an acquaintance is lying about his credentials, I’m afraid my coworkers will out me to my mom, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. An acquaintance is lying about his credentials

I recently found out that someone I know lied about his credentials when he applied for his job. He was let go when his boss learned of his deception, but I’ve since learned that he lied to his previous employers as well, and he’s continuing to represent that he has a graduate degree in the philosophy of physics from an Ivy League university on social media and to friends and acquaintances, when he never attended graduate school, has no affiliation with that university, and has no background in either science or philosophy.

He doesn’t hold a role that requires any sort of license, but he last worked in a high-level position in medical research at a military medical center (and in the past at universities and other medical centers), and it worries me that he’ll just end up getting another job in the same field, and he might end up harming someone (if that has not happened already). I know it’s really common for people to lie on their resumes, but this seems like a public health risk. I have relatives and friends who have participated in clinical research studies, and they felt safe doing so; it scares me that these trials could have been overseen by someone who had no relevant scientific or ethical background.

I’m really uncomfortable with the burden of this knowledge, and I’m not in a position to make him stop lying about this. There’s no governing agency or professional organization that oversees this. What should I do?

I see why you’re concerned, but this isn’t something you have a practical way to do anything about. Employers should be verifying employees’ backgrounds, particularly in positions where credentials truly matter. But if they’re neglecting that, there’s no way for you to step in and do it for them.

In theory you could track your contact’s professional moves and contact each new employer to suggest they confirm his qualifications — but lying about having a degree in the philosophy of physics doesn’t really rise to that level of warranting that (as opposed to if he were, say, using his jobs to abuse kids). I think you’ve got to let this go and leave it to the people whose job it is to deal with it.

2. I’m afraid my coworkers will out me to my mother

I am genderqueer and work for an organization with multiple branches in my county. We are allowed (and generally encouraged) to put our personal pronouns in our email signatures, and several of the public-facing employees of our organization (particularly at my branch) wear pronoun pins. All pretty straightforward so far, but here’s where it gets tricky.

I live in the same general area as my parents, who I am not out to because they are very conservative and quite frankly, I don’t want to have that fight (besides, I’m a grown-ass adult and they’re not entitled to that level of information about me). My mother is pretty heavily involved with a support group for one of the other branches of my organization and is close personal friends with several of the staff members there. I’m afraid that if I change the pronouns in my email signature, one of the staff members at the other branch will notice and ask my mother about it, thus inadvertently outing me to my parents.

I don’t trust the other staff members to not say anything if I ask them; in fact, I’m concerned that doing so might cause one of them to feel like she has to tell my mother. I’m already wearing a pronoun pin with the pronouns my parents would expect, so I want to at least be honest about myself in one place and feel like having it wrong in my email address too would be some sort of loss on my part. Is it possible I could just go for it anyway and hope the staff at the other branch won’t notice or care enough?

Ugh, this can probably only be answered by someone who knows the staff at the other branch — but you do, and it sounds like you think there’s a pretty good chance they’ll mention it to your mom.

So unfortunately you’ve got to weigh your comfort with whatever might result from that against your (entirely understandable and normal) desire to use your correct pronouns at work. That sucks, and I’m sorry it’s the case.

Read an update to this letter.

3. How long should I stick around for a “promised” promotion?

I’ve been with my current organization for over a decade. I’m in the same department I was hired into, but I’ve had a few promotions over the years. I’m generally well-liked in the organization, I believe in the work, and the benefits/side perks are good. The workload is manageable, and other than some mild internal dysfunctions, I’m quite happy working there.

In the past year or so, my boss (director level) mentioned that he’s grooming me to take his place when he retires “in a year or two,” which is great! The directors at my organization start at around 30% more than I currently make, and it’d be a great step in my professional career. The problem? My director’s been saying he’s going to retire “in the next year or two” for at least five years. I can picture him working there until he physically can’t anymore.

I don’t want to leave, per se, but I also don’t want to put myself in a position where I’m stagnant for several years, then he retires, then the organization decides they need to hire someone from outside for the position. (I’ve been in the “you’re so great in your current role that we can’t possibly lose you there” position before, and it’s not fun.) I’m qualified enough to apply for director positions now; I’d find the role challenging, sure, but I’m up to the task. What’s the best way forward?

Since you know that you can’t put any real weight on your director’s statements that he’ll retire in a year or two, proceed the way you would if he weren’t saying it at all. Would you still happily stay? Or would you be looking around? If you’d be looking around … you should start looking around.

You could certainly try talking to him about it, explaining that you want to make sure you’re planning realistically for yourself. Who knows, maybe he’ll tell you something about his timeline that sounds credible even seen through the lens of the history so far (that part is key). But absent something like that — something that you find convincing despite knowing that he’s been “preparing to leave” for years — proceed the same way you would if he had announced he plans to stay forever.

4. Can I tell a new employer I’m going to Burning Man?

I am a mid-career engineer in the Bay Area who for various reasons is looking for a new job. I’m getting to the stage where I’m hoping for job offer(s) in the next few weeks, and I have a bit of a conundrum. In the last few years I’ve been going to Burning Man (and volunteering there) for a week and a half at the end of August to early September. This was not a problem at my current job, which is pretty laid back and where I’m a known quantity, but I’m slightly concerned about negotiating that with a new employer. All the jobs I’m looking at have the famous “unlimited” PTO, and not going at all would be a huge deal for me. Probably a deal-breaker.

Further complicating matters is I’ve just received an exciting offer to do a paid version of the volunteer work I usually do. However, this would involve a three-week commitment in the desert instead of a week and a half, which feels like a much bigger deal to negotiate. I’m also concerned because a lot of people think of Burning Man as a place where tech bros go to do drugs in the desert (not *completely* false), and that’s not the kind of first impression I want to make. On the other hand, this is tech in the Bay Area, so it may just be fine. Do you think I can negotiate the three weeks if I offer to take some of it unpaid? Or should I turn that down for this year and just ask for the week and a half on PTO? What do you think is the right approach here?

