telling a boss she lacks professionalism, preparing students for jobs after graduation, and more

It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Can I call out my boss on her lack of professionalism in taking a last-minute vacation?

I recently went on a one-week vacation scheduled two months in advance. I had to adjust it by two days about three weeks before and sent a note to my manager. She said ok as long as I got a certain project (which had just been assigned) done before I left. I got all of my work done by staying late and coming in early. I even went to work the first day of my vacation to explain my analysis to her boss, who had been busy the day before. Then I was contacted on two separate days on my vacation to ask about some stuff that wasn’t my direct responsibility.

Last Friday, my manager mentioned that she would be out next week on a last-minute family vacation (not an emergency, she’s just a bad planner and her kids are going back to school in two weeks) and that I had to finish up some projections for finance and submit them by Tuesday. I am going to show them to my manager later today and I want to say something about her lack of professionalism, but can’t decide if it will seem like tattling. Please advise.

Don’t do that. Your boss may be a hypocrite or she may not be — it’s entirely possible that her workload allowed her to take this last-minute vacation, which is something that you wouldn’t necessarily know. It’s really between her and her own manager, not you. Telling her she’s showing a lack of professionalism for something that simply isn’t appropriate for you to be judging would be a really good way to harm the relationship, probably irreparably, as well as you own reputation. Don’t do it.

2. Can I invite my former coworkers to coffee after I was laid off?

I was recently let go due to financial issues with my company. The whole process took approximately ten minutes. I came to work and then was told to pack my things and leave and that no, I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone and had to leave out the back door. No one knew about it, even the HR department and my direct manager until three minutes before I was let go.

I’m not upset about being laid off, but my department and I have worked closely together for a number of years and I wanted to invite them to coffee one day so I could see them in person again and let them know that my door is always open should they need me for anything (and perhaps seek some closure myself—the abrupt departure was very whiplash-inducing to me and shocking to everyone else, from what I’m told, particularly since I’d formed friendly relationships with these people). Would it be awkward at this point in time to do this, and if not, how does one go about doing this without making the focus of the meeting having them worry about their own job security?

No, you can absolutely do that. But I might not invite your entire department at once — that seems more likely to be more awkward than getting together with people one (or two or three) at a time.

And I don’t think you need to worry that it will make them worry about their own job security. They know you were laid off, so if they’re worrying about that, they’re going to be worrying about it whether or not you’re physically in front of them.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Leaving a small business without acrimony

I work for a small family-owned business that’s been tanking for a few years now. The family has spent all of their savings trying to make up for it, but the business brings in less money each year. It doesn’t cover the bills anymore, or even salaries. Everyone else has been working for free, except for me.

They consider me part of the family, but I have mixed feelings about that because I’ve heard some very unflattering things about their treatment of everyone/expectations. One of the family members is long past retirement age and has wanted to stop working there, but the rest of the family won’t allow that person to leave. There are plenty of other events, but I don’t want to get into them. My boss even just told me to do some work tasks on my days off, “since you don’t have anything to do on the weekends.” I’m an hourly worker at a retail job, and I normally work just under 40 hours already. They’re not going to be paying me for this extra work.

I want to leave this job. I’ve started my own business on the side, and I’d like to jump into that, but I am aware of the success rate of small businesses. I’d like to be able to keep the family as a positive reference, just in case. How can I exit this place gracefully?

All you can really do is give them as much notice as possible and leave your work in as good shape as possible, with lots of documentation. You can’t make people who are determined to be unprofessional toward you be professional — all you can do is behave as well as possible on your own end. If they try to “not allow” you to leave, simply say, “No, I’m sorry, my last day will be __.” If they try to get you to do work on your days off meanwhile, just say, “No, I can’t work on my days off; I have other plans.” Be professional, calmly assert reasonable boundaries, and move forward with your own plans.

Don’t be held hostage by guilt or fear of what they might say about you for acting reasonably.

4. Can my employer make me pay the bill for personal long distance calls?

I work at a hotel. Sometimes its completely slow — no calls or bookings for hours at a time. I’m allowed to bring a laptop or play games on my phone. I recently was using my work line for personal calls. I didn’t think much of it seeing as we call all over the United States. I did not know the phone didn’t have long distance. I got written up and charged $60 for the calls, and my manager cut two hours from my next pay period. Is that even legal? I wrote a formal apology, and she gave me no response. I also hit my commission limit both years, so its not like my work wasn’t being done. Please help.

It’s certainly legal for them to make you pay the cost of the calls. You used a hotel phone to make personal calls, at a cost to the hotel of $60. It’s reasonable for them to ask you to pay for your own phone calls — why should they have to shoulder the bill for your personal calls, after all? (Frankly, I’d be glad that they didn’t reprimand you for being on personal calls that long — I’m assuming it was a bit of time if the bill hit $60 — most managers wouldn’t be thrilled that you were talking on the phone that long, even if you’re allowed to play games or use a computer.)

However, it’s not legal for them to dock your pay. You need to be paid your agreed-upon wage for all hours you worked. (Or do you mean that they just cut two hours from your upcoming schedule? If so, that’s perfectly legal.)

5. Applying for a job when you don’t meet all the qualifications

I’ve been looking at job listings for a while, and some of them will list 10 or so things (requirements, characteristics to be successful for the job, duties, etc.), and I’ll fit all of them except one. It’ll be something I don’t have experience in and don’t know if I’d be good at. Am I better off dismissing these jobs? Or should I apply and mention the one thing in the cover letter so they’ll just throw out my application if it’s a deal breaker, but maybe interview me if I otherwise fit and it’s not a deal breaker?

Like, I saw a library job recently, and it was perfect for me in the first 10 things listed, but the last thing mentioned children’s programs, which I have no experience with and I don’t know if I’d be good at it. The job listing didn’t give any details on what it would entail. I’m not sure if I should apply to something like this and just see what happens, or if applying would waste everyone’s time.

Generally it makes sense to apply for a job if you meet 80-90% of the qualifications; they’ll often consider people who aren’t perfect matches. Some requirements are absolutely non-negotiable, of course, but if you can’t tell that from the ad, there’s no reason not to go ahead and apply.

Write an awesome cover letter, though.

6. How can I avoid giving rides to my coworker?

I work at an academy and a colleague came to the school we work at without a car. He has no way of getting about without people driving him because our town doesn’t have a transportation system. We just started work and I’ve given him a ride once to a train station. He thanked me and said it wouldn’t be “every weekend,” which was basically him telling me that I would need to drive him more times just not every weekend. I don’t want to drive him anywhere. It’s my gas money and I feel awkward asking him to pay me for gas. Also, it’s my time and I consider it valuable. How do I say no to future car rides without creating an enemy in the office?

Well, first, don’t assume it’s going to happen until/unless it does. But if he asks again, it’s fine to simply say, “Sorry, I can’t — I need to be somewhere on a schedule.” Or, “I need to go straight home.” Or, “It’s usually hard for me to give rides because of my schedule.”

7. How can I prepare science students to be ready for jobs after graduation?

How as a faculty person at university can I best teach my students to be ready for the jobs of today? More specifically, how can I find out what science employers in industry want? I only have a few contacts in industry and was hoping there is a faster way to find out what they all want in their new hires than contacting a bunch of managers individually–I keep seeing articles about how new grads are not prepared well enough for the jobs of today. If I knew what was really important to employers I could try to prepare the students.

Thanks for any insight or advice. I will gladly attend a workshop, webinar, buy a book, etc., but I don’t know where to start.

I’m throwing this out to readers to answer the science-specific portion of it. You might also consider the more general stuff here.

{ 196 comments… read them below }

  1. anon*

    #3, that sounds really awful and toxic. Don’t let them not pay you for doing work outside of normal work hours. If you’re hourly then they should pay you for hours worked, regardless of when it is! I agree that you need to be firm about leaving. They can guilt trip you but you can be strong! And when you apply to new jobs you just honestly tell interviewers you left because the business wasn’t doing well.

    1. WWWONKA*

      When the business fails they are not going to worry about you to a significant degree. Get all your work affairs in order and give notice. Let them know you will show them anything they will need in regards to your position and go without guilt. Be a little more specific and let a prospective employer that the company was failing, not just wasn’t doing well.

    2. OP #3*

      Thank you, I was wondering what I should say in future interviews. I feel better about leaving now, too. Some of that guilt has gotten to me.

  2. KarenT*

    I suspect being written up was the reprimand for the personal calls–likely the length of the call and the dollar amount. I suspect there is more to this story. Management would likely not know from looking at the phone bill that the call was personal, since as the OP mentions the hotel makes calls all over the US. The calls were either long, frequent, or someone complained.

    OP, you say they docked you two hours pay. Did they do that in addition to having pay back the call? If so, I don’t think that is legal.

    Also, I find it very bizarre that you are surprised you have to pay the call back.

    1. KarenT*

      Actually, it does say in the OPs letter that they paid $60 for the calls AND was docked two hours pay.

      1. fposte*

        Actually, re-reading it, it’s possible that the OP was saying her upcoming hours were cut rather than her pay for time worked was docked–if so, that would be legal.

    2. fposte*

      Good points, especially on the docking–I first read it as essentially the cost being taken out of his pay, but that seems a generous pay rate for that position.

      However, I too am scratching my head at the surprise about having to pay. Maybe this is somebody doesn’t live on his/her own and doesn’t realize that all utilities are metered? I was initially going to say that telephone service doesn’t flow like water, but if you piped out a humongous volume of their water for your own personal use, you’d have to cover the cost for that as well, so it kind of does.

      1. Cat*

        If OP is young enough to have always relied on a cellphone for personal calls, they might well not have ever really learned that people pay for long distance by the minute, or may have assumed that that has gone the way of the dodo.

        1. TychaBrahe*

          In addition, long distance service is a different package from local calls. If you don’t have a long distance service attached to a particular phone, making long distance calls can be very expensive. Some businesses save money by not including long distance service on every line. We have several lines without it, because these lines are for incoming calls to a phone bank; no one calls out on them, period. The cost of a long distance call on a line without contracted long distance service, called “casual billing,” could easily be several dollars per minute.

          1. Natalie*

            Public service announcement – your phone company can generally block a specific line from making any sort of pay calls – long distance, 900 #s, extra features like *69. We do that for all of the public lines in our buildings and, for our company at least, it’s free.

        2. Chuchundra*

          I imagine that most people in their early 20’s don’t have much idea about what “long distance” mean. Calling anywhere in the US for roughly the same price as a call down the block is probably something they just take for granted. As opposed to fogies like me who remember being admonished to speak quickly on a long distance call because it cost a fortune.

          1. Rana*

            I remember that. And my mother has a built in timer that won’t let her stay on the phone longer than 20 minutes. :)

      2. Ruffingit*

        I’m guessing the employee thought the hotel paid a single cost each month for all long distance calls, therefore she could make as many calls for as long as she wished and it would not cost the hotel any extra. Just speculating here.

