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I'm not cut out for work

  1. Apr 28, 2008 #1
    I just finished a coop term which I won't get credit for because my employer literally failed in every category. I had a long talk with him, and he told me very frankly that I'm the worst coop student he's ever had, and being a professor, he's worked with 256 students in total. He told me the coworker have been constantly complaining that I come off as abrasive and arrogant. I never intended to give this impression, and if it's a legitimate complaint, I was truly not aware that this was how people perceived me. The employer also told me that I just don't have the team-playing skills required in the workplace and that I am just not suited for the coop program; I'd be better off doing something else. Of course, I was suspecting this before he informed me of it, but this gave me clear confirmation. The question is, if I'm not suited of coop, I'm obviously not suited for work in general, so what is my best option? I've long thought it was academia, but having worked under a professor, I now realize academia is just like any other workplace. I don't think I'll ever be able to "change" to adapt to the usual workplace - we're just incompatible. Is my career already doomed?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2008 #2
    how about changing the things about you that bother people?
  4. Apr 28, 2008 #3
    I was unaware that something in my behavior especially annoyed people. I've alway tried to be considerate with people, apparently I was doing it wrong. And it's not only that. I don't take interest into things that aren't theoretical enough; because of that, I don't have much of sense of initiative - something employers obviously do not like. I think the main problem is that I am somewhat too much at odds with authority. I like independent thought; I want to work on the problems that interest me, as soon as I am asked otherwise I just cease functioning.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2008
  5. Apr 28, 2008 #4


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    You can aquire team playing skills. A lot of people don't have them naturally.

    No, every work enviornment is somewhat different.

    Absolutely not. Just work on you people skills and look into some team building exercises.

  6. Apr 28, 2008 #5


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    I agree.

    Consider it a wonderful learning experience to correct things about yourself BEFORE it counts for a real job and gets you fired (or prevents you from getting hired). If you know someone who can be completely honest with you, get their help explaining what it is you do that comes across abrasive so you can be aware of it and change it. If you don't know anyone who can be that completely honest with you (it's rare), look for workshops on things like communications skills and team building.

    It can be very difficult for someone who is used to doing everything on their own to work as part of a team or to trust other people to do things as well as they do (this was something I had a hard time with early in my career...I hated delegating things because they were never done as well or as quickly as I could do it myself...so I focused my energy on training the people I needed to delegate tasks to so that they DID do things as carefully as I would, and then learned to take a deep breath and accept that sometimes things would have to be done twice or three times, but it wasn't ME who was going to do it and when the people doing the task got tired of repeating it, they'd learn to be more careful the first time).

    On the flip side of not appearing arrogant, sometimes it's as simple as accepting that you might not know the only way or best way to do something, even if you know A way to do it, and letting other people show you their way. Sometimes it's also as simple as saying, "I think I know how to do this, but let's pretend I don't just to be sure you don't miss teaching me something important I don't know yet."

    It could be something innocent too, like your eagerness to do a good job and show them how much you already know coming across as an unwillingness to be taught how to do things.

    You might even consider contacting your boss from the coop position again and explaining to him that you're very concerned by his evaluation of your performance and troubled that you are coming across so badly to others and want to work to improve and ask if he'd be willing to make time to meet one more time to assist in providing more specific examples of how your behavior came across so negatively and what you might do to improve. It takes a strong person to admit they were wrong and to seek to improve.
  7. Apr 28, 2008 #6


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    But after he said that, do you feel that you now understand why people perceive you that way? Or does it still make no sense to you??

    In what field are you? If you like more theoretical stuff and if you might enjoy more working by yourself, theoretical research in physics might be more your cup of tea.
    I am not a people person either...I prefer to be by myself most of the time and to only talk to a few friends. So theoretical physics (which by luck I love to start with) was perfect for me.
  8. Apr 28, 2008 #7
    I must admit I'm confused by this experience. I'm not the most charismatic of people, but I do have a good number of friends. I'm frequently lost in my own thoughts, so I may come off as distant and disdainful but it's a misinterpretation of my personality.
  9. Apr 28, 2008 #8
    The problem is you probably dont have team projects like in engineering where you have to constantly work with a group. Id start working with a team as much as possible.
  10. Apr 28, 2008 #9


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    Know that you are not alone. With the people I am close to and I love, I am outgoing and talkative. With everybody else I am very introverted, don't talk much, etc. Some interpret this as being cold, uninterested, etc. A lot of people are outgoing and are talkative with everybody . They don't understand people are more introverted. But if you have to work in a group setting, you might have to make an extra effort.
  11. Apr 28, 2008 #10


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    forget it. maybe he was the jerk, not you.
  12. Apr 28, 2008 #11


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    There is also a chance it was simply a personality clash with that particular employer. I was actually discussing that particular issue with a student the other day, that sometimes personalities clash in the work place, and it has nothing to do with either person being a bad person or bad worker, but they just do things or approach problems so differently, they can't see eye to eye or get along.

