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Ethics and Career Decisions

  1. Nov 22, 2011 #1


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    How much thought do you give to morality/ethics when making your career choices?

    I mean, a person who is vegetarian based on ethics probably wouldn’t work as a butcher. A hardcore pacifist probably wouldn’t design weapons for a defense contractor.

    So what would you not do? Have you ever had a job that didn’t square with your personal beliefs? How did you cope?

    Btw, I realize that we don’t live in a perfect world…sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. And sometimes that means taking a job that doesn’t fit well, because you have to pay the bills. I’m not passing judgment here - I would just like to know what PFers think about this.
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  3. Nov 22, 2011 #2
    I don't think I would care much about morality/ethics as far I stay within legal boundaries. I am neither a vegetarian nor a butcher. I cannot really come up with any example that can limit me.

    A poll would have been nicer :biggrin:
  4. Nov 22, 2011 #3


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    Oh I've never done a poll...can you believe that? OK I'll try but it may be too late :biggrin:.

    edit: yep, looks like it's too late.
  5. Nov 22, 2011 #4
    Interestingly, I just agreed to sign a "scientific" paper which does not meet my normal standards because of a "political" argument. The short version is as follow (really it is a short version). We are an experimental collaboration. The normal procedure is to pass an internal review before publication. A handful of members have failed the process which lasted years. They finally published their results without the collaboration approval, and of course without the collaboration name either. But since they use our data, and for fear that people outside do not realize what happened, the leadership came up with a paper pointing out the weaknesses or even internal inconsistencies in the analysis, to state that it was not approved. The problem is that we as a collaboration did not go beyond and publish a full blown independent analysis. The whole story is quite a pity, and it saddens me to just think about it. I wish I could just ignore it, but my senior colleagues convinced me to put my name aside theirs. My worse fear is that it may not be the end of it.
  6. Nov 23, 2011 #5
    I strongly considered becoming a high school math teacher - but the volatile political climate surrounding education (and the close involvement of teacher unions) has made me think otherwise (this opinion was formed 10-15 yr ago). I know there are other options like private schools and charter schools, but the external idealogical pressures overcome those possibilities. My wife, whom taught for ~5 years, and her father, whom taught for ~15 years, are both ex-teachers for similar reasons (and both declare they are much happier for it).
  7. Nov 23, 2011 #6


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    To be honest, I've rationalized things to the point of embarrassment before, so I can't say that I wouldn't do it again under the "right" circumstances.

    People like to say they will never compromise who they are, but stress, fear, exhaustion, etc. are hard things to fight for long periods of time. I've lost a few battles and will probably lose a few more. It's not something I'm proud of, but I'm living and learning. :smile:

    Regarding a career choice, I can honestly say that it would be easier for me to rationalize a questionable choice, just due to the fact that I can say I'm helping provide for my family and a future for my kids. I would love to say that I would be able to find a way to avoid it, but you never know how you'll respond until you're in the situation.
  8. Nov 23, 2011 #7

    It's an interesting point you raise, albeit perhaps, unintentionally.

    I believe that we're the result of every single one of our experiences and considering that we rarely ever stop "experiencing" (yeah, thinking counts), I can say that one does not really have a "fixed self". In my experience, people are always changing. I change everyday. And not just underwear.

    Note: I do not claim this to be fact. The above is simply based upon observations of mine, on a limited (and probably quite unreliable - lies and so forth) data set.
  9. Nov 23, 2011 #8
    I once walked out on a good internship because the engineering department treated the manual workers like absolute garbage, and talked about them like they were farm animals.

    The day my boss used the words "union slaves", I was out of there.
  10. Nov 23, 2011 #9
    Loads. If a job doesn't square with my integrity, I won't do it.

    I once held a door to door sales job that was more or less ripping young married couples off royally. I felt so bad about it must have come through as I didn't make a single sale, despite having later held sales jobs where I was tops.

    I quit after three weeks, and vowed to never again accept a position where I'd have to bend or break my morals just to make a buck.