        What I’m wondering is why she didn’t use her own phone for these calls? Almost everyone I know is on an unlimited minutes/texting plan on their cells. So it seems kind of strange to me that she’d tie up her business phone with personal calls when she could have made them herself on her own phone. Unless it’s a situation where she works front desk and didn’t want customers seeing her on her cell phone and reporting it to management.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I’m scratching my head at why the OP would make personal calls on the hotel phone when she has a cell phone right there. What the flegnard?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh! I thought she meant that she was docked two hours from her schedule in the next pay period — that they scheduled her for two hours less than normal. If they actually paid her for two hours less than she worked, that’s not allowed. I’ll update the answer to make that clear.

      1. Theresa the Great*

        Is it possible that her calls were at least 2 hours long and the hotel decided that she was not working for those 2 hours? Would it be legal in that context?

        1. Del*

          I don’t think an employer can retroactively decide that someone wasn’t actually working if they were on the clock.

        2. Stephen*

          That’s how I read this. The manager feels they have documentary evidence that OP was not working for the duration of those calls so they are going to recover those wages from his next cheque, along with the cost of the calls.

          1. Jamie*

            If that’s what they are thinking, they can’t do that. They were on the clock and had a customer walked in or someone needed them they were available.

            I’m not saying they weren’t goofing off – but you can’t dock for that.

      2. My 2 Cents*

        I read it exactly that way too, she doesn’t say she was docked two hours of pay, she said she was docked 2 hours from the next period (don’t let the word pay in pay period throw you off).

        It’s very common for managers to cut hours as punishment, and that is very likely what happened here.

    4. FD*

      I work in a hotel. The longest outbound work call I’ve ever made was just shy of a half hour for a guest I’d called back who needed a lot of special accommodations (we were discussing the details of what she’d need and what we could do). The average call is right around 2.5 minutes, with the vast majority of them under 10. Trust me, if an 1+ hour long distance call showed up on their bill, they would notice.

      I do understand in the sense that probably most people don’t own phones that have the long-distance/local distinction in terms of cost; unlimited plans are pretty common, and even on cell phone plans with minutes, it generally doesn’t matter where you call as long as it’s domestic. So I will give the OP just a little slack on this one because she may not have realized that hotels normally pay their bills by the minute, and not by just buying a chunk of service time.

      But yeah, if I found out something I did for personal use had cost my company money, I would certainly expect to pay for it. And I’d be completely mortified.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. The issue here is likely that the OP had no idea that the call would cost money. The SEPARATE issue of the length of calls is another thing, and is probably inappropriate. I mean if you’re on the phone that long even spread out in increments (I presume they know either because of the length of the call or because it was not tied to a room number,) that’s an issue.

        1. Chuchundra*

          OP notes that she has long stretches a work where there’s nothing to do and she’s allowed to keep herself occupied with her personal phone and laptop. If that’s true, I doubt that long phone calls per se would be an issue unless she was blocking incoming calls with her phone usage.

    5. abc*

      I don’t think she was docked pay. I think her manager reduced her hours for the upcoming week.

    6. the gold digger*

      I had taken double the dosage of maxalt, a migraine painkiller (because I hadn’t read the instructions) and realized I was too loopy to drive home from work. So I decided to stay a while until I wasn’t so high.

      While I was high, I thought it would be a really good idea to call my friend Debbie. In London.

      So I did. From the company phone in Memphis.

      We talked for an hour.

      The next morning, I realized that I had done something really dumb. I went to my boss and told him that I would pay for the call. He just laughed.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Wow, nice boss you’ve got there because even with the best phone plan, a one-hour call to London from the US would have been quite costly!

  3. fposte*

    #5–while it won’t give you experience in programming in the meantime, I would strongly suggest you check out some info on library websites (make sure you include the library you’re planning to apply to so you know about existing programming there) so you *do* know what children’s programming might entail. Not so you can fake it, but so you can demonstrate in an interview that you’re willing to shimmy up the learning curve and have already started.

    1. SCW*

      Yes–though depending on what kind of position it is, this is one requirement that they may actually not be negotiable on. I would never hire a children’s librarian who had never worked with children. They wouldn’t have had to work with them as a librarian, but if you have no experience with them at all–not even as a babysitter, then how are you even going to know if the job is for you? Honestly, working with kids can be exhausting–you need to know what you are getting into!

      1. fposte*

        I agree entirely. I did think there was a possibility, since this sounded like a generalist position, that the programming might be a “nice to have,” but even in a situation like that I think it’d be a deal-killer to say in an interview “I don’t know–what do you mean by programming?” (And honestly, odds are that there are plenty of youth services folks who will jump on this opening.)

    2. OP#5*

      I did check out the website to look at the children’s programs, but I still wasn’t sure what the job listing meant (would I have to sing and read to children? or just help develope, market, set up, etc. the programs?). I e-mailed them to ask, and it ended up being singing and reading, which I wouldn’t be comfortable with, so I didn’t apply.

      1. fposte*

        Sounds like a good call. Programming is a pretty specific and known task (that’s why I suggested you check out what it means–otherwise it’s kind of like not knowing what’s meant by circulation), and it’s usually going to mean being the person on-stage and in charge in various ways.

        1. OP#5*

          I guess I was originally unsure of what the listing meant because there was a long list of things the librarian would be doing (it wasn’t a children’s librarian specifically).

          They said the children’s program task would only be an hour or two a few days a week, which isn’t a big chunk of the job, but big enough to be a deal breaker, unfortunately.

          1. Assistant*

            I wonder if by “children’s program task” they meant “just storytime.” My library trained me to do that, and it did indeed take about an hour each time I did it (between prepping by selecting books, puppets, and then the 30ish minutes to actually do it). But programming can also involve finding/booking talent for a magic show, or tending the outdoor children’s garden, or doing the Pre-K Art Project Of The Week, or visiting elementary schools to promote summer reading programs. Coordinating all of that, let alone actually doing it, would be way more than an hour or two a few times a week.

          2. Librarian*

            I’m a reference librarian, but our youth librarians and paraprofessionals who do “an hour or two a few days a week” of children’s programming spend a large chunk of their time prepping for those programs. You did the right thing by passing this up if that doesn’t appeal to you. I occasionally have to do a library tour with a storytime, but it’s an hour every 6 months or so, as opposed to several days a week (which I would detest, even though I like kids).


    #6 I remember a co worker that had problems getting home. I would give him rides home just so he wouldn’t have to sit around for hours waiting for a ride, it was not too far out of my way. He even asked me to stop so he could get some beer one time. I would see many cars at his house and nobody would come for him. After a while it turned into rides to work too. At Xmas his wife gave me a $10 McD’s gift card lol. Waiting for Karma to kick in still.

    1. Anonymous*

      Did he have a condition that prevented him from driving one of the many cars? Seems strange, but then again I’m one of those weird big city folks that take public transit everywhere.

      1. Twentymilehike*

        Could be a lot of things … Suspended DL, lapsed registration, busted radiator hose … I know way too many of these people. I’ve had friends with multiple cars, none of them working. Or people who can’t seem to keep their driving record clean or their registration up to date.

        1. WWWONKA*

          I kind of thought he probably had a suspended license. There were people at his house that all the cars belonged to. I felt bad for the guy.

    2. Jennifer*

      As someone who only recently got a car, I’m wondering why the hell this guy took a job without having a way to get there regularly ahead of time worked out. I would never take a job and then assume my coworkers are going to give me a ride home, especially if I don’t know those people ahead of time! Dude isn’t Blanche Dubois and he should not be “depending on the kindness of strangers.”

      Seriously, if this is going to be a problem for him, at the very least he should be asking to make regular ride arrangements, and it’s fair of the OP to charge him gas money if he’s going out of her way.

      1. Jamie*

        Good point. If he took the job on the assumption that he could get a ride from a co-worker I would never give him one. It’s just so presumptuous I couldn’t bring myself to help him out.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I once contacted a recruiter about a job and interviews were about to be set up. As soon as I said that I didn’t have a car, she informed me that there was no point in continuing my application.

          On the other hand it was one of those applications where you have to prise information about the company out of the recruiter. Yes, I know they want to maintain confidentiality, but I do like to know who might be providing my salary ahead of time!

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It might have been a place where the recruiter knew didn’t have reliable public transportation, like an industrial park or something way out of town (I applied to a job once where the facility was far out on the highway. I mean seriously out of my way.). But yeah, it sucks when you have no idea who the employer is. What if it’s a company whose products you hate?

    3. Ruffingit*

      One of the things it’s good for all of us to learn is boundaries. It would have been better to tell this guy that no, you cannot give him rides so often if it bothered you to do so.

  5. Erik*

    #4 – I worked at a semiconductor company in their engineering division. We ended up with a whopping $1.5 million phone bill during one quarter, from people making personal calls to China, India and other Asian countries. Senior management held a meeting with the entire division (roughly 400 people) and they made it clear that they were upset, and rightfully so.

    That’s a lot of phone calls. Some people fessed up and paid their share after they started aggressively tracing phone calls to people’s offices and cubicles.

      1. Erik*

        I’ve used those before – definitely a cheap alternative. We used that before getting a VOIP service which makes it easier.

    1. Jennifer*

      Hm, if the employee is allowed to use their own computer, they could just Skype from work….That wouldn’t rack up a bill, right?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Or just use her cellphone, or stop making personal calls at work.

        I don’t know about making Skype calls; wouldn’t that eat up bandwidth if the OP were on the hotel’s wireless? That could raise the overall bill. Maybe it would be negligible with all the guest calls.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        Or maybe they should work when they’re at work, and make personal phone calls when they’re NOT at work.

  6. PEBCAK*

    #7) I’m in engineering, not a pure science, but I wish more of the students I interviewed for entry-level had:

    1) Access and Excel skills. You don’t have to be a superuser (and these software packages are so huge that NOBODY knows everything), but knowing the basics of how a relational database works, how formulas work in Excel, etc. lets you do enough that you can google the rest.

    2) Good written communication skills. I’m almost certain I will make a typo in this answer now that I wrote that, but everyone should be able to write a professional email, and know the difference between their, they’re, and there.

    3) Comfort with ambiguity or imprecision. Most of the labs I did in college happened in controlled settings to get desired results. Every one I have done in the real world fails to be quite so neat. The ability to draw conclusions from “messy” data is critical.

    Now that I write these out, I think the overall theme developing is an ability to use their science background to answer questions: most can conduct experiments, but unless they can analyze the data, draw a conclusion, and tell some other group of non-scientists what it means, they are “not prepared,” as you say.

