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Your first REAL job

  1. Aug 9, 2009 #1
    Sometimes I wonder not only what job I'll get when I graduate, but how successful I will be at it.
    What was your first Scientific/ Engineering job? What was your experience like for the first year?
    What things went right? What went wrong?
    Did/do you encounter a task that you thought you would not be able to complete?
    I get worried that I will be given some task and I won't be able to complete it, as easy as the others.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2009 #2
    Hacking a professors Visual Basic code to try and turn it into a working expert system and path analyser. He set sub-tasks I thought I wouldn't complete and i was right. Prof. didn't seem to mind, just gave me something else to do or gave me more time. I didn't really get anything much done in the first year I was there, reflecting (I soon saw!) the idiocy of an professor who couldn't program trying to hack together complex expert systems in Visual Basic. I coasted the second year, then moved on... Bosses are always setting seven impossible things to do before breakfast. Just try your best, don't kill yourself trying to do the impossible, work 9 to 5, laugh off any failures, move on if the boss is b*$%ard or if you get bored. The main advice is not to get upset if you fail. The problems you do at school are designed to have a solution. You will fail to solve most real world problems, so start to enjoy failure. You learn a lot from it!
  4. Aug 9, 2009 #3


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  5. Aug 9, 2009 #4
    My first job was a total failure. It didn't involve nearly as much "real" physics as I'd hoped it would, and the problems I had to solve didn't interest me at all. It also involved a lot of programming, which I'm not very fond of.
    There were also other aspects that bothered me in that particular place, and I got into extensive conflicts with my boss.
    So, after a year or so, I quit it and went into graduate school. Now I'm planning on staying in the academic bubble as long as they'll let me. :)

    Actually, I felt like a complete loser after I left that place. But - what can you do? - some jobs fit you, and some don't. The greatest thing about most jobs, though, is that you can quit them. :)
  6. Aug 15, 2009 #5


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    I was hired in the first job because I had experience with a particular computer code, as well as having a MS in the area in which I was planning to work. I had one week to sit down and learn what another engineer had been doing for a project. She left at the end of the week for another job. I took over the project - and was reasonably successful - although it was a challenge.

    I got pulled into other areas for which I had no experience, and that was the proverbial 'baptism under fire'. After two months on the job, I traveled with a senior manager, a VP, to do a technical surveillance of a production process. Somehow I was supposed to take copious notes and ask the right questions on a process about which I knew very little - and was given essentially no preparation. To add to the stress, an engineer from the customer was with us, and I was supposed to appear like I knew what was going on. :rolleyes:

    I did OK, but my notes were a bit garbled, partly because they staff at the manufacturing plant took us around the facility showing us process steps out of order.

    On the morning of the last day, I overslept and the VP called my room and chewed me out for not being efficient and effective. I had 15 minutes to get dressed, pack and rush to the airport. Meanwhile, I had been given the task of bringing along a package of proprietary information, which I left in my hotel room. I didn't discover that I had left in the room until I got to airport. I was hoping that the VP wouldn't ask me for the package - otherwise I'd have to tell him that I left it at the hotel - in which case, I'd have to get a taxi go back and get it and miss my flight.

    I called the hotel and they found the package. I had them mail it too me.

    Several days later, I was still waiting for the package to arrive. Then one morning during the following week, the VP told me bring the package to his office so we could go over the data. PANIC!!!

    I asked the office manager and secretaries if any package had arrived after I confirmed with the hotel office that the package had been sent. It hadn't arrived! Then the office manager mentioned that sometimes packages for our office ended up in the office of the building management upstairs. So I raced upstairs and discovered that they had the package - and it had been there for a couple of days. RELIEF!

    I retrieved the packaged and went back to my office, and took a quick look at the contents. I calmly (but somewhat nervously) walked into the VP's office with the package, and sat down to discuss the project I was supposed to do based on the data. The VP then started to ask me about the data, and he was a bit irritated that I had not thoroughly reviewed the data. There was a lot of data on floppy disks and a lot of documentation.

    I didn't explain that I had allowed the package to be temporarily out of my control.
  7. Aug 16, 2009 #6
    I went from computer science and math undergrad work to math and physics grad work to industry as an engineer. In my experience success (or at least promotions) in industry is based much more on your personality and how much you "play the game" while success in (science) classes is based more on hard work and smarts. I know of several examples of people that barely got by in school, but moved up the latter quickly in industry (without doing much work AND being lazy) by communicating well and making management think that they were important and that the problems they solved were difficult. I also know of many smart, hard working people that did/do really good work but don't communicate well with management. In almost all such cases these people are promoted slower than average.

    Again, this is just my experience, and it is likely due to the fact that, in places I've worked, the management didn't really know much about the technical work. In such places if you "play the game" by (1) fighting to get tasks that are both easy and important to management, (2) suck up to management in the right way, and (3) have a personality that management likes (your boss likes to hang out with you) then you move up very quickly.
  8. Aug 16, 2009 #7


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    Some of the things I had to learn as I transitioned between the college world and the corprate world:

    Respect the chain of command. This is taught directly in the military of course, but it's not taught in the corporate world. Do not blindside your boss.

    Take initiative...if no one in a higher rank than you is in charge, then you take charge. Don't hesitate to ask your coworkers to help you.

    Social skills really matter. Seriously.

    Learn to use email effectively. Always use standard English. Be as brief as possible, respect your coworkers' time. When someone emails an answer to you, send a quick "thank you."

    My personal secret to success: It's easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. I suppose that's a corollary to taking initiative.

    I could go on but that's a start.
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