    I wouldn't assume that's the case though and would work on learning more about communication skills just in case. Even if it was just a personality conflict, it will not be the last time it happens in your career, so it's a good time to learn how to deal with such things. Conflict resolution is another good workplace skill. Sometimes it's a matter of reading people correctly and adapting your behavior to work with their personality.

    As an example, at one time I worked with a post-doc who was having a hard time getting a job. She asked to practice her interview talks with us, after which I gave her a pretty honest critique, all intended to help her improve her talk (I figured she'd been struggling long enough, it wasn't going to do any good to pat her on the back and not tell her what was wrong) so she'd finally get the jobs she wanted. It got back to me later that she was telling students not to come to me if they wanted to practice their talks unless they wanted to be ripped apart. :rolleyes: Fortunately, the student who reported this back to me did so because she realized the importance of getting a critique on a practice talk rather than flopping on an interview (and I had very little to critique because she had taken that attitude to advice all along so had put together a very good talk already). Once I learned that when that post-doc asked to give a practice talk, she really didn't want any critique, I simply stopped having time for her practice talks...there was no point bothering if she thought she could do it herself. Sometimes you have to try to pick up on these things and realize that some people just need to be handled with kid gloves.

    Other people I can pull aside and tell them they're screwing up something and what they need to do to fix it and they'll thank me for the advice and continue on quite happily.

    Sometimes it's just trial and error to figure out who you can be yourself with and who you need to hold back and handle with greater tact.
  13. Apr 28, 2008 #12
    This is probably the worst advice in this thread so far. While this is possible, he also told you that coworkers were complaining, so I'm going to guess that the problem lies (at least in part) with you. I would recommend contacting your previous employer directly, and asking for some examples (both general comments and specific instances) of what you were doing wrong. If they refuse to give any examples or to elaborate on why it was that you did so poorly, then you might think about writing it off as them being a jerk, or simply a clash of personalities. If they give you an honest critique, make sure you don't end up attacking them for it, or as happened in Moonbear's case, you won't get any more criticism. Once you have more information, you need to decide what to change about yourself, if anything, and how to deal with other people more successfully in the future.
  14. Apr 28, 2008 #13
    But it's not just the employer. Apparently, it's most of the coworkers as well. That encourages me to say that I am the problem; it's not a matter of everyone getting along.

    I wish my employer did that. I wasn't aware of how much dissatisfied he was until the very last day of work.

    That said, I just don't enjoy working for others. I want to be independent and lead my by own interests. I don't think my employer was ill-meaning and I believe he was very frank when he said I am just not cut out for coop. He said he would never recommend me to anyone and that I'm the worst student he's had in 25 years. Surly that means something.

    I need time to think. Morale is very low, I'm confused, pessimistic about the future and terribly disappointed in myself.
  15. Apr 28, 2008 #14
    I don't even work with you and this comes off to me as abrasive and arrogant. You aren't the only person who likes independent thought and working on problems that interest you. It sounds like you view the tasks assigned to you as somehow beneath you, but until you work your way too the top, it's a pretty lame excuse.
  16. Apr 28, 2008 #15
    Beneath me? So if I was asked to be the first man to land on Mars, you think I would dismiss it as beneath me?
  17. Apr 29, 2008 #16
    Well, assuming you're landing on Mars, I'm hoping it's beneath you, and not above you, or else you'll land upside down.
  18. Apr 29, 2008 #17
    If you want to work anywhere, you better learn to work with others. If you want a promotion and make good money in life, you better learn to work and eventually lead others.
  19. Apr 29, 2008 #18
    You can't be Newton in this day and age. Hell, even in Newton's time you really couldn't. Whether you want to do math, physics, engineering, computer science, or any other science/technical job, you HAVE TO collaborate and work with others.

