So… Wait… You Want What Now?

, , , , | Working | March 31, 2020

(It is the middle of the recession and jobs are extra hard to find, and if you do find something it is probably temporary. A detachment agency I worked for before contacts me for a job. Let’s call it a lab technician level one, for sake of ease, while my education would put me at level three, and with experience at level four. I would be receiving a level one salary and job title, but hey, it’s a job. I would be allowed to look for something else, provided the agency got “dibs/first pick” if it was a position through agencies, and failing that, they would keep me on the payroll to find something else afterwards. Not a bad deal, so I adjust my mindset and go in for the interview. Instead of boasting about my experience, I emphasise that I am excited to work with a new product. Instead of saying that I am looking for a stable position, I say that I am curious to see what opportunities for growth might come in the long term, etc. Then, they wrap up with some questions about my personality, which is not uncommon.)

Manager: “How would you position yourself in a team?”

Me: “Initially, I tend to be a bit quieter, observe, and learn first, but over time I’ll become part of the group.”

Manager: “Are you headstrong or more go with the flow?”

Me: “I’m not one to start a fight; I know when to let things go, but I’m not going to lie or hide my opinion.”

Manager: “So, a lot of people in this team are a huge fan of [Sports Team]; would you feel comfortable saying you support the opponents?”

Me: “Well, I don’t care about sports at all.”

Manager: *laughs* “Okay, that’s a good, honest start.”

Me: “But if I favored the opponents, sure, I would say so.”

(I end up getting the job, and in this field, it’s very common that no matter what your education or experience is, you go through a phase of training with your hand being held — almost literally — so the company can check off and certify that you’ve been trained. Mentally, I roll my eyes, but I take it in stride. This period lasts pretty long in this job, though, and at some point, the training starts to scale down, but I hardly get any real work to keep me busy. What little work I do receive is very easy so I do it pretty fast, yet I get fairly limited access on the software systems, leaving others to “finish” my work for me. I start asking my trainer and manager for more work, but they brush it off or refer to the posted schedule. Said schedule uses all kinds of color coding and descriptions which are far from immediately obvious. In fact, when I ask about it, it seems everyone knows just enough to do their own job, but all the other information on the schedule is a foreign language to them. I end up talking to the planner and he only knows that when job A comes in it’s yellow, job B is blue, C is yellow, etc., but when I ask why A and C are yellow even though they are very different tasks, he basically shrugs. I go through several weeks and more phenomena like this, along with some odd bits. A coworker tries to sell a phone he found on the street, and when I point out to management that he is essentially selling stolen goods, the response is, “Yes, we will discuss with him that he shouldn’t do this at work,” and my motivation takes a hit, to say the least. I get called to the manager.)

Manager: “So, it’s clear that you aren’t really making improvements to the department.”

Me: “Do you mean I should work harder? I want to, but nobody will train me.”

Manager: “No, not like that. We hired you because your education and experience put you on a higher level than the rest of the team and we’re expecting you to take the team to a higher level.”

Me: “I thought I was hired as a level one technician, so that’s the job I’ve been doing. I’ll be happy to give you feedback on any shortcomings I see; I just didn’t want to be too critical as a newcomer.”

Manager: “Yes, you’re a level one technician. We specifically asked during your interview if you would speak openly and address things you would disagree with. So, when you see things not going well, we expect you’ll take the initiative and improve them, not just report them to management.”

Me: “So, I should develop myself into something like a team leader?”

Manager: “No, I’m the manager; you’re a technician just like the rest. But you should make things go better.”

Me: “O… kay… So, I should use my experience to see where you can reduce costs or make tests go faster?”

Manager: “Don’t think in terms of specific metrics. You’ve attended several team meetings now and heard the criticism we get from upper management. You also should have noticed that things aren’t going as well as they should.”

Me: “Sure, for one thing, it seems nobody fully understands the schedule.”

Manager: “Yeah, don’t mess with that; the planner takes care of the schedule.”

Me: “So, you don’t want me to train the rest of the team, nor will you give me any form of authority. You want me to make improvements, not to share critiques with you but to fix it on my own. I should not change the way the team is run and I shouldn’t be thinking of any measurable efficiency like costs, time, accuracy of results, etc.?”

Manager: “I’m glad you understand. Now get to it.”

(After a few weeks of mutual frustration, they kicked me out for failing to meet expectations. Initially, the agency was pretty pissed, but once they confirmed my story of the contradictory role, they became more sympathetic and admitted that there had been a big miscommunication on what kind of person the company was looking for. I ended up doing some headhunting for the agency until they found me a position that worked out a lot better.)

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They Say There Are No Stupid Questions, But…

, , , , , , | Working | March 20, 2020

(I’ve been dealing with morning sickness for weeks and my doctor’s office has sent me four reminders in two days this week to get blood work done, unrelated to the pregnancy. Today, I’m finally feeling well enough to go to the blood lab in the morning. It is a 30-minute drive to get there, and I’ve had to take a little time off work.)

