to those complaints. So the question that needs to be asked is, if your job was harder to get than that engineer or technician job, are you being better compensated for it? If yes, don't expect it to be better elsewhere. You could open a small business or join a start-up, and dispense with the bureaucracy, but I think you already know the downsides to that, and choosing academia as a career suggests your personality would fit at least equally poorly with them.
  22. May 21, 2014 #21
    But it could also be due to the fact that as a freshly minted graduate academia is just the only world you really know - and then you are probably aware of the Top XY companies that students typically name when asked for their favorite employer in surveys. Working in startups or starting your own business is probably not a palpable option.

    I am now part of a two person business since nearly 10 years and I never regretted it. I can safely say I am cut out for this but having graduated I simple was not aware of it (Actually I was dead set to stay in academia for a long time). I didn't ask myself the right questions or I over-valued things that are not really important to me anymore.
  23. May 23, 2014 #22
    Another thing that stresses me out. I'm a morning person. Like up at 5:30 am type person. I get my best work done between 7am and 11 am. By 3pm, I'm sleepy. But I have to stick around past 5:30 pm if not later just so I don't look bad.
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