Treat this like any other pre-planned vacation — you don’t need to specify what you’ll be doing with the time. When you’re negotiating the offer, just say, “I have a pre-planned vacation for (dates). I’d be happy to use unpaid time off for part of that if it would make it more possible.” If they sound reluctant to approve so much time so soon after you start, at that point you could offer to shorten it if you’re willing to — but I’d start off by asking for what you want and see what they say.

Definitely do this before you officially accept the offer though; it’s a lot easier to get things approved as part of the offer negotiations than it will be after you’ve started.

5. A thank-you note for a coworker who’s leaving

I started my new job just before the beginning of the year, and have been working closely with someone who just announced he’s leaving in a couple weeks. He’s mentored me a bit since I started. Would it be weird to write him a thank-you note, along the lines of an end of internship thank-you note? This is my first job since graduating and I’ve always written thank you cards at my internships, when I was the one leaving, but this feels a little different so I’d be grateful for any insights you have!

Not weird at all! It would be a lovely thing to do.

{ 432 comments… read them below }

  1. Jackalope*

    In response to #1, I know that it’s often believed that people often lie on their resumes, but I’m not sure it’s as common as people assume. Making the most out of past experiences and portraying them in the finest possible light, yes, but not outright lying. Especially not making up credentials.

    1. Cj*

      I don’t think it’s very common either, and was surprised that the letterwriter thinks that it is.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It depends on who you listen to. A former recruiter (!) advised me to flat-out lie on my resume, saying, “Everyone I know does it! They all lie and then learn on the job!” This same person, in a different role later on, fired a freelancer for exaggerating their credentials. Smdh.

    2. Ladida*

      Agree! I think it is quite common to exaggerate on the responsibilities of your current role or list a technology on the skills section that you are familiar with but have no expertise on. But having a fake degree on your CV? That sounds pretty extreme to me.

      1. Caroline*

        Agree. Fluffing up the credentials a little, perhaps over-stating responsibilities, sure, I can see it happens pretty often, but an actual flat lie with no truth to it at all? That’s big, and I suspect it’s not THAT common, and is far more egregious a thing than implying you were a team leader when in fact you did the scheduling for 3 days when your boss was out.

        1. Quite anon*

          When I was fresh out of college, I was working with a “contracting agency” that was vetted on my college’s career site, that ended up being a scam that wanted their entire batch of new people to all to claim we’d been working on various projects for them for years and use each other as references. I noped out of there, reported them to my college’s careers center, saw they were still on there a week later, and now I absolutely do not recommend my prestigious college to ANYONE who might be considering going there if they’re going to put their new graduates in touch with obvious fraudsters, and have a very strong sense that lying on resumes is common.

          1. Harvard is the Harvard of the East*

            Wow, you have absolutely no sense of proportion.

            Universities are huge, lumbering, bureaucratic institutions. They are not a hive mind. Their divisions and departments often operate autonomously.

            To refuse to recommend Stanford or wherever because its career center MAY have mildly screwed up shows that you have a chip in your shoulder against the college. It suggests you have an axe to grind and are upset at the institution for exogenous reasons. It makes you look unhinged.

            Put differently: clearly, no one should get a PhD in computational physics from (say MIT) because of a problem with ONE employer that worked with its undergrad career center.

            And note that I say the career center “may” have messed up. You’re upset because they didn’t act decisively with one ONE WEEK after receiving an alumni complaint. Presumably the career center needs to investigate the complaint. The employer may have had a different side of the story. Other alumni who worked for the employer may have had a better experience and provided glowing recommendations. Different divisions within the employer organization may be better
            tha the one you worked in.

            In short, there are a lot of good reasons why the career center may not have severed ties with this employer after one week based on your say-so alone. Even if there aren’t, that is hardly an indictment of the entire university.

            1. Anne Elliot*

              I’m not sure it’s the OP’er whose coming across as having lost their sense of proportion here.

            2. Quite anon*

              I mean I went into their office and showed them all of the emails that were sent to me by this company telling me they wanted to commit fraud, they pulled down the listing, and the company was back a week later under a different name with the exact same job ad text, contact info, and address of their office building. So… yeah. They were back a week later, making their way through the process of being vetted again after having been removed the first time.

              1. Janeric*

                That does seem like it’s dysfunction within the careers office instead of a university-wide issue, but I assume that this is the incident that made a lot of other ethical sloppiness/sketchiness make sense in retrospect?

                1. Quite anon*

                  Indeed, and it’s why I’m not inclined to recommend that particular school to anyone. Can’t say anything about other schools’ career centers, but the dysfunctionality of this one was enough to make me not recommend this school to anyone, and the brazenness of the scammers was enough to show that this is a widespread problem.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          I think it’s rare enough that that’s why people still get away with it, even in this day and age of everything is only a Google away–it’s such a huge fib that most interviewers and coworkers would simply assume it would be too hard to get away with that kind of thing, so they don’t even bother to check.

          And honestly, once hired, it’s pretty unlikely somebody’s going to give them a pop quiz in their subject, or have the level of knowledge to know if they’re just bullshitting their way through it. So things simply glide along until they’re shown up after too many people go “wait, he said he’s got a degree from where, again?”

    3. Artemesia*

      I was amused by the guy lying about such an utterly useless degree and would not give it another thought. Not the LW’s problem. If he were lying about his training in brain surgery or his experience as an EMT or even that he was a certified electrician, then his lying might have actual consequences for the lives of others and you would have a moral obligation. But inadequately philosophizing is unlike to lead to damage so I’d laugh and let it go.

      1. birch*

        No need to insult people’s degrees here.

        OP says this person has had high-level positions in medical research, so he definitely has held power that he is not qualified to hold, and I wonder how on earth he got those positions with a degree that’s not relevant to medical research. The only thing I can think of is that some medical research is relevant for people with degrees in related fields like engineering and chemistry, or maybe he was in administration and not directly involved in research? Either way what he’s doing is unethical and not just something that can be laughed at and ignored–any and all research on living things comes with a high ethical standard. Even in admin and tech roles he could be involved in decision making that harms people–influencing the green light for a risky study, involvement in discriminatory funding practices, failing to oversee some machinery maintenance, etc.

