A rant about always being the test case, about always being the competent one, about always having to double check

My friend is a department chair and head of a search committee in her department.  For their first job candidate, she checked the room she’d booked for the job talk and found that not only did it have no chairs, but the floor was wet.  Housekeeping said, sorry not sorry, but that’s your problem, not ours.

Luckily she discovered this several hours before the job talk and was able to scramble to get another room booked.  If she hadn’t checked with plenty of time upfront it would have been a disaster.  (Checking was not trivial since it’s in another building and it’s cold outside.)

I recently found out that I handle more articles than any of the other associate editors for one of the journals I’m an associate editor at.  The new EIC let that slip.  I honestly didn’t think that some of the famous people who are associate editors were doing a whole ton.  Anyhow, I also turned out to be the first person to make a decision on a paper with the new EIC in charge and he got very annoyed at *me* because whatever was set up on the editor-in-chief side wasn’t working for him!  He’s like, I got the email saying you sent something to me, but I cannot see it.  Where is it?!  And another email to me with, “You need to login to see for yourself,” including screen shots.  And I’m like, I don’t know what you’re supposed to see, but there’s nothing I can do about it (except I didn’t say that because I’ve been socialized as a female so instead I said it got archived on my side just like it always does and maybe he didn’t have the access he needed for the full EIC setup?)  So he emailed the company that takes care of that and was like, Nicole suggested that maybe I don’t have the full access I’m supposed to.  UGH.  If I weren’t so on top of things someone else would have had this interaction and it would have been a guy so the conversation would have gone differently.  But it’s not my fault he didn’t get a full tutorial before taking over!  And he’s been in transition for over a month!  Surely the outgoing editor could have assigned him something and walked him through it. [Also:  He did have full access, he just didn’t click on the obvious link, as I saw in the screencap instructions that the company then sent that I was cc’d on.]

At the end of last semester I still didn’t know what classes I would be teaching this semester because the chair hadn’t told me yet, so I checked the online courses and discovered that we had dead and retired people signed up to teach classes we no longer offer because something had gone wrong with the system and they’d posted a schedule from years ago.  I pointed this out to the department chair (succinctly and politely, I swear!).  No thanks, just irritation.

At the beginning of this semester I tried to get into my new classroom to see the set-up and where the camera was and if there were whiteboards and markers etc.  But I couldn’t get in because we no longer have keys and for some reason they cancelled all our card access, including the chair’s.  Sorry anybody with an 8am class, you would have been SOL unless you could find a maintenance person to let you in.  Chair mildly annoyed, especially when I hadn’t heard anything and asked about it again after classes started but before my first class (zie had put in a work order but hadn’t heard back yet, not sure what happened with 8am classes).

I also am generally the person to discover that the xerox machine is broken at the beginning of the semester.  I’m pretty good at fixing it, but sometimes there are things that need an actual technician.

We had a full day faculty retreat and I forced the department head to have a pre-meeting to make sure we could get everything on the agenda that zie wanted.  (Obviously we couldn’t) and to make sure that zie knew what hir priorities were for each item on the agenda.  And to make sure we HAD an agenda!!  And then during the meeting I kept things on track and pulled back to the agenda any time we started going in circles or strayed too far.  Nobody was happy about this, especially people who weren’t at the last full day faculty retreat where we accomplished nothing (but at least we weren’t indoors during a pandemic).  But we stuck to the agenda, got the answers the chair needed, and ended on time.

In multiple coauthorships I’m generally the annoying person calling for meetings or asking when they’ll have a chance to look at things.  I’m not very good at this because I stop at the tiniest sign of irritation because of too much experience with people yelling at me.  Much easier to just do stuff myself if I can.  :/

Even DC2 gets irritated at me for being the messenger when zie gets something wrong in a homework book.  It’s not my fault you did the area and not the perimeter!  Just fix it!  (We have told DC2 to stop being a jerk when someone points out a mistake.)

And yet, if I keep my mouth shut, things that I predict will go wrong go wrong.  It’s not like I’m better off not saying anything– I’m not.  If I could trust that someone else would notice or pick up the slack then I could just let things go.  I could not double check things.

I do make sure to praise my RAs any time they find a mistake or bring up something odd they’ve noticed.  Because it is valuable!  And it is really helpful to have someone keeping things on track.  I just wish it wasn’t generally me.

Do you work with competent people?  Are you always double-checking and glad you did so?  Do you feel appreciated?

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15 Responses to “A rant about always being the test case, about always being the competent one, about always having to double check”

  1. CS Says:

    You mention your first name in the third paragraph. Did you mean to? (I think you avoid using identifying info.)

