Where do your PhD’d friends who escape academia go?

Mike left an interesting comment re: his history phd friends

Some of my History PhD friends took jobs with corporations, e.g., HCA and Lockheed Martin. These were pretty highly compensated jobs. At least a couple took positions teaching at elite private secondary schools.

Here are some PhDs that we know of, and where they ended up:

Engineering:

80% of them are on the West Coast working for tech start-ups.  15% are on the East Coast working for tech start-ups.  One guy is a trailing spouse in a foreign country working as a “quant.”  One guy is an international “bum” in that he’s spent the last 10 years or so back-packing and couch surfing across the world and not doing much else (according to his brother who keeps in touch).  One taught high-school math and is now a software engineer.

Economics:

Many government positions in DC and at Feds around the country (also Canada’s version).  Several at think-tanks.  Some in consulting making large sums of money.  A couple on Wall Street whose salaries are measured in the millions instead of the hundreds of thousands.  One SAHP.  Freelance editor.

Political Science:

Running a local non-profit.  Consulting.  Business.  Volunteer for political campaigns.  Government in DC.  Government overseas.  Unemployed.

Sociology:

Working for the government in DC.  Working for granting agencies.  SAHP.

Psychology:

Grant foundation.  Private practice.  The VA.  Start-up.  Freelance writer.  Data manager/statistician.  Research director for a hospital.

English:

Novelist/SAHP.

Archeology:

Private school then SAHP.

History:

Investment banking.  High school teaching.

Physics:

Full-time research associate for an economist.  Think tank doing economics work.  Wall-street.  (Granted, I mainly only run into Physics PhDs when they’re doing economics.)

Math:

Actuary.  Federal Government.  Public school.  Private school.  Minister.

Let’s not forget that Mayim Bialik, actress, has a PhD in neuroscience, and Brian May, famous rock musician, has a PhD in astrophysics.

Where have your friends with PhDs ended up if they didn’t go into academia?

Are PhDs entitled to tenured jobs? A deliberately controversial post.

We have argued before that academia is just a job.

We have marveled at how willingness to do math opens up a world of opportunities.  (Though not necessarily with a math PhD… but if you’re willing to do the same math as say, an engineer, you’re in better shape.  And hey, you can always take actuarial exams or maybe work for the NSA with that math degree.)

So… does the fact that you’ve suffered for 5-7 (or more!) years in a PhD program and gotten your hood and your diploma mean that you are entitled a tenure-track job?  What about your debt?  Your lost opportunity costs?  Are you entitled to compensation for that?

The fact is, there’s an excess supply of PhDs compared to the demand for tenure-track professors in most fields.  In fields where industry can absorb those extra PhDs at salaries higher than their t-t counterparts, that’s not so bad.  You can cry about your industry job all the way to the bank, so to speak.  In fields where the PhD doesn’t provide many additional earnings opportunities, that leads to a lot of unemployed and underemployed people with doctorates.  We end up with a lot of people being exploited as adjuncts in the hope that if they put their time in they can get one of those elusive tenure-track jobs.  People are willing through their actions to accept very little pay and bad working conditions simply because they hope it will lead to better employment later, and there’s enough of these people that it drives the cost of adjuncts down.

Sometimes you work hard and you take risks and those risks don’t pan out.  It would be nice if there were exactly the number of jobs available for the people qualified for them who wanted them and they matched up perfectly and paid well.   But not only are there differing demands for different skill sets, but some sets at the same skill level seem to be more likable than others.  People like studying the humanities.  There’s not enough demand for PhD level humanities skills to ensure all humanities PhDs a living wage using those skills.

So… are PhDs entitled to tenured jobs?  Is anyone entitled to anything besides life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

How do you deal with student complaints about colleagues?

Not like harassment complaints or anything (which I haven’t gotten but would personally take seriously and bump up an administrative level), just teaching kinds of complaints (which meansomething considers a litmus test).

Often my students complain about their other professors to me.  These kind of complaints tend to come in two flavors:  Ones where it’s obvious that the student doesn’t realize that the teacher is doing something for hir own good, and ones where I kind of agree with the student.