        But unfortunately I don’t think OP can really do anything systematic about it. If OP is in the same field, I would say this is a situation where a professional gossip network can be a good thing–spread the word that he doesn’t have the credentials he claims. In research, your academic credentials are similar to licensing–someone should not be allowed to be involved in research on living things if they are not trained in research ethics and research methods.

        1. H2*

          Yeah…I strongly think that there’s something that the LW doesn’t know here. That degree (or even an MS or PhD in physics!) wouldn’t on its own qualify someone for medical research. It’s possible that this person has an undergraduate degree in something relevant and that’s why they didn’t check the graduate degree, because it’s just not relevant. And then at some point, the experience will weigh much, much more heavily than the off-field degree.

          LW, I would definitely let it go. There’s no way that employers didn’t ask for transcripts if they’re considering that degree to be a consideration at all.

          1. Lydia*

            I was thinking the same thing. The person didn’t get their jobs based on the degree they claimed to have alone. That would be pretty odd. There must be other skills he has that back up getting hired, and unless he’s lying about those, too, the OP should probably let it go.

            That is to say, even if the OP knows he’s lying about his skill with pipettes, that will come out in time, not that the OP needs to double check what else he’s saying on his resume.

      2. BethDH*

        Given how closely related philosophy of physics is to theoretical physics, he’s presumably at least claiming he has the ability to review and understand physics-related research.
        Some medical things where I could see this being a problem include things involving scanning/optics. I’m getting close to fan fiction here, but would you feel like it was irrelevant if the guy in charge of managing some new version of an MRI was claiming to have skills?
        That said, I’m wondering how OP knows the guy is telling the truth about the titles he’s held. If he’s a brazen liar, assume that holds true about his social life too.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Would you feel like it was irrelevant if the guy in charge of managing some new version of an MRI was claiming to have skills?
          If that skill was the philosophy of physics, I would think it very irrelevant to the job at hand. That degree is potentially impressive in some sort of “thinking about complicated abstract things and connecting them” way, like for a think tank, but not in a “what great engineering skills!” way. Much less a “let’s have this person operate the MRI machine” way. Or “let’s have this person make medical diagnoses” way.

          (Relatedly, my spouse was frustrated that no one running the obstetric ultrasounds could give him a detailed breakdown of exactly how the machine worked.)

          1. NeedRain47*

            I randomly met and chatted with a guy who installs MRIs and related software for a living, while waiting for my luggage at the Baltimore airport. Interesting and fairly complex job, but that guy was definitely not a philosopher, nor did he need to be.

          2. Ellie*

            I’ve seen people with similar credentials making decisions about pieces of military hardware that are quite hazardous. There are rules around what individuals can ‘drive’ these pieces of equipment, since they understand all of the theory behind how they operate, their emissions, etc. ‘Philosophy’ can hide quite a bit of scientific and engineering knowledge.

      3. JSPA*

        PhD = Doctor of philosophy.

        Every one of them.

        That’s what the letters mean.

        This guy is not lying about being in “philosophy” or studying the “philosophy of physics.” He’s lying about having a PhD in Physics. Full stop.

        This is a huge deal.

        Medical research teams commonly will take on a physics PhD to do things like figure out the dosing of radiation, or align the lasers, or do other hard-sciences things that they themselves are not qualified to do, and that they’d otherwise have to bring in a technician from the manufacturer, to do.

        At minimum, he’ll be screwing up experiments, and killing experimental animals. It’s not impossible that he’ll be aiming radiation at patients.

        This is not a small thing, despite the LW’s unfamiliarity with the nomenclature of advanced degrees (and apparently Alison’s as well, as she seems not to have caught on to the source of the confusion!).

          1. Harvard is the Harvard of the East*

            Regardless of whether the word refers to the name of the degree or its subject matter, this is a serious situation.

            My only caveat is that OP better be dammed sure her information on the guy is accurate. If he really does have a PHD and she reports him, she’s opened herself up to a defamation suit.

            1. Anonomite*

              That is unlikely to happen. More like she’s opened herself up to some professional dragging, which would be warranted.

        1. amoeba*

          But that’s not what the letter says at all. I mean, it’s very possible that it’s a misunderstanding by either the LW or the faking guy himself! But there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that. Philosophy of physics is a real field, so it’s entirely possible that he’s faking that for whatever reason! (Or even a PhD in philosophy of physics, haha…)

          I’d also be surprised if the LW had just jumped to the conclusion based on the title itself – generally, if you know what the “Ph” in “PhD” stands for, you also know what it means?

        2. IDIC believer*

          To me, it isn’t about the degree itself, it is the lie – the lack of ethics that involves. He’s untrustworthy so I wouldn’t trust him to follow laws, regulations, etc. that are a vital part of most jobs.

          1. Lydia*

            I don’t agree there’s a relationship there automatically. Lying about your own stuff is not the same as actively engaging in illegal activity or doing things that can cause harm to other people. It doesn’t track. That doesn’t mean he should keep his job if he’s found out, but X does not equal Y here.

            1. Budgie Buddy*

              The thing is, people who lie have widely different conceptions of what is an “acceptable area” to lie in. And even if they lay it out, who knows if they’re explaining it accurately – cuz, y’know, they lie. There is no underlying and widely understood social rule to fall back on. Only what this particular person doesn’t feel guilty about.

              For harm – eh, I find I can can best take care of myself the more accurate information I have about my surroundings. I assume others are the same. So if I’m involved with them, I try not to deliberately give them false information, especially as it relates to what we’re doing together. Lies are too much effort to keep track of anyway when I just want to be doing my work.

        3. Parakeet*

          I see someone else already said this, but I just want to reemphasize for anyone who might be confused, upon reading this comment, this is not accurate. Philosophy of Physics is a subfield of philosophy. You can have a PhD in philosophy/a subfield of philosophy (yes, when you spell it out, it does sound weird to be a “doctor of philosophy in philosophy,” but that doesn’t change the truth of it). It is, I suppose, possible that the LW is mistaken about the field, but there’s no indication that that’s the case.