    1. Anonymous*

      To add to 1) I’m also not in science, but I have heard that there are certain statistical analysis programs that are commonly used in industry. Knowing your way around the tools of the trade, so to speak, probably comes in handy.

    2. Gjest*

      I am a biologist, and I would say that it is really important for students to get as much “hands on” experience as possible. I think a lot of the skills that Pebcak mentioned above are really important and can be learned through “hands on” type of experience.

      “Hands on” doesn’t have to mean physically, though- I mean being able to complete a project all the way through, from hypothesis, designing experiments, gathering data, statistical analysis, and writing up the results. And not in the cheesy lab-class sort of way, where it’s all wrapped up in 1 or 2 lab sections. I mean full semesters or whole school year’s worth of work in someone’s lab, where they also interact with graduate students and researchers.

      They’ll learn the thinking skills, the software skills from actually using it (word, excel, stats programs), the communication (have to communicate to graduate students & researchers, and also writing up proposals & manuscripts), and then also experience when experiments go horribly wrong, and how to troubleshoot them (because like Pebcak said, the lab section, controlled experiments have nothing to do with what actually happens when you try to do research).

      tl;dr Short story, they should “do” more rather than more sitting in classes. I learned more in grad school because I was “doing science” instead of hearing about it from terrible lecturers.

      1. Hlx Hlx*

        Agreed 100%. These kids need internships to gain research/scientific experience.

        Not just for skillset, but to see how a career in science might really play out. It can be a lot different from one’s university experience.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          You folks are all singing my song re: internships, hands-on experience, etc.

          To the OP, I would recommend that you encourage your students to do summer research in your labs (if you’re not already doing that). I’m assuming you’re also encouraging them to do REUs, SURFs, RISE, or otherwise pursuing applied summer lab experience at places like livermore, ORNL, etc.

          In my experience, students often think they know what they want to do based on their major (goes for non-science students as well), and the daily reality of working in the lab, conducting experiments, gathering and analyzing data is often different from what they imagine or have learned in class. (I had one former student contact me for advice about how to get out of an animal research lab. She’d done animal experimentation in college, but she said there was a huge difference for her doing studies on three mice in a semester vs. 50 per week.)

          It might be useful to collaborate with Career Services/Alumni Affairs to bring back recent and not-so-recent grads to talk about their experiences after college, what the industry is like, and what they wished they had known ahead of time. I find that students are often more likely to listen to industry grads than professors and/or career services people, even if 90%+ of the content is the same. The messenger matters.

          1. Clobbered*

            Another vote for IT skills and internship. The best thing to do is form a close relationship with at least one potential employer, send them interns and then ask the employer for feedback on the general state of the students you send them. You can then use that input to modify your program appropriately. Depending on the specific scientific area they might need certain IT skills (eg. unix), programming, lab skills, etc. And that is beyond the considerable benefits that internships give your students.

            Also if there is project work in your courses (there should be) you can work with your intern employers to find ones that are either realistic of real world work, or at least build similar skills.

      2. Zahra*

        I’m not a science student/grad, as my degree straddles the line between IT and business administration. Since it’s a newish degree (there has been 5 classes so far), employers have gotten used to taking IT people and having variable success in answering the business people’s needs. It was very important to any interviewers that I had some practical coursework with data from a real business, with very messy data. It told them that I could do the work even when the circumstances were not perfect.

    3. Colette*

      Seconding #2 – communication skills can make a huge difference in technical fields.

      Also, with respect to software development (although it likely applies in other sciences), understand that you won’t be able to understand absolutely everything – the ability to focus on what you need to know and not go down the rabbit hole of trying to learn everything about everything is huge.

    4. Jane*

      Agreed with #1. As an undergrad, our weekly Chemistry Lab assignments were always in excel. The professors came up with a template for students to follow and even wrote out the instructions at first to get specific calculations. As the quarter progressed, we were expected to know the formulas. It wasn’t anything crazy–sums, averages, variances, etc–but it was enough to push me from a novice user to intermediate.

      Related to #3 — comfort with different technology. Chances that you’ll be using a microscope or graduated cylinder in your cubicle? Very low–although now I’m tempted to work it into my daily life. But, being used to different technology systems does translate to learning different company systems.

  7. Ben*

    #7 – As a recent science graduate, my greatest asset has been a broad background with good depth (several classes in each area). Rather than the traditional route of focusing heavily in one field of science, I took many courses in math, physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering, plus some non-science classes that talked about science (e.g. history of science & technology). It gave me a broad enough understanding that I could quickly pick up whatever was going on in any of those fields, but the real asset was that I’m like a swiss army knife of science – I can analyze a problem from a chemistry viewpoint just as easily as an engineering viewpoint, and I can learn very specialized material quickly because I understand everything that feeds into it.

    My interdisciplinary background has made me invaluable in my new position, where I’m helping with the research, development, design, and commercialization of a new technology.

    In addition to the academic preparation, though, like preparation for any other job I’d highly recommend work experience. I got experience as a lab assistant, through extracurricular technical projects, and as a congressional intern – again getting a broad but useful set of experiences that have all provided valuable experience.

    In short, getting a broad background of courses and experiences helped me more than being highly specialized in one area of science.

  8. Gjest*

    #1 My boss at my last job was notorious for taking family vacations, or choosing to go on the “fun” work trips (that were not necessary for boss to go on, and someone else could easily go instead) at really terrible times- usually when really important activities were happening, the success or failure of which could completely impact whole years worth of work, and also sometimes have huge legal implications if things went wrong. I would usually end up having to fill her role as decision maker, which I was uncomfortable with when the stakes were so huge. It made me really irritated.

    The best part was that if I occasionally wanted to take a day here and there during these times, it was not allowed…

    But I never brought this up as “unprofessionalism”- I think that would have been job suicide. If I said anything at all, I would just simply state that I would REALLY need to have lots of in-depth discussions with her about all of the in/then scenarios before she left, because things were so important, blah blah, trying to make her realize the situation that she was leaving the projects in by leaving. Sometimes I would think she got it, but then she’d do the same thing next year at the same time.

    1. Chloe*

      The very idea of calling your boss unprofessional just seems SO out of touch with workplaces etiquitte. In fact, it would be downright unprofessional.

      1. Eric*

        Now I’m imagining a childish fight:

        “Boss, you’re unprofessional!”

        “No employee, YOU’RE unprofessional!”

        “Nuh uh!!!”

        “Uh huh!!!”

        1. Gjest*

          Hmmm, this is the same boss that I actually had to tell one time, “You are the boss, it is OK to tell me to do something that I disagree with. I am the employee, and it is my job to do what you say (as long as it’s not illegal, etc.)”

          This was after she asked my opinion on a decision, I gave it, and she decided to do something else. Ok, fine. But then she got really upset telling me that I should agree with her. No, I HAVE to do what you say, I don’t HAVE to agree with you.

          So yeah…we basically had that argument above. I like to think I remained as professional as possible. I hope so, but then again I was near the end of my tether with that job.

    2. Angry Writer*

      Think you summed it up best with “job suicide.” Unfair maybe, but the boss is the boss and you’re, well, not.

    3. Jennifer*

      This is what I call “manager’s privilege.” You can’t do that, they can. That’s why they make the big pennies over you.

    4. Jen*

      Yes, it’s kind of a sad fact of life that while your boss might be unprofessional, you are not allowed to comment on that at all. It’s a weird modified version of the emperor’s new clothes. Only a child would scream “you’re naked!” – the rest of us just nod and smile and say how nice the outfit is.

  9. Lora*

    7. Agree w/ more time doing science. Even in grad school, I think people come out of a PhD with no clue about the kind of throughput they need to generate for industry. Used to work for a startup that had a LOT of people fresh from their PhD–they would brag about the five cell lines they had made. Even before I had my master’s I had to make 5-10 *per week*. Part of this is just money: in industry, time is the most precious commodity, and we use all kinds of kits and robotics to make time use more efficient. In school, time is cheap and reagents are the precious commodity, so you’ll have a student struggle with homebrew preps and sketchy storage conditions and half-broken equipment for months. But another part of it is just learning to use time efficiently. The hardest thing for me to pound into new grads’ heads is Don’t Screw Around: don’t screw around with stuff that isn’t working, don’t screw around with stuff that doesn’t have a great likelihood of working, don’t screw around re-inventing the wheel, don’t screw around trying to make an expired vial of a $50 enzyme work. Call the repair guy, crank out the results from straightforward projects, do what has been done before, order three new vials.

    MATH, especially stats. This should be a requirement for everyone. Doesn’t have to teach using any particular program, in fact that usually isn’t helpful as each company is partial to their own program, but knowing how to use parametric vs non-parametric, which tests are appropriate for what experiment and why. I’ve also had new grads who could not figure out C1V1 = C2V2. Grrrr.

    Science, like the internet, is serious bidness. Science & engineering folks are not deciding whether skirts will be short or long this season–they are building skyscrapers, testing medical devices, manufacturing drugs that people ingest. If they are not competent, it’s kind of a big deal. For the love of humanity, if a student sucks, FLUNK THEM! I don’t care if this is the last class they need before graduation. I don’t care if their parents want them to be a nurse, or they always dreamed of curing cancer or talking to dolphins or whatever. Sit em down and have a nice talk about other career options if it makes you feel better, but give out Fs! Do you have any idea how crazymaking it is to deal with a freshly graduated snot-nosed Ivy League brat who doesn’t understand basic physics, despite having an engineering degree? Who can’t read a graph with two Y-axes? What are they even supposed to do? I mean, if you suck at your own field it’s not as if the degree will be oh-so-applicable to other stuff. No. Crush their dreams before it’s too late for them to change direction. Someone who is not good at science is not going to make a great science teacher, journalist, policy advocate or whatever other Alternative Career you can think of either. Just give them an F. Yes they will complain, but stick to your guns.

    Finally, it will sound bad, but basic science (as opposed to pre-med, nursing, pharmacy etc) at this point should be viewed, career-wise, like music or art: you better really love it, because you won’t live comfortably doing it for a job. Only the elite of the elite end up as industry scientists–it’s as tough as landing a tenure track faculty job these days, unless you have experience. Even so, the vast majority of my colleagues under 30 still have roommates. Heck, I’ve known folks in the Boston and Bay Areas to have roommates well into their *50s* due to cost of living vs. pay. I wish I were kidding. It’s not a stable middle class job anymore. If you love it and wouldn’t be happy doing anything else ever, fine, if you must, but double major in business or engineering or something better paid and more stable. If I had kids, I would want them to have a strong science *background*, but I’d insist they major in, say, accounting or mechanical engineering.