    What torques me to no end is that the world is full of people who could care about morals, provided something's in it for them. I find that disgusting. If those folks had a shred of moral turpitude, they'd relinquish their positions to others imminently more qualified.
  11. Nov 23, 2011 #10


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    In spite of the fact I'm on a bioscience job hunt at the moment I deliberately don't apply for any cosmetic positions even if I am qualified and have a good chance.
  12. Nov 23, 2011 #11
    I moved to another job once I found out the system admins were artificially increasing data traffic for a customer, and they called me in to write an expensive consultancy report for the customer to buy an even more expensive world-wide caching product to solve the 'problem.'
  13. Nov 23, 2011 #12
    I would quit if I was pressured to design or implement something unsafe or was pressured to fudge data. I am an electrical engineer btw.
  14. Nov 25, 2011 #13
    I worked as security at an absolutely horrible private "college" that more or less ripped off it's students/customers. They only offered a two year program allegedly preparing people for industries requiring a minimum of a bachelor's degree and a preference for master's. On top of that few if any schools accepted credits from this college since their general education units were virtually non-existent. They even padded, and possibly outright lied about, their job placement stats by including placing students in jobs at places like McDonalds.

    Basically they roped these kids into about 40,000 in debt for a college degree that was hardly worth the paper it was printed on. Many of these students even came from out of state. Since I was not working in the area of screwing these kids over personally I suppose it helped me not feel so guilty about it.

    A friend of mine was studying optics as part of a cog science program. He eventually decided that the only sort of job this education may net him would be working in weapons development on things like missile guidance. He pretty much gave up on his graduate program, is currently unemployed, and has no idea what to do with himself.
  15. Nov 25, 2011 #14
    In addition to my strong revulsion at killing people and stealing from their widows and orphans, it is also unethical. However, it puts food on the table. And as the OP says, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
  16. Nov 25, 2011 #15

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    You would be quite surprised at the number of hardcore pacifists who do just that. I long ago worked for a brief stint on making things that fly halfway around the world and finish the flight with the grandest of kabooms more accurate. Some people who worked toward this end were hardcore hawks, others indifferent, but a solid minority were hardcore pacifists. They justified their work in two ways. #1: If war did break out, the improved accuracy would mean those weapons would be targeted at military and government installations rather than at women and children. #2: Making such weapons more accurate drastically reduces the chances that they will be used in war because topmost amongst the targeted government installations are things like presidential palaces and hideouts.
  17. Nov 25, 2011 #16
    Every job I've ever had included at least one activity I found sketchy, irresponsible, wasteful, elitist, etc. You mostly cope with rationalizations.
  18. Nov 25, 2011 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    We all have to accept ethical and moral violations of our personal codes just to survive. I doubt that more than a handful of companies can legitimately claim the high ground in all cases. So it is my view that one can find something wrong with any job. It more a matter of degree.

    I drew the line when my employer [many years ago] demanded that I lie to the customers. He even went so far as to call me naive and shook his head in shame.

    It was all that I could do to not laugh in his face. I couldn't believe he would try something so cheeesy and transparent. Or was he just that pathetic? Dunno.
  19. Nov 25, 2011 #18
    I had an argument with a manager over something similar. I sold mattresses, and a manager wanted me to pretend we were giving the customer a discount on a mattress, but sell it for full price anyway. I gave the customer the discounted price. I actually reported the company to the state Attorney General's office for breaking a law about artificially inflating a price at the same time we ran a "50% off" sale, with the instructions to keep the old price tags, because it was going back to its original price at the same time the sale ends. That's illegal here.

    I can't see myself ever working for the DoD or any branches of the military. I strongly disagree with almost everything our military does, and I have no desire to be an active part of that.
  20. Nov 25, 2011 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    In my situation the problem was related to company screwups. I have always believed and found it to be true 99% [in almost every case] of the time that if you are competent and doing your best, people are pretty forgiving. Mistakes happen. That can be forgiven. Deception is another matter entirely. If you violate the customer's trust, you've lost a customer. And it doesn't matter if you're talking about retail sales or business deals. Trust is trust.

    What's more, you will almost certainly leave a job eventually. But you can't leave your reputation behind.
  21. Nov 28, 2011 #20


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    Someone who's single with minimal expenses has a lot more discretion regarding employment than someone with a family, a mortgage, car payments, etc. I would consider it extremely irresponsible for someone in the latter situation to just up and leave because their boss asked them to do something questionable. Depending on the economical climate and the person's line of work, it might be very difficult for them to find employment in a timely manner. What then? Tell the family they're losing the house because you're placing your morals above their quality of life and financial stability? This is an extreme case, but not one with which I'm unfamiliar.

    It would also depend on how severely one is expected to stray from one's morals. Are we talking endangering other people's lives, or simply performing a task that rubs me the wrong way politically?
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