For the former, it’s easy, you just explain what the professor is getting at.  R^2 is important when you’re trying to predict Y, but it isn’t important when you’re trying to figure out what the effect of X on Y is.  Group work is unpleasant, but learning to deal with groups of people is important in many professions.  Presentation skills are important and student presentations don’t mean the professor isn’t teaching the material.  That sort of thing.  Sometimes I’ll mention to my colleague of students aren’t getting something that they need to know and then the colleague gets bonus points from the students for going over it again in class.

The latter, when I kind of agree, is a little more difficult.  I will sometimes sympathize and say something like, “I probably wouldn’t do well in that class either, but X is very good for other learning styles,” or “X does that so that you learn to learn on your own,” or even “Because X is an under-represented minority and a woman, she gets a lot more criticism for her teaching and has to keep tighter control of her class– Dr. Fullwhitemale can get away with things that she can’t, and he can get away with more than I can and I can get away with more than she can.  People automatically give him respect, and I don’t have to work as hard for respect as she does.”  Generally I try not to ever trash one of my colleagues even if I disagree with their styles.

Of course, my colleagues do take their jobs seriously.  There are valid reasons for allowing or not allowing students to do homework in groups.  There are valid reasons for different types of lecture/classwork modalities.  I don’t hear about my colleagues failing to show up for class or never getting back homework (except in rare cases in which I can say that my colleague has been having a family emergency, which is totally understandable).  I think in those cases I would probably just frown and not say anything.  Because if one can’t say anything nice, one doesn’t say anything at all.

Meeting pet peeves

Here’s some things that annoy us in meetings and workshops.  You know, since it’s that time of year again.
1. People who cannot come to the point.  Don’t say in three paragraphs what you can say in 3 sentences or less.

2. Lack of agenda.  We should not be having meetings for the sake of having meetings.

3. Arguing about the same excrement over and over again without doing anything about it.  Either we do something about it or we don’t waste our time griping.
4. Lack of action items.  It doesn’t matter how many good suggestions people make unless someone actually implements them.
5. People who talk over my female and minority colleagues.  Gentlemen, you suck.
6. People who are making good points but just shut up when they’re talked over. (But I get why they do that and I always break in and say, “What is it you were saying…” etc.  Still, I wish they would break in so I don’t have to.  Also if they did that it would seem more normal when I refuse to let myself talked over by the same senior white guys who try to steamroll everybody.)
7.  “Let’s defer that to another committee.”
8.  “Let’s put you on that other committee.”
9.  People who make a bunch of suggestions about work for other people to do and then leave the meeting early so they can’t be assigned any of said work.  (Bonus points if they email later with more work for people “assigned to the committee [I suggested]” to do after.  Note that they have actually done no work themselves and conveniently ducked out right after suggesting a committee but before being able to be assigned to a committee.  No committee was created after they left, btw.)
10.  Anything longer than an hour and 30 min.  Or more frequent than once a month.  (Exceptions:  research meetings– those can/should be more frequent.)
What makes you want to claw your eyes/ears out at meetings?

What would make you quit a TT job mid-semester?

Just curious.

Do you know anybody who has quit a tenured or tenure-track job mid-semester.  Do you know why?  How did that work out?

Ask the grumpies: To move or not to move?

To move or not to move asks:

My husband and I have been talking about moving from the city where I did my PhD to my hometown. This move would result in us going more than halfway across the country.

We have two kids (baby and toddler).

Here are the factors we’re considering:

Jobs

-          My husband has a very well paying, fairly secure job that he enjoys for the most part.

-          I am currently on maternity leave, but the position was a contract position and it ends before my maternity leave ends.  I do not have a job to go back to, and am looking at a career change.  My latest position was not a post-doc, but it was related to my PhD field.  Unfortunately, my PhD field is one in which there are not that many obvious direct paths from academia to industry, but it’s also freeing in that there’s no just one part of the country that has all the jobs related to my PhD.

-          Neither of us has job prospects in hometown at the moment (though we’re always looking).

