How to make sure you don’t get what you want.

There was an excellent post a couple of days ago by Comrade Physioprof about writing research plans as part of your application package for a tenure track faculty position. But, despite its excellence, the post is not what I want to talk about here- because I found the comment thread rather more instructive in more ways than one. I urge you all to go over there for career advice- because here I’m going to talk about something else.

I said a couple of days ago that if you wanted to get what it is that you want, professionally speaking of course, you are going to have to speak up, repeatedly, and sometimes loudly. There are ways to do this effectively and ways that aren’t going to help you. Allow me to demonstrate the ways that you should avoid – using excerpts from the comment thread on CPP’s post.

Prolific commenter Sol gets things started:

By now it is clear that my comments on this blog and others have given CPP ample topics upon which he has generated several of his recent posts. Does this arseshole signal that he appreciates it? (1) Is he going to thank me for that on this Thankgiving day? Of course not!!! Nevertheless, I will continue to do my share of exposing this douchephysioprof for what he is i.e., a pompous arse who believes that his way is the only way, and proving him wrong.

Isis takes the bait:

Sol, this is probably the craziest sounding shit I have read in a long time. It is your mission to expose PhysioProf as a pompous arse? And that’s the best way you can spend your time? Dude, this borderlines a wacky, stalkery obsession (2).

Sol escalates:

Isis dear,

I’m a bit worry about you. Seems to me that the motherhood, wifehood and sciencehood are beginning to weigh too much on you such that you have lost your sense of humor (2) (3). Believe me when I say that, I have much better things to do than spending my time on this douchepompousarse, CPP. When he is right, I boldly agree with him. When he is wrong, I boldly disagree with him.

But- Isis further escalates:

You’re right, Sol. What a silly woman I must be (3). Clearly motherhood and wifehood and scientisthood are all too much for my poor girl brain to handle and I have lost my sense of humor….

And now C PP piles on:

Dearest Scientit, please do not be disturbed by Sol’s deranged antics. Comrade PhysioProf has come to the conclusion that it is actually very good that Sol is showing his true colors here at DrugMonkey….

these assholes managed to eke out tenure-track careers and earn tenure at a time when there was much less competition for funding and faculty positions. When they got jobs, all you needed was to be a white dude trained in some famous white dude’s lab and publish some piece of shit drug or hormone binding study in some shitball journal that no one reads like Brain Research. By current standards, their research programs are ossified boring pointless crap that no one gives a flying fuck about. (1,4)

And Sol replies … predictably:


This is a nice generalize summation of the older generation of scientists who came before you……You forgot to mention that the young scientists of today, including, of course, yourself, actually invented science and that the oldtimers are trying their best to prevent you from succeeding because they are so envy of you (4). If pomposity was a disease, you would have spent the rest of your life in bed. (2)

And C PP brings this round to a close (I wish!):

See how instructive this is to see up close the thought processes of the washed-up creepy old fucks who lurk in the darker recesses of research grant and fellowship study sections, editorial peer reviewer lists, and faculty search committees? Turn on the light and watch the roaches scurry! (4)

Now, let me start the rest of this post by saying that I find these blog spat exchanges and the personalities involved amusing, but in real life this isn’t how stuff gets done. Oh yes, these things do happen in real life- but they end up in a lot of non-productive drama… and not in a lot of the results you were seeking. From time to time I have felt every one of those things that were verbalized up there… (I especially loved this one….If pomposity was a disease, you would have spent the rest of your life in bed…. LOL), but I avoid verbalizing them to anyone who I am not certain will bust out in gut wrenching giggles when they come out of my mouth.

When I was younger and more hot-headed- I would get very angry about stuff- shoot first and ask questions later. Needless to say this wasn’t a very effective strategy for getting what I wanted and needed in a professional setting… I have since learned to avoid the following…:

1. Perceived or real lack of appreciation for a participant in the discussion, or their point of view- It can be very frustrating to the other party when they feel like they are not being listened to. You don’t have to agree with them, but acknowledgment that you actually heard what they said can be done without that…. and can get you a long way to showing that you understand the other side.

2.  Calling someone crazy.  Or calling them anything else for that matter. Not going to help your case- I don’t think this requires a lot more explanation.  Someone calls me crazy- I call them an ass and the conversation is effectively over.

3.  Being defensive…. Also obvious- and allowing a situation to escalate.  Sometimes the best thing to do is to just take a deep breath and step outside the situation for a minute. You can get worked up about he-said, she-said later, but during a confrontation just refuse to engage instead of pouring gas on the fire- that way you might actually get something out of it.

4.  Assumptions about people’s motivation or background. Try try try to be insightful about a range of things that motivates the other party in a negotiation or discussion- but avoid attributing a particular motivation to them- let them explain their motivation to you first.

5. Failure to see topics in a discussion from the point of view of the other party– Even if you are hell-bent on your opinion- making an honest effort to see something from the point of view of the other party can engender goodwill, and help you demonstrate to the other party that you can see their perspective. … all of them did this one…

Yes, I’ve got real work to do today too.


9 thoughts on “How to make sure you don’t get what you want.

  1. Actual out and out insults would make faculty meetings MUCH more entertaining. It’s the long-winded attempts to diss the other person without actually calling them names, or to make them make themselves look silly, that are really really tiring.

  2. Excelent comment. The best part of it is exactly what several parties do not get. One thing are the posts themselves – their timing and ethos benefit of prior thought. Not so the more immediate reactions in comment, particularly under pressure of haste. Here people often reveal their paper-thin maturity and, through this, their clear lack of preparation. The best strategy is always built after the opponent, if I may, reveals their plan. If this is not allowed, he/she will feel driven into a corner and will lash out. This capability requires preparation, in the sense Louis Pasteur spoke about, and through preparation and exposure, so comes ability to cope and gain the upper hand. This in any situation – I guess you have been here before, DrdrA. Not so much your blogger colleagues. Nice.

  3. seasaltblues-

    I’m entertained by what goes on the internet- but if you go look at the whole comment thread on that post it’s pretty obvious that there was a really good discussion about the actual post once all the squabbling was quiet.

    I’m advocating that people not employ this as a strategy in real life- because it probably won’t work very well. I realize that I get a lot farther toward a goal if I put some actual thought into the interaction before it happens!

    JaneB- Faculty meetings are not my favorite, and that’s no secret around my place of work.

  4. Precisely. With emphasis on a lot of preparation. I don’t advocate any sort of strategy, I am a fan of long term prep. But as you say, very entertaining interwebs.

  5. ahhh seasalt. some day you will come to appreciate the beauty of eliciting discussion “under pressure and haste”. it tends to cut through the thin veneer of civility that people paste over their real selves. A thin veneer that obstructs the progression of a discussion…

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