      4. Philosophy Majors Are No Joke*

        My degrees in Philosophy (with a focus on Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic) have proved incredibly useful in my career. I’m the director for a tech-ish group working at one of the highest ranked academic medical centers in the US. But more than that, there was value simply because I loved it and it taught me how to think!

        People are always amazed that I have both deep critical thinking skills, technical acumen, and a high level of verbal and written communication. I credit my liberal arts education and the rigors of several prestigious colleges and universities for starting me off on the right path and for many of my subsequent accomplishments.

        Joking about “worthless” majors is mean-spirited and pointless, please don’t.

        1. Jezebella*


          I say this as an art historian who endured years of jokes from the Car Guys about how useless my degree is. I loved their show otherwise, but man, over and over and over. It was a lot.

      5. DataSci*

        I wouldn’t say useless, but it does seem like he picked a field where he’d be able to claim a PhD but where the specific area of study wouldn’t be relevant to anything likely to come up on the job. (I have a degree in physics. Philosophy of physics is not closely related except perhaps at the most abstract and least job relevant areas of theory, and there was never once anyone in any of my physics classes studying it.)

        1. Clisby*

          Yes, I had not heard of it before, but to me it sounds like an interesting field. However, I don’t see how it would have any relevance to medical research/clinical trials, so maybe he had another degree that was relevant? It would be kind of like if he claimed to have a masters in music theory. If music theory is completely irrelevant to the job he’s applying for, maybe not every employer checks that closely enough.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            He might not be the one performing the trials/experiments, but rather the person laying administrative groundwork or the one making sure the trials follow IRB/agency protocols. Fields like philosophy of physics (or sociology of medicine or history of science, or interchange what comes before and after the “of”) focus on STEM in context, which is crucial to research/clinical trials but aren’t always taught/included in pure STEM degrees. This guy might have been able to get the job because the committee looked at “philosophy of physics” and thought he’d be best able to grasp the broader impact of the work or that he might have taken courses related to ethics, which is ironic given that he clearly lacks any sense thereof.

      6. Observer*

        I was amused by the guy lying about such an utterly useless degree and would not give it another thought.

        You may think it’s a useless degree, but you are factually wrong in this context. Which is not surprising since you also apparently don’t understand what the degree is.

      7. Baron*

        Worth noting that I had never heard of “philosophy of physics” – I’m a humanities guy – and it may not sound like a real thing, but even the quickest Google search shows it’s an actual term of art/area of study which seems quite complex and challenging. It’s not some made-up “critical basket-weaving” thing. (Even if it were, others downthread have explained why any degree can have value.)

      8. Human subjects researcher*

        Any research involving human participants has to go through a rigorous evaluation and approval process before launching as well as continued oversight. There are incredibly complex ethical questions that can come up (e.g., one of the reasons that we lack a huge amount of data about safety of various things in pregnancy is that at an individual study level it often makes sense to exclude pregnant people because of the increased risk of harm/legal standards around using pregnant people in research– but that means that there’s then a total absence of data to inform pregnant people about whether it is safe to keep taking a medication, which means that they may be more likely to be harmed because, e.g., they have to stop taking something that has been important to their health). Moreover, a huge amount of the process requires very high levels of professionalism and trust (e.g., individual researchers have to record and report when negative events happen). So, in fact, having someone who has an adequate background to do this oversight and has high professional ethical standards is a really, really, really big deal in any kind of research with humans.

      9. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        I echo the sentiment that a degree one can’t automatically name a use for is not a useless degree (and in fact would argue that no degree is useless since even the most unusual branch of study teaches a student how to learn and implement knowledge), but I think it’s interesting how this entire thread highlights the fact that a Philosophy of Physics degree is probably a brilliant degree to lie about since so few of us know what it actually is. Many of us have assumed there to be a high mathematical or scientific component, others have assumed it to come with no practical knowledge at all, and only one physicist down thread seems to have been able to identify what this course of study actually means. Lying about a Philosophy of Physics degree appears to have been a great way for this fraudster to imply “I am probably very smart about things you wouldn’t understand, so it’s useless to question me on them.”

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Yep; this is a guy who has thought through how to scam his way through his chosen field.

      10. Smithy*

        As someone with two graduate degrees – I’ve had jobs that I would have never gotten without having a graduate degree……but where it was largely just a box to check. My degrees didn’t offer any training or qualifications for my jobs, and having the degree has often felt more like a screening or gatekeeping tool.

        How that can play out is people seeking “paper” graduate degrees that may not be super respected or demanding academically but offer mid-career professionals the fastest way to check that box.

        This is all to say, is that in that kind of career space – someone out and out lying about a graduate degree is unethical and disappointing. But not surprising and also not likely to be harmful. For jobs where this kind of fraud is genuinely harmful, you really do hope that employers are checking. But I don’t think that all the time it is a harmful conclusion or one that doesn’t matter.

      11. Daisy*

        I read that as he had a PhD in Physics, not a degree in philosophy. If they are doing medical research with pacemakers, insulin pumps, etc. a physics degree would absolutely be a selling point, and I would consider a scientist who lies about his degrees untrustworthy. Is is OK then to lie about the data collected – funding (ie, having a job) often depends on early minitrials look like.

        1. birch*

          It says “philosophy of physics” though. Philosophy of science is a whole other field of study that everyone in all science fields should be trained in (and many are not), but it’s a different and more theoretical perspective than explicit training in research methods. You can have a degree in philosophy of science and have no experience conducting research yourself. You need training and experience in actual research methods applicable to your field in order to be qualified to be involved in research.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      I think people who lie on their resumes say it’s common as a way to justify it to themselves, though I’m not suggesting that the LW lies on their resume.

      1. Lexie*

        It could simply be one of those things that gets repeated enough until it becomes a universal belief. Similar to the belief that if you cohabitate for 7 years it’s considered a common law marriage.

        1. MJ*

          True; in Canada the federal government accepts a common law relationship after only one year of cohabitating.