Social

-          We don’t have family or many close friends in PhD city. In hometown, we’d automatically have family (my parents, brother/his wife, aunt/uncle, cousin, grandmother) and close friends nearby – it would be an instant support system that we don’t have here.

-          Hometown is also closer to husband’s family (next state over instead of across the country) – makes for easier and less expensive visits.

Geography

-          We love our house and neighborhood in PhD city. We don’t love PhD city or the area of the country, but it’s okay. It seems to be a good place to raise a young family.

-          Hometown is an amazing city with lots to do in and nearby.

-          Weather in PhD city is better overall – milder/shorter winters, warmer/long spring/summer/falls (winters in  hometown is what bothers husband the most).

Cost of living

-          So much more reasonable in PhD city. We bought our house in PhD city for $250K, and the equivalent in an equivalent neighborhood in hometown would be about $700K-$1M.

So, my questions are:

-          How in the world do we make this decision?

-          What factors are the most important? Are we missing any?

-          If we do decide to move, what factors needs to be taken care of beforehand?

Wow, that’s a lot of discussion.  It’s hard for us to advise you on this decision because we have always moved for the job.  That’s why we’re both living in red states where we get to choose between the libertarian candidate and the tea-party Republican.  Fun times.  But most people stay close to home and family and support networks, so it’s not like you’re talking crazy talk.

Ultimately this is a very personal decision.  We’d advise you to make a list of pros and cons like you’ve done, but only you can weigh the job uncertainty vs. the desire to move back near family vs. the weather, etc.

Just straight off, it’s hard to see a good reason to move to PhD city without employment in place.  Your DH likes his job and doesn’t have a new one lined up and the new city is really expensive.  Unless you’re independently wealthy, there could be some pretty strong risks to moving without a job.  Even though it’s usually easier to find a new job in a city after you’ve moved there.  But you two should definitely both keep seeking out employment opportunities in Hometown– once there’s an actual job you’ll be able to do actual salary vs. cost of living vs. happiness calculations.  If your DH hated his job, then there would be more reason to jump ship without a backup plan in place, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Still, you may weigh other factors (like family) heavier in your decision and be less risk averse than we are.  Also #1 hates winters too.

#2 adds:  If you don’t hate PhDCity and are just homesick, then stay put.  If you hate PhDCity, which it doesn’t sound like you do, it might be worth moving anyway.  Really though the two of you need to do more research about job options before we can give more solid advice– the job is a big missing piece, especially if PhDCity is the cheap place to live.  You would have to get HELLA free childcare and HELLA cheaper travel to family to make up for the COL increase.

Factors:  Get jobs.  Get a decent rental you can stand.  Childcare.  Vaccinations.  Find schools.  Find a new pediatrician.  Consider your cars/pets.  Moving is the very very worst.  You may find cheaper rates in the off-season (not summer).  Moving across the country will make you nuts.

Grumpy Nation, surely you can give a better response here than we did.  Help 2mon2m out!

Ask the grumpies: What to do with signing bonus?

A New Hire asks:

As part of my start-up package, I get a lump sum of ~$60k cash.  The default option is for this to be paid monthly over 5 years, but you can choose other schemes, including all at once.  However, if you leave before 5 years is up, you have to pay it back (I’m assuming pro-rated).  I’m not sure how taxes would be handled.  We assume we’d have to pay back money you already paid taxes on, but maybe it could be written off as a loss.

Considerations:

  • Our (combined income) – (tax sheltered retirement contributions) will be $186 – $228k the first year (bonus is a large component of my spouse’s compensation package).  The expected value (with an “average” bonus) is $206k
  • We only will move away if there are extenuating circumstances
  • We hope to buy a house in approximately 2 years, maybe slightly sooner.  We can probably accomplish this without the lump sum help, but obviously we’d borrow more
  • We expect the home to cost in the neighborhood of $700k, perhaps more
  • If taken as a lump sum, we’ll likely put into a CD until we use it for a home downpayment.
  • We have access to a special loan program requiring 10% down with no PMI, and no real considerations of “jumbo” vs regular mortgage.  The drawback is that while rates are quite attractive (3% today with no points), it is variable and pegged to short term investment returns with a floor at 3%

What is the most optimal way for us to take this money?

