Guess I can’t satisfy everyone…

I’m been a habitual people-pleaser. When I was young, whatever my parents wanted of me I have it to them: sports and school success. In college I delivered on both for my parents, and friends were always taking advantage, err, asking me for help. When I was working in industry the higher ups knew that my group would always deliver whether on a scientific study, new device, or just an outreach event. Stretching myself thin was something I became accustomed to. And I didn’t fail. Deadlines were always easy. 

This all ends right now. I am finding that I’m running out of time. It’s not that I’m doing anything complicated (so far, my industry work has been more complicated) but there are so many little crappy things to do. For the first time in ages I’ve turned down a task that a superior has asked me to do because I can’t be part of a sixth committee when I’m still in my first semester. It’s a committee that works on collaborating with surrounding hospitals. I’d love to, but just can’t. In addition, my department wants me to be the one in the department that submits to this internal grant to just show face. I’d love to deliver, but I can’t be the Phindustry of old and always say yes. I’m used to working all the time, but not used to so many small tasks. I’m going to have to get used to making only most people happy. This will be tough. Or be happy with subpar work. And that will never ever happen. 

On the plus side, my students are kind of taking after me and completing everything I give to them. I’m genuinely surprised. I don’t have kids, but watching every little thing they do and inferring how great they’ll be as scientists is something I realized I like doing. 


2 thoughts on “Guess I can’t satisfy everyone…

  1. I’m used to working all the time, but not used to so many small tasks. I’m going to have to get used to making only most people happy. This will be tough. Or be happy with subpar work. And that will never ever happen.

    Please don’t be one of the people who will never half-ass anything, no matter how half-assable the task it. I was a collaborator with one such person and we stopped collaborating because she was way too slow and taking too much time to do stuff: with a long to-do list, if you don’t half-ass anything, it will take you forever to get to everything. There are really many things that are fine to do 70-80%. For instance, I would have much preferred her giving a quick look to an essentially finished paper and making a few comments so I can submit, than me waiting 3 months so that she could give me slightly more anally retentive and slightly more numerous comments that didn’t really do anything substantive to the paper.

    There are plenty of examples like that where it’s more important not to block something where someone else is responsible for putting in their 100% than it is to do everything perfectly on your end.

    I make sure I reserve the 100% for the stuff that really depends on me: group’s work (presentations, papers, grants) and the service that I feel is important (e.g. tenure evaluation). I fully admit I don’t do classroom teaching at 100%, maybe 70-80%, because teaching a large class with no TA is a ton of work and is fine even if not perfect; putting in 10-20% more would take too much of my time from other stuff. I try to do paper and proposal review 100% but I would lie if I said that I always did the most thorough job I can. I used to read theses of other people’s students in detail, now I don’t; at most I skim.

    You will have to both disappoint people (actually, not disappoint, but simply decline requests) and to learn to half-ass. You probably don’t yet see the full intensity of the storm of incessant requests for stupid shit (not stupid and not shit, but lots that is unimportant, that could be done by someone who’s not a PhD, or just fallout from other people’s incompetence, or stuff whose quality really objectively doesn’t depend on anything you do or say); that is a professorial job. The main struggle is carving away enough time in relative sanity where you can think and write.

    Good luck! Exciting times!


  2. Did you have an administrative assistant when you were in industry? I wonder if this is why things seemed easier before, whereas now you’re having to take care of everything yourself?


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