          1. FrivYeti*

            It was absolutely wild to me, as a Canadian, to discover not only that common-law marriages only exist in seven states, but that the number of states permitting it has gone steadily *down* over the past century and two of the seven who do permit still need you to sign legal paperwork, which would seem to rather defeat the purpose.

          2. Clisby*

            I live in South Carolina, where you absolutely could establish a common-law marriage after only a year of cohabiting. On the other hand, 20 years of cohabiting might not be enough. The SC Supreme Court in 2019 abolished common-law marriage going forward, but that didn’t invalidate previously valid common-law marriages.

            I remember being a young newspaper reporter back in the 1970s and sitting in on an informational session run by the newspaper’s lawyer. He said, “You’ll see police reports that describe someone as a ‘common-law wife’ or ‘common-law husband.’
            They don’t know what they’re talking about. A common-law marriage is just as legal as any church marriage.”

            And yes, if you wanted to dissolve a common-law marriage, you had to go to court for a divorce.

    5. Antilles*

      Speaking only for my experience here, but I’m in a professional field (engineering, not medicine like OP), I’ve reviewed hundreds of resumes and interviewed several dozen people in my career and as far as I know, I’ve never encountered someone straight up making up credentials like a degree. Perhaps it has happened a couple times and I didn’t catch it, but I don’t feel like it’s “really common” like OP says.

      However, in at least half of those interviews, I’ve encountered people who might over-stated their role on a project or skill set. Sometimes it’s a straight up exaggeration, sometimes it’s just that we disagree on the meaning of “proficient in Excel” or “managed a project”.

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        My mom retired three weeks ago and encountered exactly one person lying about their degree (so far as she knows) in her entire professional career. That person got fired for it, and the real kicker is that the person would have been qualified enough to get the job without claiming the Master’s or whatever it was, but the dishonesty was a no-go.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          It’s a pretty easy thing to vet too. Our HR department caught this early on during pre-screen so most candidates who had false statements never got to the interview stage. In one case, someone did make it to the final round before HR found her degree claim was false, but, yeah, it was the lie sunk her. What made it a final “never hire this person” was that she said it wasn’t a “real lie” because she did attend a few classes and was “perfectly capable” of getting the degree she claimed to have.

          1. I have RBF*

            Ugh. I have over 200 semester units, but it’s not all in one major, and I don’t have a degree. I have the equivalent of a degree’s worth of coursework, but not a degree. (The school I went to did not have certain required courses in the evenings, and I finally ran out of money and patience.) That said, I never, ever claim to have a degree on my resume. Why? Because I don’t have a degree, and I’m not a liar!

        2. Uranus Wars*

          So this kind of stood out to me in the OPs letter. The guy was let go for lying about his credentials…but there isn’t any indication that he was actually bad at the job or harming people with the research. Or what role he played in the research itself. I am not saying un-credentialed people should be out their performing research, just saying a lot about this makes no sense to me – from why OP is so worried no stopping it, to why lie if you are qualified otherwise, why the lying is seen as common by OP…just a lot to unpack in a short letter.

          1. Observer*

            The guy was let go for lying about his credentials…but there isn’t any indication that he was actually bad at the job or harming people with the research

            In this context, you don’t need any evidence of harm. In fact, the only real way to handle it is to fire him and then go back an look at everything he did to make sure that he hasn’t caused harm. Because if someone is going to blatantly lie, you cannot trust anything they say. And no matter how good your audits and control processes are, you can’t make them good enough to catch every lie and every liar. So you do reasonable things to reduce the probability of people lying. And that includes not keeping anyone who already has a track record.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              Yes, but that’s up to the employer to do. Not the OP.
              And I didn’t say they shouldn’t have fired him at any point in my comment.

      2. College Career Counselor*

        FWIW, I spoke with my HR colleagues at the university where I work about resume falsification among candidates. They said the number one area, by far, that candidates lie about is their educational credentials.

        That’s not to say it’s common, but when it happens (at least here), it has to do with educational degrees/attainment.

        1. NeedRain47*

          Do they make things up entirely? I can kind of see people saying they finished their degree when actually they didn’t, but it’s a different kind of bold to be like “I have an economics degree from Yale!” when you have half a sociology degree from your state school.”

          1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

            We’ve definitely had a question here before from someone asking if they could claim to have finished a degree when they were missing two credits (or maybe confessing that they had been lying about such a degree for years?), so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a common way to do it — especially because it’s so much closer to the truth than fabricating a degree out of thin air.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              I imagine this happens with the more advance degrees since most require the completion of some kind of thesis. I could definitely see someone thinking “I did all the coursework, I worked on my thesis, I just never ended up defending it” and feeling pretty confident that they had the skills and knowledge to claim a Masters or PhD. Also, you would then absolutely have a transcript that looked basically complete and that the school could verify.

          2. IDIC believer*

            At a top research university where I worked, an assistant professor somehow was hired without degree verification. So for over a year he taught in a graduate medical-related program, consulted on patients’ treatment, and conducted research. Then it was discovered by happenstance (colleagues talking at a national conference) that he had not received the advanced degree.

            He was a liar and stupid. He lost his job, and was blacklisted in his field. Luckily, no patient care was found to be jeopardized, but grant & research was impacted. Other professors had to do extensive reviews to ensure students weren’t impacted. I have no doubt this liar’s name & actions remained a topic for many years at various conferences.

          3. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Actually, I assume what they lie about is their GPA (like putting their “in major” GPA instead of their overall GPA), class rank/honors or areas of “specialty” and “minors”. The one time I am aware of a blatant fabrication it was someone bumping up their GPA and claiming to be in the top 20% of their 1L class, they then fabricated a whole transcript. I’m still not sure how they thought no one would ever confirm their GPA/Rank with the school. The worst part about it was because the guy did this in law school he pretty much could never be a lawyer because he would never pass a character and fitness application for any state bar.