I’m advocating for lump sum ASAP or splitting between two years.  I think the 2 years split would be optimal.  Spouse is not sure what to do, but thinks the 5 year monthly trickle makes sense.  I assume that if we choose a 2 year period, it may have to be monthly – but I can check if we can get 2 lump sum payments if determined that is most optimal.
(A separate analysis would ask if the mortgage program is a good deal, given that we could lock in low rates in the private market.  But we aren’t ready to buy yet, so we can’t compare that yet.)

1.  Find out how taxes are going to be handled!  If there’s any chance that you can get that 60K to count for taxes on a lower income year (moving from piddly grad student salary to full year salary) and pay lower marginal tax rates on the full amount, that would be ideal.  Similarly, if you’re moving from a low tax state to a high tax state, it would be nice to have half the year count for the low tax state.

Similarly, if you think your raises or bonuses will be going up over time or that tax rates will be going up over the next 5 years, that argues for front-loading.  If you think Obama is going to be replaced with a tea party member and tea party houses… then you probably make enough money as a family that they’d want to lower your tax rates and you might want to put that off.

The tax bracket you’re estimating is:

28% on taxable income over $148,850 to $226,850, plus… so you’d be paying 33% on anything you earn over 226,850.  So ~2000*.05 = $100 extra for the amount that gets into the 33% bracket instead the 28% bracket, if I did my math correctly.  I would probably not do anything fancy to save ~$100 at that income.

2.  Does your department have a history of kicking people out at the 3rd year review or only at tenure?  How likely are you to stick out a bad situation if there are “extenuating circumstances” (does the spouse’s job keep you in this area?  would you be willing to move to say, Kansas, if this job doesn’t work out?).  More importantly, if “extenuating circumstances” happen, are you easily going to be able to pay back the money from your spouse’s salary or from savings?  Does the university really make people pay it back in practice?  Does the university allow payment plans to be set up if they do?  Of course, if you keep it in a CD you should be able to pay it back with only minimal penalty if you have to break the CD.

3.  Is it really 50K all at once vs. 1/5 of that a year for 5 years?  Even with small inflationary expectations, there’s no good reason except for #1 and #2 that I can think of to let them earn interest on the money rather than you.  Even at a piddly 1% interest rate.

So I guess in general my recommendation is to take the lump sum and keep it somewhere safe.  Unless you feel more confident about #2 or are planning on doing a lot of additional saving so you can easily pay back 20 or 30K at the drop of a hat.  (Something you may want to be able to do before you buy a house, just in case!)

Re: the mortgage issue, ask us again when you’re closer to that decision and know what the rates are!  It does sound a bit sketchy and there may be additional strings depending on the school you’re at.  (The UCs, for example, use their mortgage program as a way to lock professors in, I have heard.)

Standard disclaimer:  we are not professional financial planners or accountants.  Always talk with a real professional before making these kinds of important decisions.

What have we missed, Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: Pumping and a job talk

R asks:

My situation is that I was just shortlisted for a TT position before Christmas and now the interview is coming up January 30. I am working on my slides and have read all of the “do’s and don’ts” available online, but none address my situation.

Like one of you I have two offspring and the younger is 14 months and still takes in 90% of his calories from breastmilk. Combine this with my oversupply issues and this means I have to pump every 4 hours for comfort. The last thing I want is to leak while meeting with someone or presenting.  I’ve asked and they’ve said the day will go from 8:30am until dinner starting at 6. This means potentially 3 pumping breaks I need to fit in (the interview is local and I am not staying at a hotel, but it is quite far from my home).

The secretary offered an office space but informed me that there are large windows so there will be no privacy, or told me the other option was the “large restroom” (after I specifically said no restrooms!). I wrote back and politely said that I am fine with a non-private space, my as long as others will not be uncomfortable or disturbed by the noise of the pump.

My other issue is that the schedule as they have structured it only has 30 minute breaks for me, and I need at least that to pump. I’ve asked for more time, but I don’t want to seem too demanding. Yes, I can multitask, but it is not very relaxing to be doing prep. while pumping (at least not for me), and sometimes I need to focus on one thing at a time.