    1. AP*

      That last part is so interesting! I grew up as the lone artist in a big family of scientists, and I always expected their routes to be the much more stable, steady-income-forever choices. Guess I’m not missing out on much…

    2. Chinook*

      Can I add that I wish more people came out with a basic understandign of accounting? Little things like ensuring that invoices are submitted to be paid with notes about what they are for (even better if they are already coded). Or understanding that being asked to submit bid waivers or purchase order requests BEFORE you commit the company to a large purchase (just because we have a contract with them doesn’t mean we get everything through them). Or an understanding that budgets are finite and, while they are larger than in academia, you still need to stick within your budget and you shoudl probably be able to estimate how much you have spent at yoru half way point and if you will have enough budgeted for the end of the project.

      Even understanding small differences like capital expenditures (stuff we could resell) vs. operating expenses can go a long way in any company. Youj don’t need to be able to fill out a tax return but it would be a good idea to know that you need to add sales tax to any quotes when budgeting.

      1. Jamie*

        Can I add that I wish more people came out with a basic understandign of accounting?

        Someone needs to stitch this entire post on a sampler. Accounting is the language of business.

        HR, purchasing, IT, production, engineering…I cannot think of one position which wouldn’t be enhanced by at least a general understanding of how the dollars flow through the company.

        What Chinook wrote should be required reading for everyone advising young people. I have 3 kids in school…one of whom wants to go into zoology, one the arts, and one teaching…and I push Accounting 101 on ALL of them.

        Besides…once you get to cost accounting it’s an awful lot of fun!

        1. Chinook*

          I have to plug a course that is required in Alberta for graduation – Career and Life Management (CALM 20). It teaches exactly what you would think – how to manage your life and make healthy choices. I know one assignment includes things like how to create a budget (some teachers even make the students use real sources to find actual rental prices, grocery costs and salary numbers). And you have to pass it in order to graduate. My poor brother learned that the hard way when he had to retake it by correspondence. (He said doing that stuff on paper is nowhere near as fun as discussing it in class.)

          I don’t know if we still have it, but one of the non-academic math courses also had units on compound interest, filling out a tax form and budgeting. When I finished my correspondence math early, my teacher required me to take it as well and he was trying to figure out a way to ensure everyone of his students did too. And once you learn the magic of compound interest, life will never be the same!

  10. majigail*

    #1- I really don’t understand what the problem is here… you had a scheduled vacation that you wanted to change and she let you do that contingent on getting a project done. Then she went on vacation later… Really, you don’t know if this came up out of the blue or if she had been hoping to take this time off and was waiting to see what the workload was going to look like. If she has a manager, she needed to get that approved too. There may have been contingencies, you don’t know.
    The only thing I can take a little issue with here is you getting two calls while on vacation, but that’s certainly not something to take up with her manager.

    1. AP*

      Agreed, I’ve been in a situation like that where I vaguely “wanted to take some time off this spring,” but work was really busy, and finally my boss stuck his head into my office and said “Hey why not two weeks from now, the CEO is taking that week off too so we’re in the clear!” It was a little hairy, sure, but it really was the only opportunity to go anywhere over a 5-month span.

  11. MJ*

    On #1:

    I agree with Alison one this one. In particular, just today I was discussing in my staff meeting a weekly report that I ask my team to do. The reports are public in my company, and I don’t do them myself, which would visible to anyone on my team who looked. Because of this, I mentioned out of the box that I don’t do them. One my staff members asked me why and I said simply because *my* boss hasn’t asked me to do them.

    The fact is, double-standards exist all over the corporate world and it’s not always hypocritical. Sometimes the demands on those in one function (individual contributor) might differ significantly from those in another (manager), resulting in different policies. And, as Alison said, this is completely a matter between the OP’s boss and the OP’s boss’ boss.

  12. #1*

    I submitted #1. Each group is sending in budget numbers for 2014 and she did not complete the project before leaving on her vacation, instead leaving the work for me to do. She has P&L responsibility for our region. She gave it to me at 4:30 on Friday saying she didnt realize it was due so soon (i.e. this Tuesday).

    If the numbers we submit are too high and we don’t meet them then our whole unit will look bad. Another team submitted optimistic projections last year which were not carefully considered and their mistake is pointed out each month by the central office in the better/worse than original forecast. It gets re-forecasted but the original remains on the report. If numbers are too low they won’t be accepted. I showed some projections to her boss yesterday and she asked me to do more work on it because she really wants us to get it right. So this is a pretty important time sensitive project left undone. I can and will do it and will vet it properly, but IMO this task is too important to delegate fully.

    1. Observer*

      That’s a totally different conversation. Possibly one worth having *IF* you had had it before she left.

      You talk about your manager’s lack of professionalism. If you want to develop a reputation of actually being profession (not just hard worker), you need to adjust your thinking. Your original description of the situation and your reaction sounds rather like something out of high school. Worrying about “tattling”, comparing the planning around your vacation vs your managers’ etc. are not how reasonably managed adult workplaces should run.

      You got inappropriate work calls during a pre-approved vacation? Either find a way to shut that down, or talk to your manager about it. You think you need more input into a project that you think your manager is planning to give you ? Talk to her about it and explain why you need extra input – but NOT by “explaining” things she already knows. If she’s going to be away on vacation, ask her how and when you can reach her if you have questions. Most managers DO take their cell phones with them on family vacations.

      Which leads to my last question and comment. Did you ask about reaching her with questions on the numbers? Making assumptions about people without checking first tends to give poor results.

      1. #1*

        I don’t understand how to respect a manager who asks her team to perform at a different standard than she applies to her own work. A position on another team opened up yesterday and I have been asked to consider it, so i will probably be moving on soon.

        1. BCW*

          I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but are you new to the working world? Managers ask their teams to perform on different standards all the time. Many time managers don’t do the grunt work, have better hours, and get better pay. Thats just how it is in many jobs. Ever seen the show undercover boss? The CEOs are usually shocked by the low level employees and what they have to do. Difference is they are managers because someone above them (and you) thinks their time is best spend doing other things.

          1. Michele*

            I was thinking almost exactly the same thing. When I started my first professional role anytime my manager gave me a project/task outside my job description I was thrilled. It meant she trusted me and gave me an opportunity to show that I could handle extra responsibility. Take this as a chance to be a professional and show your managers boss that you can handle the extra project. It will get noticed in a positive way. Complain to her boss and they will think what a whiner.

            1. Anon Accountant*

              I completely agree. The OP#1 can view it as an opportunity to show the ability to handle additional responsibility and eventually it can result in a higher level position.

              Complaining to the boss over this would seem to send a message of whining and that can be very hard to overcome once a manager has that view of someone.

              1. Diane*

                I came to say the same thing. You’ve been given a great opportunity, OP. You get to learn a new, very important task. You get credit for doing it right. The consequences for being wrong, if you’ve made a serious effort and have done solid research, don’t seem terribly dire–it’s not like your reputation is on the line or you’ll lose your job.

                Go look at the next post about the boss who won’t delegate for some perspective.

                1. Jamie*

                  ITA. This is a great opportunity on a very crucial and visible project. When I was given things like this I they were gifts. I built my career on this kind of thing.

                  And as far as having different standards – of course…because they are different jobs. You have different areas of responsibility, different metrics and KPIs, different expectations, and different headaches.

        2. Zahra*

          What would bug me to no end is that she asks you to finish a project before leaving, but leaves a very important and time-sensitive project to you during her vacation. I don’t care that double-standards are par for the course, leading by example works much better for me (and for many people, I’m sure).

          Of course, you should see it as an opportunity to show that you can meet challenges and perform beyond your job description. You also have the right to be annoyed to be stuck with a time-sensitive project 2 business days before it’s due. If she had said that she needs you to do it the Wednesday before she left, you could have had some guidance from her and less pressure.

          Anyway, it is what it is and the only thing you can do is make the best of it.

          1. Jamie*

            We don’t know what the projects are, though.

            Maybe the one that had to be finished before the OP left was something only the OP could finish and the bosses project was something the OP was able to carry for her.

            Not everything is easily transferable. I’m just not seeing the problem here…as Colette mentions below the boss doesn’t need to clear her vacation with her reports.

          2. Chinook*

            We don’t know what notice the boss had for this time sensitive project either. Sometimes those numbers TPTB want come with a deadline no one knew about a week ago. Sometimes someone else further up the pipeline is the one that was dragging their feet and the boss fully expected to had more time. Or, maybe the boss knows that there is a little more leeway than the deadline she gave you. The reality is that your boss always has more information than you do (because, well, they are you boss) and they can make perfectly logical decisions that seem nuts when you only have a small piece of the picture.

        3. Colette*

          I don’t really see a different standard here. Your boss doesn’t have to clear her vacation with you – just with her boss. She may have had discussions months ago about taking this time off, or she may have decided on the spur of the moment, or she may have hoped to take off some time in July but had to postpone because there were business priorities she has to take care of.

          You don’t have full visibility into your manager’s priorities, and you don’t need to. You can certainly ask questions like “How would you like me to handle the budget while you’re out?” or “If I need some input onto the budget while you’re gone, is there a way I can reach you or should I go to your boss?”, but it’s not reasonable to think that because she approves your vacation, you get input into hers.

    2. Rana*

      I can and will do it and will vet it properly, but IMO this task is too important to delegate fully.

      Well, clearly she disagrees. So either your understanding of the project (and your own ability to complete it well without her being on hand) is flawed, or hers is.

      It sounds to me less like she’s slacking off on her work, and more like she trusts you to do an important and time-sensitive job well without hand-holding. Given that, I’d be very careful about calling her out on it. Not only would it be calling her judgement into question, it would suggest to her that you are not feeling up to the additional responsibilities – which, fine, if true, but is that a message you want to send if it’s not?

  13. Mike C.*

    Math/Biology major here, and as far as preparing students for the real world, I’d say the most important skill isn’t their analysis and research skills but rather their ability to communicate their work to people outside of the bubble.

    Many employers directly outside of the science/laboratory world aren’t going to know what to do with someone with that sort of math/science experience, and may be intimidated by the background. Your student’s ability to show them how their skillset can help them is going to be needed to overcome that. Otherwise they’ll be passed over for folks who have more familiar backgrounds.

    1. Nerdling*

      I agree. And it can go beyond selling someone on how you can be important. I don’t have a science background but got hired into a role that dealt with a great deal of technical issues (NOT the job I thought I was applying for), and one of the biggest challenges I faced was finding people who did have the science background who could or were willing to break down the tech-speak into words or concepts that I could understand and retain for longer than the course of our meetings. It was extremely frustrating, not only for me, but for some of the members of our intended audience, who needed the bottom line of our analysis without having the same level of background.

      Being able to translate complex concepts into something that others can understand is an underrated skill, in my book. But once you can do it, then I think it makes it easier to discuss how those complex concepts can be applied to issues outside your normal wheelhouse.

  14. AdAgencyChick*

    #1: It would be a very, very bad idea to call your boss out. As Alison says, it may seem like she’s operating on a double standard, and indeed maybe she is. But if you criticize her for it you’re not going to get a good outcome.