            At my very large university, if you took 4 classes in any one discipline outside of your major, you were eligible for that to be a “minor”…however this only counted within the various colleges. So if you took 4 classes in ASL you got a minor in American Sign Language, but only if you were in the School of Education, not if you were in School of Arts and Sciences. Still, a lot of folks (myself included) list that we have a minor in ASL since we DID complete all the requirements of one and now, many years later, the school no longer limits minors to within your School.

            If asked, I always explain the whole thing (and you can see the 4 ASL classes on my transcript along with the university policy attached) but no one has asked for my undergrad transcript in over a decade because I have my law degree. This isn’t really a problem as I don’t work in a job where I would be expected to know ASL and ASL translation is such a specialized field, no one with just a minor from years back would ever be viewed as qualified enough to do it.

        2. Flowers*

          But at a certain point, doesn’t college become irrelevant on the resume?

          I “finished” school in 2009; I didn’t actually apply for my degree audit until 2011.

          My chosen career is accounting; my major was English but I took enough accounting courses so it qualified as a minor.

          My resume lists me having earned it in 2011 and a bachelors in English; I don’t list my GPA because it was terrible.

          My college degree has never come up; I think most ppl assume that I was an accounting major because everyone else was, but I don’t go out of my way to announce that I’m not, nor do I lie/let them continue assuming once they voice it.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        I do a ton of hiring as well, and I definitely HAVE come across a few people who have falsified their education / experience. One gets to have a sixth sense about it, after awhile. Also, it’s always a good idea to do an education / background check before employing anyone in a role that is critical to your business success. Found out that a candidate for a Dir. Finance role had falsified his accounting degree last year – that could have been catastrophic for the business.

      4. Quinalla*

        Yes, I’ve run into one person in my career that flat out lied about a degree they didn’t have. It’s very unusual and tends to get caught even if it is after the person is hired.

        There is definitely some exaggeration or difference of opinion on proficiency, etc. that happens and that is not generally seen as a big deal and is part of what gets clarified in interviews.

        There is sometimes flat out lying about proficiency – someone who will claim proficiency in Excel and double down in an interview and when you see them use it, it is clear they’ve never opened it or know nothing about it. This is a big deal too, but not nearly to the level of lying about a degree. It is probably a little more common than lying about a degree, but still not super common either.

      5. Lydia*

        I know someone who I suspected lied about their degree, but 1. I hadn’t ever seen her resume, so I don’t know for sure she said she completed her degree when I knew she hadn’t, and 2. It had no impact on the work she was doing when we worked together, although I know for sure it helped get the job she has now. Either way, it’s none of my business and since her employer should have looked at the full picture of her skills, and done a background check on her, and they decided she was a good match, then more power to her. She has other issues that overshadow the degree anyway.

    6. Miette*

      …except when running for the US Congress. Then it’s apparently perfectly okay.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Yes, you do have to be able to trust that when the lie is uncovered, the people responsible for doing something about that take the appropriate action. Otherwise, yes Santos is exactly what you get.

    7. Anon Fake Degree Person*

      Ok, I’m gonna admit here that much earlier in my career I used to lie and say I had my bachelor’s degree. This was before the Internet became common and it was much more difficult to check. I certainly didn’t use a famous Ivy League school! Instead, I said it was from a college near where I grew up that had gone defunct/reformed under a new name after the date I claimed I graduated, and I was living and applying for jobs in a state far away. I really did have education in the field I claimed (not a field that would endanger others in any way), I just hadn’t finished school.

      I did this for some years and never got found out because it seemed quite plausible and most of the companies I applied to were smaller and less likely to check. But I still lived in fear when applying for jobs or when starting new jobs. Eventually, I did get my degree. It is very embarrassing to admit faking this back in the day; all I can say is at the time it seemed like such a survival type of thing just to get an entry level job where I was living—and I was oftentimes quite desperate to get work. I cannot imagine anyone getting away with this today, given it’s so easy to verify degrees.

      1. Anonomite*

        In a world where the privilege of getting a degree is used to determine your value as a person, it’s not surprising people feel like they have to lie sometimes. I think lying about a Bachelor’s degree is less risky than lying about a PhD from a well-known school, but sometimes survival means doing what you need to.

    8. Parenthesis Guy*

      Honestly, when I’ve interviewed people, they could probably have lied about their whole resume and I’d have no idea. It doesn’t really matter to me either after the interviewing process.

    9. perstreperous*

      I have reviewed thousands of CVs over the years, interviewed hundreds of people, and I would say that flat lies are rare – in less than 1% of CVs. I have only caught a liar in an interview a few times; sadly, the much more common lie is of immigration status/nationality, which is checked in slower time.

      My “favourite” lying CV was someone who said he had previously worked on the project I had worked on since it started. He had not and, additionally, he said he had done my job, my boss’s job, a team leading job and a software development job all at the same time. I told my boss that we should both hand our notice in because of our lack of productivity.

      On that project, I remember the numbers because I was curious about this issue and recorded them; I got 28 CVs from people who had worked on the project in the past and wanted to return. Three were entirely honest; 24 fluffed something up but there was no outright lying; the remaining one was Mr. Four-Jobs-In-One.

  2. Aggretsuko*

    I agree with Alison that it’s on the job to verify someone’s credentials. It shouldn’t be that difficult to do. Worst case, call the school or check the National Student Clearinghouse. A responsible employer would check, an irresponsible one….well, hmmmm.

    As for Burning Man, I had a friend and her husband that used to work at BM and her husband would use all his yearly vacation to work up there for 3 weeks, she’d go for as long as she had off. Nobody seemed to care since they were volunteer-working anyway.

    1. Ladida*

      Companies often ask you for copies of your degrees as part of the hiring process. I wonder if that guy has a doctored copy or sth.

      1. JF*

        Maybe it’s just because I only have a BA, but I’ve never been asked for a copy at all.

        1. Cat Tree*

          I’ve never been asked directly, but every job I’ve had has done a background check where they verify that. I went to a big local school so it’s easy to verify. But if the background checker can’t find something, like if you went to a school with a weird name, or in a different country, or one that has since closed, they will usually give you the chance to provide that info yourself.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Some places don’t but should. The large hospital (over 10,000 employees) I work for did a whole-institution credentials checkup a few years after I was hired, and I had to produce my college diploma/transcript. I believe they were putting in best-practices guidelines at the time. I had to do the same years later after a promotion to a semi-supervisory position.