Advice on how to handle this gracefully? Also, am I to avoid all mention of the offspring and details of family life during the day? Merci!

Congratulations!

First off, the short advice.  Bring anti-histimines.  They’ll dry you up temporarily (not all the way, but they take the edge off and help prevent leaking).  Since you have an over-supply you won’t need to worry about making up for lost milk.

I’ve actually pumped all sorts of places… airport restrooms, my car, the worst recently was a restroom in a fancy new building at the Stanford business school where they ridiculously didn’t have electricity sockets near the sink so I had to do it on the floor next to the door.  (That was ridiculous, but I only needed to pump a little bit so I didn’t bother asking the organizers for an extra space– had I known the only outlet was on the floor I might have!)  If you’re worried about cleanliness, you can always pump and dump.  Yes, it would be nice if there were dedicated pumping rooms everywhere, but one has to be pragmatic.  I think the key is whether it is a one-time situation or a long term expectation of bathroom pumping.  Generally when I’m invited to give a talk some place while still needing to pump, a faculty member offers his (male-dominated field) office and I use that.  That may still happen, though it is odd that the secretary wasn’t able to arrange that for you in advance.  (Possibly a red flag, possibly not.)

What kind of prep do you think you’ll need to do during your interview?  What can you do to minimize the need to do any prep during the day?  Usually on job interviews I just needed a break so I didn’t have to talk to anybody or think about anything.  Pumping suits that pretty nicely.  Even without pumping, I’d warn against trying to fit anything in during breaks because talking to that many people and being “on” can be pretty exhausting.  So make sure your talk is prepared and practiced in advance.  And remember that you don’t need to know everything about everyone before talking with them– it is fine to ask people the same question, and it is fine to ask everybody what they like about working where they’re working and if it’s a research place, about their research.

As for  how to deal with scheduling questions gracefully, be super polite to that secretary when you get there.  Thank her graciously for setting everything up etc.  A little appreciation can go a long way when you’re asking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say to avoid talking about the kids and family.  Not because it’s bad to talk about kids and family, but because when you’re talking about them you’re NOT talking about what’s important.  You want them to remember your stellar research.  Your great teaching ideas.  Your professionalism.  How you’re going to fit into their program.  Not cute stories about your adorable kids and amazing husband.  That’s not to say if they ask point blank you shouldn’t answer direct questions on how many kids you have, but that you should then follow-up that question with another question about the job.

Now, some parts of the interview may be more relaxed (usually food is involved), and don’t need to remain 100% focused on research.  Those are when you ask questions about the town and they tell you about the school system (whether you have kids or not) and so on.  But you live there so you already know all that stuff.  Still, you can chat about things you like in the area etc.  Stay upbeat and collegial.  And sneak in a little bit of fun research-related talk in there (interesting questions, stuff they’ve done etc.) too.

Grumpeteers, any advice?

Recommendation for a women’s briefcase?

I asked my sister to get me one for Christmas, but she got me one of those cloth grocery bag things instead (a very nice cloth grocery bag thing from a tourist gift shop in Europe, but definitely not a substitute for something I can both carry work papers in and take to a conference.  I’m sure if I were in a less Boston-y field in terms of formality, it would work except that it’s still too tall.)

I had been using my limited edition Medela bag after DC1 stopped needing it, but that ceased to be limited edition so everybody with kids knows it’s a breast-pump bag now and we’re using it as a diaper bag anyway.

I can’t ask my sister to get me another women’s briefcase because that would be embarrassing for everybody.  And I really shouldn’t put it on my Amazon wish-list either because she would know.  That means I have to buy my own.  (I’ll just have to be careful that she doesn’t see the one she got me getting groceries.)

I’m looking to spend under $150, preferably $120 or less.

Does anybody have a bag that they absolutely love?  It needs to look professional, fit papers and manilla folders, not be too heavy, be sturdy, not be a PITA to deal with (as in, you don’t have to fiddle with leather straps and buckles every time you want to put something in or take something out), fit under the plane seat in front of me… and probably a bunch of other things I’m not even aware of.  Being able to fit in a laptop is a plus but not a necessity.  Ditto pockets.