    What I think you can do to lessen your resentment is to be more assertive about taking your own vacation and what you do during that vacation. “Boss, I have 10 days left to use up this year and I would like to take 5 of them in the first week of September.” “No.” “Okay, but I need to use these 10 days or I’ll lose them, and we’re in the second half of the year already. When do you think I should take them?” (Or, if you want the days for a particular event, say so and assure your boss that you can arrange coverage.) Then, as your vacation approaches, you can remind your boss of things that will need to be covered (“Heads up, Wakeen will want the sales figures presented to him while I’m out”) so that she knows she needs to make arrangements rather than having you give up a day of vacation to come in and do the work. And then don’t answer your phone or email! I will admit I myself don’t always have the iron will this takes, but you’d be amazed at how people figure out how to do things on their own when the easy way out (bothering you) simply isn’t available.

    #3: If you find another job, this family can’t keep you hostage without your consent. What Alison said!

    #7, I would say make your students aware that there are jobs in science beyond the obvious ones like lab technician, engineer, etc. I have a degree in chemistry and I now work at an ad agency — but because it’s a *medical* ad agency, we need people on both the creative and account management sides who can understand medicine, in some cases at a fairly technical level. Many people who work in my field come to it through a career change, because it’s not one you know about when you’re five the way you know doctor and lawyer and firefighter. But careers like mine, which are related to science even if one isn’t working directly with reagents or computing models, can be a great choice for students who, like me, have a strong intellectual interest in science but who aren’t so great at actually doing lab work.

    1. Mike C.*

      Your advice on #7 is really spot on. I started in biology and ended up in aerospace myself. The skills are really transferable, but not always in the most obvious ways.

    2. Anonicorn*

      That’s encouraging to hear about science careers in other industries. I’m starting over with a biology degree and hope to study neuroscience (if the PhD program will have me), but I already have a degree in English and experience in technical communications. I’ve been brainstorming how those two backgrounds could ever somehow mesh.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        You don’t even need the PhD if you want to jump off into medical writing. A degree in English and another in biology (or even a degree in one with substantial coursework in the other) is more than enough to break into medical advertising (though some related fields, such as continuing medical education writing, do require a PhD).

    3. Y*

      Yes to your answer to number 7. I have an MSc in Biology and now work as a software developer in the automotive industry. Many students end up doing something that’s not the “main career” path and that’s fine. Honestly, I would have really hated having to do what many people here suggest for science majors – even more lab work? No thank you, I am not planning to ever do that again in my life and I have known that since the second year of my degree.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      This is what I’m counting on with writing–I can’t do the math and analysis, but I can edit and write and research and check things. So now I’m learning how to do the project management side of it. X_X

      I do very much like science and technology, but I just don’t have the capability to work in it except on its fringes. :(

    5. Another Ellie*

      #7 One way to do this, and something I wish my professors had done: Connect to your students, especially former students, on linkedin. This way you can see all of the different career paths your students take, and connect current students to a solid network of professionals.

  15. Brett*

    #5 Since it is a library, I assume it is public sector? If so, often requirements are requirements. If you do not have them, you cannot get the job (unless no other applicant has all the requirements either). But preferences are just preferences; we only really list them so they you will make sure to list them on your resume if you have them.

    But don’t worry about wasting anyone’s time. Getting qualified applicants for professional public sector job is very difficult. Odds are no applicant meets all of the requirements and you still have a good shot at an interview with 80% of the requirements met. We get _plenty_ of applicants who meet 0% of the requirements.

    1. OP#5*

      Good to know getting qualified applicants is difficult. :] I was thinking that most applicants would be qaulified or over qualified.

    2. fposte*

      That may be true for most public sector jobs, but in most of the country, library positions are very competitive right now.

    3. Brett*

      I would listen to fposte here. While professional jobs are very difficult to recruit in the public sector (good benefits do not make up for bad pay, bad work environments, and no advancement), some positions are still going to be competitive.
      I am almost certain, though, that there are plenty of less qualified people applying, so do not think of yourself as wasting anyone’s time.

      1. fposte*

        I definitely agree with that, and I think you were approaching this situation very reasonably, OP.

      2. OP#5*

        Thanks for the reassurance! Even if the jobs are competitive, I still feel better about applying as a mostly-qualified candidate now. “Competitive with a bunch of unqualified candidates” is a lot less intimidating than “everyone else applying will be way more qualified than me.” :]

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      I don’t know about the public sector, but I’ve certainly applied for plenty of jobs that don’t seem to care about several of the “requirements” listed toward the bottom. I used to not apply if I had 95%, because I thought required meant required, but that turned out not to be true. I would say, if you have the top three, and 2/3 altogether, go ahead and apply.

      1. Jamie*

        I had about 70% of the requirements for the job I have now. Some of the requirements were completely irrelevant since the ad was written by a non-technical person who was listing software that sounded similar but which we’ve never used.

        Not typical overall, but for tech jobs if you can tell the ad was written by someone without technical knowledge (and some are so obvious and pretty funny) go ahead and apply if it looks like an overall fit.

          1. Jamie*

            See, I don’t have that. But I do have 15 years working with Windows 7 and over 2 decades of deploying iPhones and iPads in the field. :)

            1. Chinook*

              Cool – does that mean I can add “25 years of Microsoft Office experience” because I first used Word in the 90’s?

  16. badger_doc*

    #7 I would highly encourage your students to get a summer internship at a small start up company in the area or even a larger company that has an internship or co-op program. Not only can they get college credit for doing so, it will expose them to science in industry which is far different than academic science. Plus the pay is nice! If that isn’t feasible, another good suggestion would be to get a part time student hourly position in a lab on campus. Even if they have to start out washing dishes and making reagents, they can usually get their hands on a small project or two and see how co-workers interact. Hopefully they get to present their results to a class or in a team meeting or at a poster presentation. That will help build communication and presentation skills which are very much lackingin the new grads emerging now. Encourage them to work outside of their field as well–dont be afraid to try new things like tutoring, working in the cafeteria or volunteering at a local non-profit. All of these will help their communication skills and build a resume to get their foot in the door for whatever career they choose. Hope that helps!

  17. David*

    On #7, I’d like to throw an additional/related question out to readers. For someone who did not take advantage of internships/undergraduate research opportunities while getting their degree, how can that person gain that experience once they’ve already graduated?

    1. JerseyVol*

      If you have no training in how a business works, consider some additional education in communications, business, and management.

  18. Jubilance*

    #7 – Chemist with 7+ years of experience in the lab here. Here are my suggestions to help prepare your students:
    * As much hands-on experience as possible! Internships, co-ops, research projects, etc. The last position I hired for was for a lab technician, and I had 2 candidates with equal education. I hired the one who had lab experience and understood things like working from an SOP, following industrial lab safety practices, how to maintain equipment, etc. We had a tight deadline and having someone who I didn’t have to teach these things was invaluable.
    * Experience working through problems and troubleshooting – In the lab most of the times things don’t go as planned – equipment malfunctions, results don’t come out as expected, etc. Being able to think through problems and develop an action plan is important.
    * Ability to communicate technical information to non-technical people – this includes verbal and written communication. You should be able to communicate results in a way that people understand them, but also be able to talk to coworkers and understand their data needs. There have been times where I’ve had to work with coworkers who need chemical analysis and even engineers don’t understand what type of testing they’ll need. You sometimes also need to “level set” their expectations – if the test takes 24 hours then that’s how long it takes, and no, paying me overtime won’t help me get you the results faster unless you’ve got a Delorean in your garage. This actually happened to me once btw.
    * Non-science but it’s also important that students know how to be professional. That means what clothing is appropriate for work, how to write professional correspondence, what is & isn’t appropriate conversation topics in the office, etc. If students aren’t doing internships in school they may not know these things and it could hurt them when they get that first job.

    Best of luck!

    1. AP*

      +1 to level setting, in all industries. Some things just take as long as they take. I have a boss who has been known to ask, “Can’t you just call Google/YouTube and Vimeo and ask them to convert this video faster? I want to post it now!”

    2. Stevie*

      I’m currently working on a degree in engineering and it’s my sophomore year. I’m trying to get lab/internship/anything experience, but I’m coming up short. When you look at resumes, what specifically stands out to you? I’m especially curious what makes you want to hire someone without experience for a position that is assumed to be entry-level or no experience (like internships).

  19. BCW*

    #6 I’m very curious about this. How far out of the way is it for you? Do you dislike this person greatly? I guess my thought is if the train station isn’t far out of your way, I don’t see the big deal. If you are regularly doing it, I don’t see a problem with you asking for gas money.

    Now its your right to do or not do what you want, but sometimes you need favors at work. I’m not saying the basic stuff that just comes with the job, but things that really are favors. If it really is far out of your way, thats different. But if it is on the way, you may need something from this guy one day, so if he says no and makes up a reason, well, you made that bed.

    1. Colette*

      I’ve found that if you give rides too often, the recipient starts to expect that you’ll continue to do so, even when it’s inconvenient for you to do so.

      The train station might not be far out of your way, but that still probably adds 5 – 10 minutes to your commute, plus the cost of gas.

      Should you help out your coworker on occasion? Sure. But if you are willing to make it a regular event, get things like gas money, how you will let them know if you can’t drive them, and when you’ll re-evaluate the arrangement ironed out in advance.

      And if you’re not, it’s fine to say so – either as a “Sorry, I can’t today” or, if she continues asking regularly, as a big picture, “I’ll only be able to give you rides on very rare occasions, please make other arrangements”.

      In my opinion, helping out your coworker when their regular arrangements fall through is reasonable. Becoming their regular arrangement is something you should only do if you truly want to.

    2. TL*

      Ug, no. I moved to a city where a good number of my friends don’t have a car and I can’t tell you how quickly it turned from “really-grateful-for-a-ride” to “expected-I-would-pick-them-up-and-drop-them-off.” My rule of thumb is if you’re assuming I’ll give you rides instead of asking, I’m not giving them any more.
      (Some people are really good about asking, however, and pick up my tab/dinner occasionally as thanks.)

      You choose not to have a car, you deal with your own transportation issues. I deal with driving, traffic, oil changes, insurance, gas, and maintenance, you can deal with a crappy bus schedule or stop or whatever. And it shouldn’t be a big deal to not offer or to say “nope, not happening on a regular basis, sorry.”

      1. Colette*

        I’ve had that happen too – I’m not really sure how people get from “it’s so nice to have a ride” to “you have a car so it’s your responsibility to give me a ride”.

        1. Jamie*

          It’s especially grating when the reason they don’t have a car is because of their environmental beliefs rather than just finances or whatever.

          Because when you go on and on about how you’re a “good steward of the earth” because you don’t own a car but have no problem having other people drive you around in their pollution machines the hypocrisy is a little galling.