  2. Ann Says:

    Same here — always the one finding the mistakes, BECAUSE I check and recheck. Sigh…..

  3. GradStudent13 Says:

    I feel this. Props to you for being on top of it. I appreciate those people.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    So *frustrating*. I used to work with people like this.

    Nowadays I do work with generally competent people and a big part of my job is to find and correct errors and train them out of people so I’m this person a lot. The nice thing is that very few colleagues feel comfortable showing irritation when I point it out because at my nicest I probably come across as prickly so I don’t have as much blowback. When I get it from the assholes we inevitably run across, most of the time I can find a way to point out that we were HELPING and they’re being an **asshole**. Even if they don’t apologize, I feel petty satisfaction in having pointed out any part of it if I can.

    At home JB will be kind of a jerk about mistakes being pointed out too and we’ve gotten on their case about that. Just fix it!

  5. Mike Nitabach Says:

    It was pretty difficult for me to do so, but I did eventually learn to (1) category the world into shittolio that matters to me that I am duly responsible for making sure it works right VERSUS shittolio that matters to me but it isn’t my responsibility to make it work AND (2) let go of the second category of shittolio when it goes wrong.

    Like if the video projector wasn’t working in the seminar room & everyone was sitting there waiting for the seminar to start already, I’d always jump up & try to help get it working regardless of whether I had invited the speaker or not. Now if I’m not the speaker’s host, I just sit there & play with my phone & if it gets fixed, it gets fixed; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

    I don’t know how old you are, but my wife (she is even more intrinsically the “fixer” than I was) & I are pretty convinced that this is a very very common first-born GenX phenotype…

    • CG Says:

      Like you, I think I have backed off on being the person who fixes things when it is not obviously my problem. But it is in my nature! And I am a firstborn Gen Xer (ish). I got screwed over by someone in my department a few years ago in a minor-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things but personally consequential way and since then I’ve had a more cynical attitude toward my department and toward the institution in general. I think that has made me less invested in fixing things.

  6. omdg Says:

    Had this experience recently with a statistician who wouldn’t follow the protocol, and kept making mistake after mistake. Yet somehow I was the bitch because I had to keep correcting her mistakes. Oh! And she also blamed me for being “disorganized” when she didn’t follow the protocol and had to redo things 10 times. :-)

    People suck sometimes.

  7. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Today I had to report *to my employer* that we can’t access our W-2 forms. At all. WHYYYYY are people like this. I feel your pain: why does nobody else try to fix things?

  8. Debbie M Says:

    I’m slowly learning that whistle blowers are widely hated. I love, love, love whistle-blowers myself, so I don’t get it. But I guess killing the messenger is a long historical tradition.

    I heard that Michael Dell said that if you accidentally dropped one of those big things of chips, a very expensive mistake, and he found out you *didn’t* tell anyone, that was grounds for firing. I assume if you dropped them multiple times, that couldn’t help your job either. But apparently this can be one of the (many) problems with culture/systems.

    The other day, I noticed a container of ice cream in the bakery case, which was not cold enough. I wasn’t really in the mood to carry it back to the freezer case, so I looked around and there were two employees who happily took care of it. So, it’s not universal.

    I did enjoy at my last full-time job telling people who didn’t want to report problems (with our in-house degree audit software) to pass them on to me and let me report the problems and be the bad guy. I enjoyed the translation part of my job (explaining user problems to the programmers and programmer solutions to the users), and this felt like another version of that. And I got to feel heroic. I was about to quit at the end anyway (doing too many people’s jobs throughout and beyond a recession), so getting fired was not a thing I worried about.

    However, I did notice that the folks who found the most bugs were considered annoying by other people. I loved them because they helped us get those problems fixed for themselves and everyone else, so I made sure to thank them (and apologize to them for having these problems) regularly. They were actually my favorite co-workers.

    Anyway, that’s been my much easier experience with all this. I’ve had it much easier than you, and I’m sorry.

  9. Fiona McQuarrie Says:

    IME the more you do this kind of work, the more it becomes expected that you’re the one who will do it. Sometimes it’s more important to do what you did; if you didn’t cause the problem, let the person who caused the problem, or the person who can also fix it, do the fixing.

  10. First Gen American Says:

    In the pursuit of Corp America chasing more and more productivity, it has become a shitshow. Why have the right number of people doing a set of tasks when you can have less and get away with it. This is one of the primary reasons I left my last job. They stopped backfilling people when they’d leave and it’s not sustainable. And what happens is then the “nice” people get asked favors to help make things happen faster instead of following the process and waiting for the correct person to do their job. Now even they are saying no because they can’t do their real jobs because they are bombarded with favor requests. So in this world of short handed ness, the nice and/or most productive people usually take the biggest hits.


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