After two-and-a-half years in my
current government position, I have been offered and accepted higher-level
acting positions, filled in temporary departmental gaps, and received the
accompanying higher-level pay. Others at work, with similar or more job
experience, have not been given the same opportunities. Being the scientist
that I am, I have compiled a list of actions that appear to be reliable
predictors of failure:
1. ‘Telling’ everyone how smart you are. The fact that you have a ‘PhD’ after
your name should be proof enough that you’re smart… right?
2. Acting bored. You have better things to do and the current job is
interfering with your social life, shopping, hobbies, web surfing… and looking
for a better job.
3. Whining and wailing. You know these people. These are the ones who keep
complaining, often and loudly. At first, you listen sympathetically. Then
you get tired of hearing the same complaints and start avoiding them. When the
problem does get resolved, it seems another issue-du-jour takes center stage.
4. Working to rule. It seems the same people who complain a lot also have a “work-to-rule”
mentality. That is, they “work” the bare minimum required of the “rules” of
their workplace. These people should wear a button that says, “It’s not my
5. Doing sloppy work. So what if you get details wrong, isn’t it someone else’s
job to fix your mistakes?
6. Acting like a lone wolf. This is a common problem encountered by PhDs.
During graduate school and a postdoc, being a lone wolf is somewhat encouraged.
After all, in research you need time to yourself to try new and untested
methods to discover new information. However, in large organizations like the
government, teamwork is necessary to accomplish the required goals. That does
not mean you should not be innovative with ideas. The goal is to think like a
lone wolf but not act like one (see step 7).
7. Being a loose cannon. You don’t agree with established protocol and
policy or your direct supervisor, so you follow your own rules when the mood
8. Being inflexible. It does not matter if all your colleagues disagree
with your reasoning and have good evidence to demonstrate why your conclusion
is incorrect. You will go down fighting for your right… to be wrong.
9. Not volunteering to do extra work. Why should you take on more work and more
responsibility, when you will get paid the same amount of money as someone who
doesn’t? Also, managers will see you doing a good job and will want to give you
more responsibility in the organization.
10. Making your manager’s job more difficult. Those pesky timesheets are a pain
to fill out. Why should I make my manager’s job easier? I won’t fill them
out until I am pestered to do so.
If you are guilty of three or more of the above, start planting
trees, because you will be stuck where you are for a long time.*
*Exception – Sometimes a person is so unpleasant to work with, the only
solution is to promote the person out of the department.
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