          Those people (and I’ve known 2) are like the people I knew in college who absolutely believed they were non-smokers because they never bought any….but would go through a pack of other people’s if they were out drinking. They weren’t non-smokers …they were just non-buyers. Other people shouldn’t support your transportation or your bad habits.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Same thing at Exjob with a coworker who lost his license. He would hang around at lunchtime and mooch rides off people, saying things like “So where we going today?” It drove everyone nuts. He wouldn’t just bring his lunch, either. I brought mine every day, so he didn’t ask me because I never went anywhere.

    3. Jamie*

      Even if it’s not far for me it really depends on whether the person who needs the ride sees it as a favor or entitlement.

      I don’t mean favor in that they owe you anything or are obsequious about it, but just that they appreciate the gesture. I’d happily drop someone every day who was pleasant about it. But I’ve done that only to find quickly they assumed they were entitled to a ride each day and would be annoyed if I changed my schedule or needed to stay late, or they started adding stops so they could pick up some things on the way home.

      IOW – a co-worker doing a favor isn’t the same thing as hiring a car. You treat people like cab drivers and people resent it…after all cabbies don’t drive people for the love of service. It’s a job.

      In re gas money – for me it would have to be so far out of my way that I was actually filling up more often than usual for that to even cross my mind. In Chicago dropping someone at the train would never take me more than a mile out of my way. $4 for a gallon of gas, 28 miles to the gallon….even if you do that every week day it’s about 0.72 cents.

      I get the principle – and people who don’t offer and just assume others will drive them around for free make me clenchy…but I couldn’t bring myself to care about immaterial amounts which isn’t adding to my commute.

      Now, if I had a neighbor who worked here and we carpooled every day – that’s 66 miles round trip. Yes, technically it wouldn’t cost me more since I’d be driving anyway but it would annoy me that they had a completely cost free commute and I’d want the cash. Assuming I would do a daily carpool with someone, which I wouldn’t because no money is worth giving up my coveted solitude of my commute. But you know what I mean.

      It’s another point to remember, that just because it’s not out of the way and you even like the person…some of us really look forward to getting in the car at the end of the day for some much needed peace and quiet. For some adding another 15-20 minutes of forced chit chat is not an insignificant thing…so it’s more than just the gas and going out of the way – it’s the intrusion on someone’s routine. And some are happy to do it, some even like the company, but the person who needs the ride should be sensitive to the fact that people can like you but not want to drive you every day.

      And adults are obligated to find a way to get themselves to and from work. If your co-workers don’t mind giving you a lift, great, but it’s not their responsibility.

      1. Colette*

        For me, it wouldn’t be so much because I needed the gas money (or that it was a substantial amount) as it was the recognition that this is an inconvenience and that adults pay their own way.

        But I also would really hate having to talk with someone on the way to/from work every day, even if we were going to/from the same place.

    4. BCW*

      I’m not saying anyone owes anyone anything. I guess here is my thing, I can see how it can turn into an everyday thing unintentionally. But again, thats a conversation you need to have. I can see how if you offer to give someone a ride everyday for 2 weeks, and it doesn’t seem to be out of their way, that they could start to think its something you will be doing permanently. Granted thats a big assumption, but I can see how it could easily happen. At that point, its not hard to put limits on it. I think people get perturbed about this stuff with the person they are doing a favor for, but the person getting the favor has no idea. If you just say “I can give you a ride Monday, Wed, and Fri” or whatever restrictions you want to put, people will “usually” be understanding. But it could get jarring to just one day say “I can’t give you a ride anymore” with no real reason. Not that you owe someone one, but if they don’t think its an inconvenience it could catch them off guard.

      1. TL*

        That’s the problem – so many people *don’t* think it’s an inconvenience. I think non-driving people need to be more aware of how much of an imposition it can be to hitch rides from other people and check in regularly to make sure it’s working. Also, the OP has only given one ride and the coworker was already assuming future rides. Ew.

        One time, I drove someone on a road trip that used more than a tank of gas, and they mentioned beforehand that they would give me “a little bit for gas.” When I stopped to fill up, they handed me $5. I was actually more insulted than if they hadn’t given me anything at all.

        1. A Bug!*

          $5? Is that person a time traveler from forty years ago? I think that’s the only charitable explanation.

          1. TL*

            I wish. And not that I would normally care, but the icing on the cake was because they were really heavy + they ran my A/C more than I would, my gas mileage actually was about 3 mpg less than normal.

            I may obsessively track my gas mileage.

            1. Chinook*

              Wait – your passenger fiddled with the temperature? Did they also choose the radio station? Don’t they know that she who drives controls everything?

              1. TL*

                I like it really, really warm – anything under 85 is okay with me and I get cold around 76. So I constantly bug people to let me know when they’re too warm and often just hand over control over the A/C.

                The radio rule is you can listen to what I have on or you can play anything on my iPod.

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          YES. They need to be aware of it, and also care. My past experience with people who don’t drive, in general, is that they think people who do drive and have cars are obligated to be their free taxi service all the time. Just no consideration at all of the time, inconvenience, cost, or loss of privacy and spontaneity. You need to set very clear and explicit boundaries, without the tiniest room for ambiguity, if you really feel like it’s something you want to do.

      2. Colette*

        I see that point – but I don’t think the recipient of a favor can every truly judge whether it’s an inconvenience for person doing the favor. If you (the general you, not you specifically) catch yourself thinking “Oh, X will do it, it’s not a problem”, you need to stop and recalibrate your expectations.

        Deciding that it’s not a problem for the person doing you the favor means you don’t actually appreciate what they’re doing – why would you, it’s not a big deal.

        1. BCW*

          Thats true. And again, it really depends on circumstances. For a while I was getting a ride in a few days a week with a co-worker. It was her offer from the beginning. I actually took the train to her house (about 10 min) and then rode from there. On the way home, she drove to her house and I went back to the train. So there was literally 0 going out of the way for her. However, if after a month or so she was getting annoyed by it because it gave her less freedom when she was going home, all she would have had to do was to say so. But to think that I should be able to figure out when it went from a nice gesture on her part to an inconvenience is a bit much. I think its really about being able to communicate as adults. There is nothing wrong with just saying “I thought this would be fine, but its not working out for me anymore, so after tomorrow no more rides”. But to just get more annoyed with each passing day and not telling the person isn’t cool.

          1. Colette*

            Totally agree that people should speak up when it becomes a problem – but I also think the person who is receiving the favor needs to check in every few months or so and ask. That, to me, is part of demonstrating that you understand that it is a favor, and they can change their mind.

            1. KellyK*

              I actually kind of agree with both you and BCW here. It’s not the recipient’s job to read minds, but it is her job to say “thanks” and to double check every so often that it’s still okay.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, talk to them up front! It only gets awkward if you don’t talk to them and let them make assumptions.

    5. DM*

      I have a coworker who’s relied heavily on others for rides (he chooses to take a commuter bus from his home ~60 miles away into the city, but that drops him off kind of far from our office). I assume the letter writer has a lot of frustrations I had – there’s a time crunch since unless you’re often dealing with getting people to the station on time for a train or bus, and the next one may not be for another hour or more; your plans may be crimped (and by plans I mean stopping to go grocery shopping or even filling up the tank on the way home / before the train station); and finally the requests at times are just disruptive – I’ve been asked while I’m productively working, and it’s kind of urgent due to the schedule. I really think these expectations from coworkers are kind of unreasonable, and it’s not always easy to see what inconvenience making a quick stop or short detour on the way home can be.

      1. Chinook*

        I have never understood expecting others to help me make my life more convinient. For example. I take a commuter bus and the last one leaves at 4:40 pm. My boss knows this and that I can’t stay late (and I don’t have a job that woudl require it). But, if I chose to stay late, I know that it is 100% my responsibility to find my way home (probably by cab). Even if I was meeting a friend after work, I still wouldn’t expect them to drive me anywhere. After all, I am the one who chose a very limiting mode of transportation.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          The last bus is at 4:40?? That’s awfully inconvenient, isn’t it? Aren’t there enough riders after that time to make a couple of more runs worthwhile? When I worked in downtown Milwaukee, the commuter buses ran until around 6:30 or 7:00, and the regular buses all ran until 10 at night. Of course, there were thousands of people trying to get out of there. (Sorry for all the questions, but it seems kind of crazy to me.)

          1. Chinook*

            4:40 is inconvenient but also says a lot about the type of people who live in my city and commute to downtown as well as the businesses there. The last bus in the morning arrives at 7:30 am and we still put in an 8 hour day (and I am not the first one in in the morning). Because most of us work in the head offices of oil & gas companies, there is not a lot of work that comes up at the last minute and cannot be finished the next day.

            Now, when I was an AA with more irregular hours, I did drive to the edge of the city and take a bus route with better hours. I am looking forward to not doing that this year as that involved digging out my car from the snow, scraping off the ice and then driving on icy roads. The commuter bus is just a 10 minute walk down the road.

  20. JerseyVol*

    #7-Was anyone else shocked when reading that question? It’s a total failure of education if the educators don’t even know what the industry they’re training students for needs and wants.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Sadly, I’m not surprised. Some schools do a great job of engaging industry partners and creating a strong bridge from education to jobs, but it seems like many don’t bother or even deny it is their job! See my below comment on industry advisory boards and labor market data; these tools should really be the *minimum* a department is doing to make sure the curriculum is relevant to the changing job market needs.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit*

      I agree, I was surprised.

      But… I don’t believe that a biology (or whatever) professor is “training” students FOR an industry. Her job is to educate students in her field.

    3. De Minimis*

      If it’s like other fields there may be a difference between what’s needed to succeed in academia and what’s needed in the workplace.

    4. Ruffingit*

      Not surprised at all unfortunately. I’ve been through a few different university programs, two of which culminated in professional licenses and the lack of knowledge professors had about the work in the field was shocking sometimes. One of them even gave out erroneous information about the licensing exam. And the career centers? SUCH A JOKE.

      It’s sad, in many ways students are being academically educated but not practically educated.

    5. HR lady*

      I was pretty pleased to read the question. My guess is that most educators (science or otherwise) aren’t asking questions like that, which is why so many of us in business are saying “these new grads aren’t prepared for working in the “real world.”

      (Also don’t forget that many professors and teachers have never had jobs in private industry and so they really might not know what their students need.)

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Agreed. I give kudos to the professor for asking. The more self-aware profs will say that they don’t know industry because they may never have worked in it, OR their experience was 20 years ago. And things change.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Not NOW. I would have been if I read it before I wasted time trying to go to grad school, when the school airily said “Oh, yes, you can do this with this,” instead of failing to give me the vitally important career information I needed before taking my loan money!

