Thursday, February 28, 2013

Advice from younger readers to more experienced ones?

Last week's request for things that annoy more experienced Chemjobber readers (those above 40, say) about their younger colleagues turned out to be quite mild. No long diatribes, no broad generalizations, just some gentle comments about etiquette (technology-related and otherwise.)

I've worked with lots of older chemists; I've found all ranges of behavior, great and not so great. The thing that concerns me the most is an adherence to failing memories for all manner of managerial tasks and details -- it seems that consulting notepads/e-mails/references is just too much trouble. I don't think people realize how much credibility they can lose when they do not rely on notes in a public setting and get all manner of fairly key details incorrect. Of course, I don't think this is something that's unique to older people -- I suspect it is simply that they are more likely to be in a situation where they're the ones talking, and everyone else is listening (and perhaps critiquing) intently.

[I also suspect that I've been exposed to one particular type of older chemist and precious few others.]

So, Chemjobber readers under 40, what gentle advice do you have for your older colleagues?

15 comments:

  1. 1. Don't imprint "the way things used to be" on "the way things are now" in my career. Same goes for why I don't have a family or own a house yet. Career trajectories and family timing of the past 40 years have changed dramatically.

    2. One-word emails are not helpful to me. Also, etiquette cuts both ways: if you expect me to answer an email quickly, I should expect the same from you.

    3. Just because I was born after 1975 doesn't mean I know everything about the internet. You want a website? Hire a designer.

    4. Don't gloat about the 5 weeks of vacation you have, when I'm stuck with 2.

    5. If I don't know a reaction or famous chemist of yesteryear, gently push me towards the literature. Don't just rear back and say "How could you not know that!?!" in mock horror.

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  2. Please stop telling me about how much better the industry was 10-15 years ago and the 20-30% bonuses everyone was pulling down. I was nine and it's a bit depressing to know I missed the boat totally on that. If you continue to do this I will continue to remind you that I wasn't even alive when Reagan was president and I was in high school only six years ago. You've been warned.

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  3. Professional: Please help us by introducing us to the people in the industry who we should know. As a recent graduate at a government lab, I am totally overwhelmed by the process of meeting program managers, soliciting grant money, and becoming a PI.

    Personal: Yes, it's nice that you've got that giant house in the suburbs. Try not to rub it in too much. The market has changed so much, at least where I am, that my generation sees the possibility of homeownership in a major city as something of a joke. Or like Sisyphus, we'll never be able to push that boulder of a down payment up a hill.

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  4. I work with several colleagues that have been with my current company for 20+ years. I sometimes find myself frustrated with their myopic approach to chemistry. They tend to communicate in abbreviations, product/raw material codes, and other jargon as if I'm supposed to already understand the context. When they come across a piece of data suggestive of an analyte they've never encountered before, some of them react anxiously or call the result "weird". I see the same reaction when I request an unfamiliar chemical or place an order from a supplier they've not done business with. I would have expected much more open-minded responses from employees at an R&D lab. Rather than being eager to learn something new, some of these long-tenured individuals display a "that's not my job" kind of attitude.

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    1. This is an attitude I've seen among people of all ages (although I agree with you, it tends to be most common in people who have been somewhere for an extended period of time), and I try very hard to make sure it doesn't happen to me. Change doesn't come naturally to a lot of people, but to be a good scientist, you have to be willing and eager to learn new things. Not necessarily to jump on everything just because it's new, but evaluate the data and if it suggests that you'd be better off changing what you're doing, then change it. (Of course, this argument suggests leaving the field of chemistry, so maybe I'm not that good at taking my own advice....)

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  5. Every time I'm in a meeting/talk or any other gathering of more than 3 people, someone's phone rings. You can and should put your phone on silent or vibrate. Especially if it is going to chime every 30min for meetings that made it to your calender, but you don't plan to attend. It's distracting.



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  6. Please don't just respond to my emails with nothing but the word "thanks." This isn't a face to face conversation or an IM and they make it harder to me to sort out what things you send me are important and what things aren't.

    Please don't expect sympathy from me over anything financial. You have a steady job and have had a prosperous career. I'm just starting and can't be sure I'll have a job in a year. You complaining about expensive insurance premiums means nothing to me because I am not offered anything worth buying for insurance because the company we work for thinks temps are better than real employees.

    No, I really don't think a PhD is the solution. It's common for grad students to be overworked and the guarantee of good employment upon graduation is gone. Why would I spend 5+ years of my life working at poverty level wages just so I can be overqualified for the jobs that do exist?

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  7. Please don't ever draw parallels between me and your wife. I don't buy my husband's clothes or demand an anniversary gift, but if I did, I would expect my husband NOT to talk about this to his students.

    It's also really weird when you credit your wife with your success. Am I doomed to never being as successful as you because I don't have a stay-at-home spouse?

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  8. Lets see, where to start. I work in process chemistry having recently entered the industry and started to become only a tiny bit more stable (nothing is certain these days)...

    - Yeah, I get it, the golden era was nice, you have a home that is paid for, a retirement prospect, a happy family, etc. I'm happy for you, but it doesn't help me to talk about you, lets talk about work, or something light.

    - Don't be condescending about how with your decades or years of experience 'you just know better' in any and every circumstance. Realize that on occasion, you do have younger people entering the workforce that have more skills than some of the older folks, even though process chemistry isn't something you learn in school, and only by experience.

    - I'm not an encyclopedia of all technology, you can find a tutorial on Youtube as to how to program your VCR timer/personal gadget I can't afford because of the industry.
    - You can find a tutorial on Google as to how to view tutorials on Youtube
    - Seriously, why are you asking me how to use Google, and why are you still employed or even relevant?

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  9. I just turned 51 myself. And man, I sure hope I'm not coming across like some of these complaints!

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    Replies
    1. I think, given your blogging career, we can safely assume you know how to use teh Internetz, Derek : )

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    2. I think the key point here is to display a little empathy. DL - youre fine...

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  10. Please don't disparage chemists of other fields. It gives me a bad feeling about entering the community. And it's not appropriate to act superior simply because you know something someone else doesn't, or if they or incorrect about something. Most of all, stay humble.

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  11. Daaaaammmmmnnn. The comments from the younger generation are much harsher than the comments from the more experienced chemists. I am pretty surprised by that, but I agree with most of the sentiment that I have seen so far.

    For me, the number one thing that more experienced chemists is basically what Anonymous @ 12:23 said.
    Empathy.

    Show some understanding to us because we are just starting out in this chapter of our lives. Understand our struggles and don't come down so harshyl if we screw up. Everyone had to start from somewhere.

    You may be experienced now, but you were once in our shoes.
    Just be understanding. :)

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    Replies
    1. I apologize for all the typos. (yeesh!)

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