Any suggestions?

#2 loves this one, and for a couple of years was the only person in town with it, but now the local Macy’s has it and so does everyone else.  It has inspired much covetousness from others.  Mine’s brown, not black, but it has the same lovely blue interior.  I think maybe they’re only available in black now?  Anyway, it’s been a lovely workhorse.

Ask the grumpies: Bad work situation

Should I stay or should I go now asks:

Frequent reader, infrequent commenter.  Love the blog!

I was wondering if you could help me with a situation at work, or help me decide if I should quit or what.

I am a PhD in a tech field and I’m working in a specialized industry in a lower-level management/upper-level development position.  I love the current project that I’m working on, my immediate team is great, and my immediate boss’s heart is in the right place.  My current problem is instead with the Powers that Be.

We recently moved floors in the building.  Cubicles were assigned without managerial or employee input, possibly at random.  My cube is placed in such a way that it is actually impeding my ability to work.  Think terrible smell from the restroom that keeps me nauseated or a draft so cold my fingers can’t work the keyboard.  That kind of thing.  I spend most of the day in the library or cafeteria or a conference room with my laptop, which isn’t great for productivity because I don’t have the dual-screen set-up etc.

I put in a request for my desk to be moved.  It was denied without comment.  They did send maintenance by to try to fix the problem, but it’s still a major problem.  My boss tried to argue my case, but that just made the Powers that Be more upset.  In fact, they have reneged on some special work they wanted me to do prior to this fiasco.  I suspect that this situation has caused them to think poorly of me.

And the thought is returned… senior management doesn’t seem to care about the productivity or happiness of their workers.  This example is just the one that is affecting me directly and making me less productive and more unhappy.

I know you guys are really into personal finance, so I think I should say that we have a lot of money saved and my partner makes enough of an income that we could get by if I were unemployed or self-employed without clients for a while.  I could just up and quit.  I’ve looked at the job listings and talked to a few people and it doesn’t look like there’s anybody hiring in my current field in my city right now and moving cities would be near impossible because of our family situation.  I have been thinking about striking out on my own or getting trained in a different field, but that was more a 5-year plan thing.

Should I move that plan up?  Should I quit now?  Should I try harder to fix the problem at work?  How?

What should I do?  I’d especially like advice from your awesome readers to see what they think.

The readers should definitely weigh in!  Our advice may be academic… of course, if there’s a management organization characterized by liking one’s coworkers and one’s work and not seeing eye-to-eye with upper management… academia may be it.

It seems like there are several things going on here.

I want to highlight that you like your work and your coworkers and your immediate boss.  That suggests it may be worthwhile trying to keep this job, at least in the short- to medium-term.

However, your current day-to-day working environment is untenable and you suspect that management has labeled you a trouble-maker.  They may have done that.  Also you have some ideas for future paths and you have the resources that you could spend some time exploring them even if they come to nothing.  That suggests that leaving this job won’t be the end of the world.

Those two facts give you an incredible amount of bargaining power.  You can draw a line in the sand exactly where you want it drawn and whatever management responds with will be fine with you.  Either they will fix the problem and you can go back to being a productive cog, or they won’t and you just left a job that was making you miserable with no sign of relenting.

I want to encourage you, however, to take emotions out of your decision-making.  Stop worrying about if upper-management makes bad decisions or if they think poorly of you in ways that are not deserved.  Don’t stop *thinking* those things — don’t stop putting them into your decision functions, but do stop being emotionally bothered by them.  I know that’s easier to say than to do, but you can leave this job and you can leave it professionally.  You are not trapped.  You also don’t have any time pressure on this decision– you can make it at any time.

Focus instead on the immediate problems and your long-term goals.