    7. Felicia*

      Not at all. It’s not surprising at all to me, possibly because the professor for my “transition to work” course knew absolutely nothing about the industry we wanted to go into.

      I was actually pleasantly surprised that he asked, and asked here, which I guess is sad when I think of it.

    8. Joey*

      I used to be but not anymore. This is a great reminder why its so vital to actually look at the quality of school career centers and talk to alumni of the degree program before you choose your school. Sadly too many university career services are just for show.

    9. Jazzy Red*

      Well, it explains how there can be so many bright but stupid college graduates trying to enter the workforce every year.

  21. Ann O'Nemity*

    #7 Has you department considered creating an industry advisory board to help with this? Another complementary option is to look at labor market data (from the gov’t and/or from a job site board) to look at the most in-demand skills in your field.

  22. Elle-em-en-oh-pee*

    Best advice I got (and did not take) after completing my science degree was from my Uncle. He told me to get my CDL as soon as I graduated… I did not listen, but the number of jobs I was not able to apply to or was turned down for because I didn’t have one… man I really wish I had. Now I don’t have the dough.

    My advice, make sure you have a practical skill to supplement your your science degree. Sometimes it will be what gets you the job you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it and sometimes it is what will keep you alive and out of your folks’ basement while you are waiting.

    Do it before your student loan grace period is up.

      1. Elle-em-en-oh-pee*

        Yup. As unbelievable as it may sound (don’t believe it myself sometimes) I have encountered quite a few jobs that billed themselves as scientific jobs “Bachelor’s Degree Highly Desired” et al. and also required a Commercial Driver’s License.

        I suppose part of the reason I kick myself today is because my Uncle offered to train me for free and to use his truck for the test etc. and I blew him off.

        I mean, why did I need a CDL when I’d just gotten my degree? Forget the countless companies at the job fairs that told me they would snatch me up in heartbeat if I had it, I knew better than to waste my time getting my CDL. So, I wasted it alternating between un- and under – employed for about 5 years instead.

        Even if truck driving in and of itself wasn’t my dream job, it still would have been my foot in the door to many of companies I wanted to work for.

        If I hadn’t been so closed – minded about learning a new skill (CDL or otherwise) and hadn’t had such preconceived ideas on “how things were going to be” (trying to sell my skills based on what I thought employers SHOULD want vs. finding out and obtaining the skills they ACTUALLY wanted) back then, I would most definitely would be far better off now.

        My advice to my past self (not that you asked for a big explanation (sorry) nor that I would have listened) is:

        “Trash the preconceived notions when they cease to serve you, and quickly embrace notions that do, because standing here, you can never know “how things are gonna be.”

        Hindsight is 20/20 though, and some people (like me) had the privelege of learning the hard way.

  23. De Minimis*

    #1 I can sympathize somewhat, at my workplace, the culture seems to be one where people can take off any time without much regard to deadlines or the workload of others. I don’t know how many times I’ve suddenly learned I had one day to submit something that would not normally have been due for a couple of weeks, just because the people involved plan to be off [they also do things like take a week’s vacation after being gone for a week due to work-related travel.]

    The only solace for me is that the same thing generally goes for everyone, which means that when I plan to be off I have to get everything done beforehand, but no one bats an eye at giving me time off when I need it. I would probably be somewhat irritated if there was more of a double standard, but that is often part of the workplace.

  24. Liane*

    #7) For making contacts, I suggest volunteering as a judge in state (and school district level) science fairs for middle and high schools. I did this as a microbiology lab tech taking master’s courses in the evening. (My adviser got me involved.) Yes, a lot of the judges are professors or 6-12th grade science/math teachers but many, like me, were in private jobs. I learned a lot from my fellow judges and would have learned more if I’d known how to network and follow up then. Worried about working with students that age and not having a good idea of what they are capable of ? The teachers on my judging team were happy to explain–and you might gain some insight into your freshman students know, if you teach that level, as well.
    For your students, if your college/university offers Cooperative Education, encourage them to consider it. It works somewhat like the internships frequently discussed here, but are intended for upper division undergrads, usually located in the school’s local area and are *always* paid competitively (I made around $9-10/hr in the late 80s when I did mine). You alternate semesters taking a full-time load of classes and semesters working at the co-op job. At my school, during your co-op semesters, you paid 1 hour tuition & were considered a full-time student those terms. Yes, the working semesters do add to the time it takes to get a degree, but I made enough that I didn’t have to work during my class terms. How did it help me in the world of work? I did 4 terms at the water department working with their microbiologist, plus a little with the chemists, and I got my first professional lab job with a resume that had nothing on it but my co-op internship and some lab work for a professor at my community college.

    1. Editor*

      I interviewed engineering, science and business students who attended the University of Cincinnati and took part in the (mostly mandatory) co-op program. Some of the students had been able to graduate with little or no debt because they could pay more of their own way through their co-op jobs. In addition, they got practical skills, even though it took longer to graduate. An engineer supervising some of the co-ops said that he’d chosen to go to Toledo for his degree because he wanted to be through in four years, but the co-op students he was working with were much more employable than he had been, and he had struggled to obtain and to settle into his first job. At the time, Cincinnati invested a lot in placing and monitoring students in co-ops (the university used to be on a quarter system instead of semesters). Basically, a co-op can be more like an apprenticeship.

      The other advantage was that students could fine-tune the courses they took to obtain the skills they discovered they needed, and if they didn’t like a particular area, there was still time to tweak the major and learn other things.

      It is my impression that professors at Research I universities are more likely to be unfamiliar with industry because the place where they work is more interested in turning out fodder for Ph.D. programs. If I were a science professor, I would lobby my department to work with the development office on an endowment for a visiting professorship that brought people in from industry for a semester at a time and was designed to serve undergraduates, rather than just grad students.

      Dickinson College in Pa. has a lecture series that brings in alumni of the English department to talk about their careers after graduation. Any science department could set something like this up, and maybe plan to offer two sessions a semester, with a young graduate who’s been out less than ten years and an older graduate with more extensive experience. There’d be some cost, but it isn’t as much as a visiting professorship.

  25. JMegan*

    #6 – If you don’t want to drive your colleague to the train station, you don’t have to, and Alison has presented a couple of good ways to say no to him. (Although BCW makes a good point above, you never know when he might be able to do you a favour in return!)

    What I really want to address is this part: “It’s my gas money and I feel awkward asking him to pay me for gas.” Feeling awkward about a conversation isn’t a good reason not to have the conversation. In work, relationships, all sorts of places – you’re going to have dozens, if not hundreds, of awkward conversations as you go through life.

    Sometimes you will initiate them (or you’ll be faced with the choice between having the awkward conversation and sucking it up when something is annoying you.) Sometimes another person will initiate an awkward conversation, and you’ll find yourself having it whether you want to or not.

    My point is this: awkward conversations are a part of life, and the ability to have an awkward conversation is a necessary skill. And like all skills, this one can be aquired through practice. Especially in a case like this, which is pretty low-risk – chances are, if this guy is accepting a lot of rides from people, the subject of gas money has come up before. So this is a really good way to start practicing that skill. If you do get to the point that you’re giving him a lot of rides, or if the gas money really is the only reason you don’t want to, it’s worth sucking up that initial awkwardness to ask.

    1. Ruffingit*

      YES! THANK YOU!! I was coming here to make this exact point. Have the conversation about the gas money OP if you do decide to continue giving him rides. It’s interesting how people say they don’t want to make a situation uncomfortable so they say nothing. It’s already uncomfortable because YOU are uncomfortable with the way things are. That’s a good enough reason to have the conversation and set some boundaries.

  26. Another Anon*

    #4 – Wasn’t there talk in a former thread about a Yes Cat? Like a picture of Grumpy Cat with the caption “YES.” for all the questions like these that should be obvious?

    I vote we bring that back.

  27. Ruffingit*

    #3 says One of the family members is long past retirement age and has wanted to stop working there, but the rest of the family won’t allow that person to leave.

    Really, they won’t allow him to leave? What, do they have him chained in the basement forcing him to crunch numbers or something? Just a funny image that came to me with this statement.

    1. Chinook*

      “What, do they have him chained in the basement forcing him to crunch numbers or something? Just a funny image that came to me with this statement.”

      When it comes to family, guilt can be a tougher chain to break than any metal. Unless he cut all ties with the family, this person probably would spend his retirement hearing about how hard they all work and how it must be nice to golf all day.

      Also, his retirement pension may be tied in with the company finances and his family could be refusing to free up the money he earned for retirement.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yeah, I understand all that, dysfunctional family dynamics and what have you. Just sharing the first mental picture that popped into my head when I read that :)

    2. OP #3*

      They all live together and they’re super involved in each other’s lives. He’s put his foot down on other occasions, but the family as a whole uses a lot of guilt and is pretty deep in denial, so they’re not listening.

  28. Calibrachoa*

    #7 don’t neglect people skills in favor of doing science! all the time. This means they should still go to parties, learn to talk to people of the applicable gender at parties, learn small talk, etc – because later in life stunted social skills WILL cost them professionally.

  29. ThursdaysGeek*

    #2, because that has been ignored. :)

    I was laid off from my last job, and I invite a bunch of co-workers to lunch about once a month. If they can come, fine; if not, maybe next time. I also meet for lunch with co-workers from the job before, also about once a month. And I have breakfast once a month with a co-worker and wife from a job nearly 20 years ago.

    I didn’t realize until I was reading this blog that I am networking, keeping in touch with people who can provide recommendations — I just figure they are my friends and I want to stay in contact.

    1. Lanya*

      I do the same thing. It’s very enjoyable and it’s not weird at all to stay in touch with these people. I will say to #2, it’s important to be aware that for a long time, a major topic of conversation at your lunch dates may revolve around your old job and what’s going on there. So, don’t be afraid to be up-front about it if it’s a sensitive topic for you. I eventually had to ask my former co-workers to stop talking about my former supervisor when we would meet up, and we’ve moved on to much better/more interesting topics.

  30. ggg*

    Re #7: Internships, co-ops, summer research are all great. But I am surprised at the number of students I interview who cannot communicate the significance of what they did — both in terms of the overall goal of the project, and the impact of their individual role on that goal. Students should be able to give a simple “elevator pitch” for their research/internship, on their resume and in an interview.

    Not everyone has the opportunity for hands-on experience, and for those students I would look at their letters of recommendation. Hopefully they have a couple from their lab course professors. I would look for statements about scientific interest, team leadership, being a self-starter, persistence, paying attention to detail, and writing excellent reports.

    Both of the above are far more important than your GPA, as long as it’s decent. Science is hard.

    1. Chinook*

      Ooohhhh…the elevator pitch. I think that is a great thing to have anyone be able to do. Imagine having to explain to a prospective employeer what you have done and/or could do for them in less than 2 minutes. There is a skill to that that can only come with practice.