Me: “Hello, I’m here for a blood draw.” *provides my name, date of birth, etc. as needed*

Blood Lab Front Desk: “Oh, we don’t have any record of this. Are you sure your doctor’s office sent it over?”

Me: “Yes, they’ve even sent me multiple reminders this week to come here.”

Blood Lab Front Desk: *confirms the name of my doctor* “No, there’s no record of this. Do you want me to call them?”

Me: “No, thank you. I’ll call them myself as I won’t have the time now to wait for them to send the order over and still do the draw.”

(So, I call the doctor’s office and explain the situation.)

Receptionist: “Well, we sent the order over. We faxed it.”

Me: “Okay, but they are saying they don’t have it, so they won’t do the draw. I’ve just driven for 30 minutes to do this and taken time off work. Now I don’t know when I’ll be able to do it again.”

Receptionist: “Um, well, we did fax it. Well, do you, like, um, want us to fax it again?”

Me: “Yes!”

(Inside I was thinking, “No! Please just continue to be as useless as you are right now.”)

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The Solution Is Math

, , , , | Working | February 3, 2020

(I work as a chemist. I’m fairly new, and one of the youngest people working. An internal customer comes in, wanting help interpreting the data I sent him. Note: this man has a PhD in chemistry.)

Customer: “I need this in percent! You sent it in… ppm?? What is that?!”

Me: “It stands for part per million.”

Customer: “Well, how do I get percent?

Me: “You have to convert to part per hundred. It’s just an order of magnitude conversion.”

Customer: “Part per hundred isn’t what I need, either! I need percent!”

Me: “Part per hundred is percent. That’s what percent literally means. Per hundred.”

Customer: “No, it doesn’t!”

(Repeat for ten minutes. I eventually gave up and did the conversion for him. Makes me wonder what math classes he took in that PhD.)

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Delayed To The Nines  

, , , , , | Working | December 27, 2019

(I’m a laboratory manager and some of our equipment breaks down, so I call the company to schedule a service. The tech asks what the earliest time is that he can come the next day and I tell him 9:00 am because I arrive before that time. On the day of the service, I arrive by 8:30 am, have breakfast, and wait for him to come. At 9:35, he hasn’t arrived, so I call him and he tells me he’s parking. Once he gets to the lab, we have this conversation:)

Tech: “Hi there. Did you think I wasn’t coming?”

Me: “No but it was well past nine and you hadn’t arrived, that’s why I called you.”

Tech: “Oh, well, usually when I schedule a service for 9:00 am, people get nervous if their commute gets delayed or something, so I just give them some time.”

Me: “…”

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The Atmosphere Suddenly Got Acidic

, , , , | Learning | September 2, 2019

(I work in a cancer research facility. For some background to the story, we are not a learning center, but a fully-functioning research building. We do have students, but they are at least in the third or fourth year of college, and some are even working on their thesis. We have a rule: if you have to use the equipment and do not know how, DO NOT touch it and ask for help. This rule is in place to protect the insanely expensive equipment, such as high-resolution microscopes, centrifuges, and cytometers, because if something happens to them, the hourly fee for a qualified technician runs in the hundreds of dollars. This rule applies to every machine, not only the expensive ones.)

Student: “Hi. I need to measure the pH of this solution.”

Me: “No problem. Here is the pH meter to do that. Do you know how to use it?”

Student: “This one is different than the model I know.”

(All pH meters work the same. You know how to use one, you know them all. pH meters have a crystal electrode that you introduce in the solution, and the machine gives you the pH measure automatically. However, you have to clean the electrode before using it to wash away the conservation solution — KCl — and to not contaminate your own solution with it.  I take her answer as she doesn’t know where the Off/On button is, so I turn it on for her and resume my work. The student takes the electrode, pulls it out of the conservation solution, and plunges it into her solution, which is the same color and texture of blue ink.)

Me: “Did you wash the electrode?”

Student: *confused* “Was I supposed to do that?”

Me: “Well… yes. Because if not, you just cross-contaminated your solution. Unless you know for a fact that your solution contains potassium chloride.”

Student: *alarmed* “Oh, no!”

(She proceeds to take the electrode out of her blue solution and plunge it again into the conservation solution, which turns blue immediately and now will have to be disposed of and replaced. I look at her, speechless. Suddenly realizing what she just did, she says:)

Student: “Oh, oh, what a mess I have made! Oh, my! I will have to do the solution again! I will be back to measure the pH later!”

(And without another word, she ran out of the door. Obviously, I had to clean up the pH meter and the counter and replace the conservation solution for a new one. She has not come back yet to measure the pH of her solution.)

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