            Meanwhile I found out through colleagues at the hospital that a medical/professional temp service had referred someone to a research position that didn’t require a nursing degree but who had a RN – my assumption when I heard about it was that she was planning to jump ship quickly to a pharma company and just needed an easy research job to list on her resume. She later applied directly within the hospital for another position and that department wanted to hire her – and then our HR tried to check up on her license. She was not a nurse. That is brutally easy to look up – you can go to your state’s licensing website and just search, yet the temp agency did not, probably because she wasn’t looking for nursing jobs. I suspect our HR had an uncomfortable discussion with the temp agency over their standards. (The temp workers were still employees of the temp agency proper and I expect that our HR had contracted with them to handle the background checks/etc. for their temp workers.)

        2. Seahorse*

          In jobs where my degrees were directly relevant, they asked for formal transcripts from the schools – presumably to get around the issue of fake diplomas.
          In jobs unrelated to my education or where HR slapped a generic degree requirement in the job description, nobody ever asked.

          I’d hope any employer relying on an applicant’s outside experience or education would take the time to confirm things, but maybe that’s naive on my part…

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Yeah this. I’ve worked in a technical field my whole career. Any job offer has been contingent on having the institution which issued my degree send a formal transcript directly to the hiring team. Lying would be grounds for pulling the request even if having the degree wasn’t fully required.

            I can’t imagine any company larger than like a tiny garage startup not verifying the academic credentials of a new hire if they considered the degree relevant to the role.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            I wonder what mine would even look like?

            I’ve never lied about my degree (which has been irrelevant to my work, but for which I can produce my diploma if asked, and have), but I have a slightly weird history and I genuinely don’t know how it would look if transcribed.

            (I graduated with a BFA with no major. 12 years later, I went back to school, with intent to get some missing qualifications for applying to get another degree. I never did apply for the other degree, but in the process I took courses that would qualify me for a major for the degree I already had. But I never asked them to upgrade the existing degree, so I both have and do not have a major.)

            1. SpaceySteph*

              A transcript is a list of all the classes you took and any degree conferred. I expect it would show all those classes for both degrees, but the only official degree would be the BFA.

        3. Lexie*

          It’s probably more your field than the level of your degree. I have a BA and not only did I have to provide a copy of my degree I had to get a letter from the university confirming I had received a degree from them. Due to licensing standards I legally had to have at least a bachelor’s to hold my position.

          1. Venus*

            My school got smart and they send copies directly to employers for no extra fee. Our tuition fees covered those costs for all future requests. I have no idea where my diploma is at home, but it doesn’t matter. I like this way of doing things because it’s easier for me and avoids falsification. Given the world today I’m surprised that it’s not really easy to confirm graduation. I wouldn’t want my grades to be public but Graduated with Degree in X should be easy to have online somewhere.

          2. Ellie*

            I have to provide academic transcripts for every degree/qualification that I have, from each institution, for every job I get to the interview stage for. My parents assured me that no-one would care or know when I failed two subjects in second year (they were half-right). It depends on the field.

        4. Totally Minnie*

          For my current job, I had to have my university send my transcript directly to the office to verify I had obtained the degree I said I had.

          1. I have RBF*

            Transcript? Yikes. Verify the credential, yes, but don’t look at the grades. A “Person X was awarded Degree Y on Z date” from the registrar should do. Sheesh.

            1. Jackalope*

              Sometimes you can get specific types of credit (better pay, skipping relevant parts of training, etc.) by showing you had classes in specific areas. Prob not super common but it does happen.

        5. Eldritch Office Worker*

          We don’t verify degrees at my job. If people don’t have the degree level skills they need to have, it usually becomes apparent pretty quickly and it doesn’t really matter if they hold the piece of paper or not. If for some reason we found out, however, the dishonesty would be a big deal.

        6. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I don’t remember if I had to provide a copy of my degree to my current job (though I probably did) but I certainly had to provide my transcript to the licensing authority before I was allowed to site for exams.

        7. Elizabeth West*

          BS/AS here. Transcripts, yes but a copy of my degrees, nah. Of course that may depend on the job.

          The only thing I ever changed was a job title — receptionist to administrative assistant, with my former supervisor reference’s full blessing, as it better represented additional duties added later in my tenure. The company is closed now so no one can check it except through her, and she backed me up completely. I don’t have any interest in going full Anna Sorokin.

        8. Lydia*

          If you apply for a job with the Federal government in the US, and are using a combination of education and experience or just education to show your qualifications, they will ask you to include an unofficial copy of your transcripts to prove you graduated.

      2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        I’ve not been asked to provide an actual copy of the degree, but it’s because more common to request transcripts to verify you completed the degree.

        Most big companies will do this prior to onboarding. I’ve been through it at my last two jobs.

      3. ThatGirl*

        I’ve never been asked for my degree and only one job I know of has done a background check. Heck, I don’t even know where my diploma is.

        My husband has to verify his clinical license, which you can only get with a degree and testing, but that’s a little different. I work in marketing, there’s a decent amount of puffery involved already :)

      4. NeedRain47*

        I think they used to, but it’s now easy for them to verify it via an online service, which has the added advantage of not being fakeable. (I haven’t been asked for a physical copy/scan in a decade.)

  3. Coverage Associate*

    If #4 is going to be paid at Burning Man, he should also consider any policy his new employer has about moonlighting.

    Also, we joke in the Bay Area about it clearing out for Burning Man. Even jobs that don’t usually have coverage issues may need one team member to be connected during that time, and that may be the new guy.

    1. serenity*

      CA Labor Law protects employees’ rights to moonlight on their own time with some exceptions such as conflicts of interest. It’s unlikely attending Burning Man would fall into that category. :)

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Even if he were doing computer techy stuff for the BMO, they’re not financial competitors of his employer.