      If you want a good example of how this can work well or destroy even the best idea, watch old episodes of “Dragons Den” on (it was the inspiration for Shark Tank and has 2 of the same guys but the pitches are often shorter and there is less back story to the presenters). These pitchers are looking for money, contacts, mentors or partners and have to be able to explain their ideas in just a few minutes and be able to express what exactly they want or need. The added bonus is that you also get a good idea of how business works because they really do ask questions about expenses, capital invested (both human and money), patents, market share and all other stuff.

      Be warned, though, Kevin O’Leary comes off much more tough and mean in this version but only because he has the perfect foil in Arlene (who is more environmentally minded).

      And no, I do not work for CBC or any of those Dragons.

      1. CathVWXYNot?*

        Isn’t it weird to watch Shark Tank and see Kevin and Robert pretending to be American?! Talking about how their family came to “this country” etc. So bizarre!

        1. Chinook*

          I do sometimes wish one of the Yanks would call their bluff (especially since Kevin has his own regular finance talk show on the CBC). Then again, I also find those two the most engaging because they actually seem to care more about the investments and the business side and less about the people (though Damion is starting to come out that way too). The Shark Tank just doesn’t get into telling people that their ideas are horrible and they need to stop investing in them (possibly because those never make the air?) Dragon’s Den, on the other hand, does highlight how some people make bad business mistakes and, though it also makes good tv, it also shows how sometimes a good idea doesn’t always equal a good business.

          What is funny, though, was that last year Kevin and Robert were mentioning how they had contacts with various US networks that they could leverage and Arlene made fun of them all “knowing people.”

          1. Chinook*

            They are Canadian. Am I to guess that, internationally the CBC stands for more than the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation? If so, they should have copyrighted it 75 years ago when they got started. Silly Canucks ;)

  31. Bea W*

    #1 – Oh dear no, don’t do that! Even if your boss is the biggest hypocrite in the universe, it’s inappropriate and a bad idea to call your manager out on it as long as you working there. Even if you were sure you were 100% in the right, it wouldn’t do anything but annoy her and possibly piss her off. Is getting into that kind of discussion over scheduling of vacation time really worth it?

    She had to clear her request with her own manager. You don’t know the circumstances surrounding her planning or lack thereof. It doesn’t sound as if she gave you a hard time for your change of plans. It’s pretty standard for a manager to tell an employee about to go on any type of leave to make sure to do X, Y, and Z before they go. As much as it annoys you, it’s best to just move on.

  32. Bea W*

    #7 – “Science” is a broad field, and some of the specifics points of what employers will want probably differ depending on the specific field and work environment. I would encourage students to do any kind of internships and get practical experience related to their field. In general, they will all need solid writing and oral communication as well as analytical skills plus practical experience.

    For folks going into computer science, for the love of god please get as much practical real life programming experience as you can. The complaint I have been hearing in that field is that grads are coming out of school without being able to actually do the work, and it’s one of those fields where if you are not actively using what you learn in the classroom, you won’t go on to develop the skills you need to succeed in the workplace, especially with the pace of changes in technology.

    For fields like biology or chemistry where students might go on to do bench work, same rule applies, they need practical experience on various types of equipment they can only really get through internships and entry level lab/research assistant type jobs.

  33. Elisabeth*

    I’m currently hiring for a data analyst position, which requires a bachelor’s degree plus 2 years of experience. What makes me sad is that some of the resumes crossing my desk contains lots of USELESS experience. Oh, you volunteered in the playroom of the children’s hospital all through college? That’s not experience. You drove the meals on wheels van on Saturdays? That’s not experience. Too many nice kids, who probably think they’re becoming “well-rounded”, when they should actually be volunteering in a lab over the summer. Heck, there’s tons of publicly available data out there – download it, and try out the analyses and programs that you learned in school. You can probably find a prof who’s willing to meet with you once a month to discuss what you’ve learned – and camups computer labs have statistical software. Voila, instant free internship experience with real-world data. Add a coherent cover letter and you’re hired. It’s all about drive, and creating opportunities where there appear to be none.

    1. ggg*

      Received a resume from a Harvard physics major with a 4.0 GPA. Objective: Get internship in science. Interests: working out and playing video games. No other information (OK, this was a freshman, but list some courses, some high school job, anything!). I wish I were making this up.

  34. Heather*

    #7 – Big 2nd on recommending students do summer internships.
    * Work experience is the only real way get a better idea of what on earth one does all day as a practicing engineer/scientist. My undergrad (materials engineering) had a requirement to either do a thesis research project with a prof or an industrial internship. This of course puts the burden on the department to hook students up with industry contacts. Which brings me to…

    * One way to make industry contacts is to hang out at science/engineering professional society meetings, whether national conferences or local chapter meetings. My local chapter of ASM Intl. in Silicon Valley meets monthly for a dinner/technical talk and is frequented by industry professionals and profs/students at our nearest universities, San Jose State Univ and Stanford. Every year at one of our meetings, the SJSU materials students give presentations on their senior projects. Professional society members are itching to give back to the next generation, and this setting is one way to get those two groups together.

    *Another way to make industry contacts is through the alum network of the university/department you work for. Presumably, these alums have moved on to gainful employment in their fields, and hopefully they feel an affinity to their alma mater and other students suffering through the same things they did. Alums would be a good pool of industry contacts to reach out to for internship opportunities/intel for your students.

    *By the way, the students themselves should be encouraged to make these industrial contacts in the same way. Students most likely have access to a student chapter of a professional society as well as their school’s alum database. I pretty much put off this sort of networking until after graduation, because I thought I was *so* busy with schoolwork. I should have gotten started sooner – in my job searches, my GPA helped, but my network helped more.

  35. SC in SC*

    #7 Lots of good advice for your budding scientists but I’ll throw in one that has been about as valuable in my career as any of my science…public speaking. It’s AMAZING how much mileage you will get out of a basic ability to stand-up in front of an audience and make a presentation without having a panic attack. I’ve been fortunate (or crazy) enough to be one of those people who’s happiest when he’s standing in front of an audience and is the center of attention but speaking to a group is just like any other skill. You learn the basics and then you have to practice. The more you do it the better you get. I firmly believe that this has been one of the major contributors to my advancement.

    1. Jamie*

      I’m not a scientist (although I do have safety goggles) but I so second this. Unlike SC, I don’t love public speaking but I noticed a huge shift in how people saw me and my career progression once I got a handle on it.

      I totally faked it and pretended I was fine when I was freaking out…and when friends whom I trust told me they couldn’t tell I was nervous I gained confidence in my ability to fake it which made me less nervous. Now – I don’t look forward to presentations or company wide speeches per se, but I don’t dread them and I know I’ll do a good job so they don’t worry me.

      So many people will turn down visible and really career enhancing projects because they don’t want the 1% of the job that requires them to speak publicly. This is one of those skills I wouldn’t have thought of in school, but stumbled upon and it’s been such a boost once I got over my fear.

  36. Pussyfooter*

    Hi OP 6:
    You don’t need to feel awkward or guilty. If I read the situation correctly, he’s new to the office?

    So give him some friendly advice: 1) He needs to set up an agreed plan with a particular person or group who he can carpool with, 2) He will look bad to co-workers if he keeps expecting them to randomly rescue him instead of dealing with the situation in advance, and 3) Most people are too polite to tell them that he’s making them uncomfortable, but their discomfort can still affect his work reputation.

    If he asks you to be his go-to help and you don’t feel like it, just tell him you aren’t the right one for his group or that you aren’t really comfortable taking that on now (*do Not add a justification of why, just repeat if he tries to guilt you*)

    I agree with Jamie’s post that if he accepted this job without making any plans for how he could get to/from it, then he is being incredibly presumptuous…but he could get smarter.

  37. RedStateBlues*

    Disclaimer: I’m not sure anything I say applies exclusively to science degrees

    Microbiologist here… My advise to new/recent grads is really to manage their own expectations. First, your first job out of school (assuming a bachelor’s degree) probably isn’t going to pay $50,000/yr so get over it (If you live in an extrodinarily high cost of living area it might, but generally speaking). I don’t know how many people I’ve seen when I was involved with the hiring process balk over the starting pay. Secondly, While I can speculate as to the reasons, I’m not sure why jobs that used to not require a degree now require them. At least in my experience, the process of earning your degree in a science is vastly more challenging than the typical entry level science job (speaking specifically about biology/chemistry jobs). There really is a “pay your dues” mentality in the places I’ve worked as a scientist.

  38. EE*


    From my own experience, even parts of job descriptions marked ‘ESSENTIAL’ are often non-essential. I have twice recently been interviewed for jobs where I didn’t have a degree in a particular field that the job description called ‘essential’.

    And it’s not that my CV is so unusually superb that they decided to break the rules just for me – it’s a good CV, but similar to that of many people at my level of professional development.

    In short: don’t be put off, and good luck!

    1. RedStateBlues*

      I agree with this. If you wait for a job in which you meet every qualification, you won’t be applying for many jobs.

      I was once pretty self conscious (if that’s the right term) about this issue myself, but I just decided I’m going to make the company make a decision on whether I’m qualified or not, not do it for them by not applying. Having said that, there are some jobs that you have no business applying for, but I would say most of those are fairly obvious.

      1. OP#5*

        I’m really self-conscious too.

        I really like your idea of letting a company make a decision on whether you’re qualified or not (as long as it’s not obvious you shouldn’t be applying). Great way to look at it!

  39. Helena*

    #7: Check out “Putting your Science to Work” by Peter Fiske. That book practically slept under my pillow every night when I was going from science postdoc to big-scary-world.

    Also, I don’t mean to traffic in stereotypes, but grooming is a biggie. I was a postdoc at one of the big name science schools, and they got the local Macy’s to offer a free seminar on professional dress (no doubt translating into a lot of suit sales!) Too often we science geeks miss that part of high school and end up desperately trying to figure out makeup for the first time in our mid-twenties, three days before our first job interview. Eventually got it down, but never quite solved the shoe equation…

  40. Anonymous*

    #7 Why not set up a program to find out? You could use this as a model program. Extra career points if you pull this off. Don’t Universities love this sort of thing? Not sure a link will work here but giving it a try, this should go to the WSU Veterinary School News for Aug 16, 2013, might be a good model program for you:
    WSU asks veterinarians what they expect of grads

  41. HR Manager*

    #7 – You could talk to your department admin, your colleagues or your campus career center and start organizing career talks when people from industry come in and talk about what they look for and how recruitment work for them. As a academic Hr person I’d love to work on that kind of project.

  42. Vicki*

    “I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone and had to leave out the back door.”

    What IS it with companies that do things this way??? It’s so horridly common (and I use the word “horridly” in all of its connotations). It’s mean, petty, foolish, and makes everyone feel bad.


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