First:  the immediate immediate problem.  Having a work environment that keeps you from being productive.  Given that you’ve already been denied a desk change because (presumably) they think the problem can be fixed, go through the procedure to see if the problem can be fixed.  Yes, a new desk would be nice, but what you really need is for the smell to go away or whatever.  First step:  Call maintenance yourself, and politely ask for an update.  That should give you information on whether or not this problem is actually fixable.  If it isn’t, or if fixing it is going to cause the company cost-problems, that’s more information you can bring forward when you ask for a desk-change again.  If it is fixable, then ask them about their time-line for fixing it or if there’s a formal procedure you should be going through to request a fix.  A good way to start the conversation is, “I need your help” or “I was hoping you could help me.”  Second step:  If maintenance can’t fix it, think about creative solutions…for example, headphones or ear plugs can be a temporary solution for a noisy office.  If your cube is untenable, then maybe you can request a cart and an additional monitor for working elsewhere, even if that’s ridiculous.  Come up with several potential solutions, discuss them with your boss, and bring the formal request up again, this time with more information.  Bonus points if you do a cost-benefit analysis of each potential solution, making it easy for them to pick a solution that is little effort on their parts that you’re happy with (turns out adults like choice almost as much as toddlers).  You tried their solution and it didn’t work, here are some additional suggestions.

Next:  Do not ignore this worry that upper-level management has labeled you a trouble-maker.  Instead, address it head on.  Read the book Crucial Conversations (or Crucial Confrontations– but we haven’t read the latter).  It will give you a script for how to deal with this kind of problem, but you need to deal with it face-to-face so that they can see that you’re a real person and you’re professional and you want to solve problems and make the company productive.  Pretend to yourself (or suspend your disbelief) that their goals are to help you be productive and to help the company do the best that it can.  I have found that often when I approach people who I know are all about their own power-trips with the earnest and outspoken belief that they are doing their jobs with the best interests of the department/school in mind that they become more of their better selves and they align themselves with trying to fix the problem I’m having, even if it doesn’t end up being the original solution I proposed.  So that thing they reneged on– talk to them about it, ask if there’s any way that can be re-upped, or make yourself available for similar opportunities in the future.  In person.  Or talk to them about another issue.  But talk to them professionally and politely with an open but guarded heart.  (After reading Crucial Conversations– truly an excellent book.)

Finally:  your long-term goals.  None of the short-term potential fixes preclude you from exploring your 5 year plan options or shortening that plan.  You don’t have to make any firm decisions and you can play it by ear, but definitely think about your next steps and work on those.  If management is truly incompetent, you’ll be leaving this company some day (because the company goes under or you finally have had enough) or the management will be replaced.

So what would I do in that situation?  I would call maintenance, talk to my boss a little bit more, and come up with some potential solutions.  I would also escalate up that reneged thing if it’s important or still has a chance of being salvaged, and hopefully meet with some of these power players so they can see that I’m a model employee and not a trouble-maker.  And I would start tapping those networks and doing some introspection (which for me means looking at my bank accounts).  If my cubicle still had that problem that made it impossible for me to work after my best efforts to fix it or get switched, I would politely and professionally draw that line in the sand.  There’s no point in working at a company if you can’t be productive.

#2 says:
I think you should try to hang on a little longer.  There’s no guarantee you won’t have crazy situations elsewhere.  Everything is great except senior management, but they might change.  You might outlast them!  Especially if they want to move up the ladder at your company (where they hopefully won’t have contact with you anymore) or at a shinier company (even better).

Try to enlist your sympathetic boss to aid you, but approach the conversation carefully.  Remember, you both have the same goal: productive workers who stick around.

In the meanwhile, use technological solutions (acquire some fingerless gloves or a surgical face mask etc.) to wear in your cubicle.  Who cares how you look?  If it helps you be more productive, do it.  (Even try to have your boss pay for it.)  If other people think you look weird they may eventually address the underlying problems and if not, at least you can be comfortable.

#1 is a bit concerned about the face-mask.  People might think you’re a weird germophobe.  But you can probably push pretty close to the line on technological solutions without going too far, especially if you can manage to do it cheerfully with company-make-do-can-do-spirit rather than in a passive-aggressive manner.  Use company branded products if such are available!

Grumpy Nation, what would you advise?  What would you do in this situation?  What should you do?

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