    Go back to that guy (your employer?) if you can and ask him what exactly was wrong, and ask if he knows ways of working on it. Even if he doesn't, it will make him think you want to change, which you should be wanting.
  20. Apr 29, 2008 #19
    Huh? I don't recall where anyone asked you to land on Mars. If that's what this is about, then I'm very confused. However, you made the implication that the work you were assigned (not necessarily landing on Mars) was not theoretical enough, and therefore not intellectually stimulating enough for you. It's absolutely important to have a job that satisfies that need, but that need can't be satisfied all the time. If you want to earn money for what you do, even if self-employed, you must have some kind of product for all your thinking, prototypes, publications, something. If you aren't willing to do the boring stuff, you'll never be able to get the experience for people to take you seriously doing the fun stuff.
  21. Apr 29, 2008 #20

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    I've got a book for you that might be helpful: Difficult Conversations
    https://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Conversations-Discuss-what-Matters/dp/014028852X It's pretty good practical advice on working through conversations like the one you had with your employer.

    A problem I see is that there was no feedback on how things were going until the last day. Your boss should have been giving you this intermittently (and this is a problem he needs to work on in his role as a supervisor), but maybe in the future you should be more proactive in soliciting this conversation with a supervisor if you are not hearing anything.

    If I were in your shoes, I think I would want to meet again with the employer and find out more details about what was bothersome about your actions, and what actions would have been preferable. It's certainly something to learn from. At the same time, you should express that you had no idea that your actions were causing complaints, and that you thought you were just doing your best. That's something he should know.

    Be humble and diplomatic about it. Don't let your ego get in the way. Just learn from what he has to say. Hopefully he will learn from you, too.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2008
  22. Apr 29, 2008 #21
    This convinced me. Your employer is right. Before you are asked to do something big or important you'll be asked to prove yourself by doing many tasks, including tasks that may not interest you.

    I'm 100% sure that your employer assigned you many duties that you did not find interesting enough and more than likely didn't bother to complete them properly, if at all. Maybe you even complained to him/her about being assigned such tasks.

    Either find yourself a field that meets your personality or work on your people skills.

    Thanks Mr. Poop-Loops. Thanks to you I sprayed soda all over my screen.

    Jordan Joab.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 29, 2008
  23. Apr 29, 2008 #22
    Jordan Joab is right about tasks. When you start coop work term, the employer has no idea what your abilities are (beyond what you have stated in your resume), and needs to assess them before he gives you any interesting/more complex work.

    When I started my first coop work term (8 months in industry), the first month or so was almost a complete bore. My supervisor was very busy because he had a PhD student and other projects to supervise, in addition to a week long conference to attend. I basically sat at my desk and read a bunch of textbooks and articles he left me before I found any substantial time to work in the lab. Even then, I started out with small experiments, but by the end of the work term I was working on about 3 different projects at the same time and free to discuss and try any changes I wanted to make in the experiments.

    Presumably after the interviewing and reading the job description, you had a decent idea of what you were getting into. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way (or so I've heard). Even then, your supervisors are the people who are going to watch how to learn and perform your duties. The impression you give them is important, no matter how uninteresting the task is.

    You say you want to be independent and lead by your own tasks. You won't be given independence or lead your own tasks in somebody else's lab until you prove that you deserve it. Everybody has to start somewhere. I suggest you take the advice from the other people in this thread and discuss with your employer what you can do to improve the impression you project in future work terms.
  24. Apr 29, 2008 #23
    Unless you fix that attitude, yeah, probably.

    One of the smartest men I ever met in my life had an attitude like yours. He wanted to do everything his way, and he didn't want to take orders from anyone who he thought knew less than he did. Which of course was everyone. He *has* worked steadily... but only because he constantly changes jobs. He's smart enough to make a good impression at first and get hired, but inside of three months, no one in the company/at the university is speaking to him.

    I have no doubt that he could have done truly great things, if only he had the ability to keep his mouth shut from time to time.
  25. Apr 29, 2008 #24


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    How exactly did their impression of you being arrogant develop in the first place? Was there ever a time you saw a better way of doing things, and pointed it out to them and they simply just dismissed whatever you said out of hand without even considering the idea?

    Or was it because you did not appear to be interested in learning at all, except at your own pace?
  26. Apr 29, 2008 #25
    My advice: get a job that will make you appreciate even the most "boring" tasks you were given and put you in your place. Work at a fast-food store, a restaurant or retail--somewhere where you will have to interact with customers and deal with co-workers that aren't as easy-going and respectful.

    You may argue that these are worthless jobs for your career, but from what you are saying, I think improving your people skills is the best investment you can make. Trust me, your attitude will change after you experience how most people earn their living.
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