          1. Miette*

            LOL then OP should definitely NOT ask for the time off. They might not find a flight to take them home.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah, I have ten years experience working in SF and taking time off for Burning Man (even my friends in more ‘traditional’ fields, like finance or law) was pretty par for the course.

      A bigger issue IMO is often likely to be office coverage, depending what the team does and how many people pariticpate. .

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        But also to echo Alison’s answer — I don’t think OP needs to disclose what they are doing, but also to be aware that people may figure it out and ask about it (sounds like they are aware of this).

      2. Bay Area denizen in exile*

        No typical engineering employer in the Bay Area is going to bar an eyelash at someone attending Burning Man. Indeed, they will probably view it as a plus — a networking opportunity, as it were.

        The only caveat is about the three weeks off to work for the BMO as an employee. That may be a difficult ask, not because of the nature of the BMO, but because it’s a long time off.

        1. Crispy Burner*

          if any of them are hardcore burners, they may be dismayed to know that Lw is getting paid to be there – it’s meant to be a non-commercial experience where everything is freely given, not compensated for. but eh, it’s changed a lot a I guess!

          1. Ninajulia*

            That was my first thought as well – is this volunteering or voluntourism? Has BM changed so much that it’s the latter? The actual answer doesn’t matter – if you want time off for BM, or for a religious/non-religious mission trip style vacation or for an extended Eyes Wide Shut style orgy, just negotiate the time beforehand.

            1. Elise*

              The Org pays people who are critical to infrastructure, such as the folks who build the man and some other DPW folks. Many more burners who volunteer get their meals at the commissary and their tickets comped. It’s what it takes to make the event happen.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Hopefully these places with unlimited PTO actually mean it, and even thee weeks in your first year are not a problem! Sadly where I work that would be a bit eye-brow raising. We don’t even have three weeks of vacation leave total :( If OP were in a similar situation to me, I’d suggest trying to get a start date after Burning Man and knowing next year it might have to be back to a week and a half.

      1. Cj*

        my last job was remote for a company based in California. they also had “unlimited” PTO. I asked when I started what they considered to be reasonable for a person at my level, which was just below partner. they said most people take two weeks. I always had three weeks at jobs that weren’t “unlimited” PTO. it’s a joke, and most people realize by now that it’s just so companies don’t have to pay out your PTO when you leave the company. (I’ve read here and elsewhere that some people are actually able to take around 6 weeks when they have unlimited PTO, but I think those places are an extreme outlier.)

        1. Kyrielle*

          At my company it depends on the manager. One of mine was concerned when I hit 5 weeks in a 12-month span…except two weeks of it was the previous August and two was that June. I wasn’t planning another two-week vacation later that summer, I just took my “long” vacation at opposite ends of the season two years running. (He was okay with that explanation when I gave it, but wow did it tell me something that he asked about it with concern and approved it after I explained.)

        2. Beth*

          Yeah, my current company has “unlimited” PTO, and I get pushback all. the. time, even after over 10 years here.

          I had 4 weeks at my last non-“unlimited” place, and I usually take about the same here — but the one time there was an actual conversation about it, the underlying assumption seemed to be that more than 2 weeks was excessive. Of course, the senior staff expressing that opinion usually take at least that much time themselves.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Even in companies that really mean it when they say “unlimited” PTO generally have a caveat that employees need to get their manager’s approval, and that may hinge on having sufficient coverage. You can’t run a department if everyone chooses the same month “off”. And as stated above, this is likely to be a popular time, so the new guy would be expected to be there for coverage. That doesn’t mean that the company is really stingy with the PTO.

      3. DataSci*

        They don’t mean it. It’s a dodge to get around paying out unused time when people leave.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          That is not always the case. Of course my company is aware of and plans on that upside, but they also mean it. If we got 6+ weeks of PTO maybe there wouldn’t be an advantage — personally I’ve never been given more than 3 total so that’s not something I gave up.

          We are not literally unlimited, it’s “take what you need” and it is honored. Most of my colleagues seem to plan on a baseline of 3+ weeks of proper “vacation” taken in large blocks but then almost any amount of “need”. Dentist appointment, sick days, plumbing drama, mental health day, extended honeymoon, life events. I took multiple weeks for caretaking & bereavement. My team regularly takes days for kid things. Three weeks for Burning Man would be approved at my company, although it’s true that first-year optics wouldn’t be ideal.

        2. Bay Area denizen in exile*

          That is an unduly cynical take and depends on the organization.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Unlimited PTO programs are pretty clearly motivated by making sure that PTO never accrues so that laws protecting accrued vacation don’t come into play. They are of no benefit to the employee and are in many ways detrimental.

  4. anony*

    #2 — If you’re outing yourself gender-wise in a work environment, you’re effectively outing yourself to anyone who anyone from work might mention you to (including but not limited to your parents). They don’t have to be asking questions about your gender to your parents… they just have to mention they saw/know you, and respect the pronouns that YOU asked to be used, for the information to get out.

    1. Silver Robin*

      This is a very good point! Coworkers do not need to even be gossiping about you per se, they just need to mention you and use the correct pronoun (I saw OP the other day! Love the haircut [pronoun] got!). If your parents are savvy enough to pick up on it, they will. A lot of people do not blink at “they” even when they claim it is obvious as much as they might blink at a neopronoun or a shift between she/he, so this is also dependent on the perceived distance between the pronouns your parents expect and the ones you actually use.

      This leaves you with the same conundrum, but perhaps a non-gossip/non-curiosity reason for your coworkers. You know them better than we do of course. Best of luck, this is a rough place to be <3

      1. MHA*

        I don’t think anything about the LW’s letter implied that they aren’t fully aware that this news could work its way back to their parents through means other gossip, but all right– is it acceptable to ask that folks be mindful about not using phrasing that appears to blame the LW for the situation they’ve found themselves in? “Unfortunately once your pronouns are out there, even your coworkers just casually chatting about you with your parents could end up the same way” is kind and sympathetic; the original comment reads very blame-y (“that YOU asked to be used”) and offers no sympathy to offset that into a kinder read.

        Obviously that could be down to Tone On The Internet, and genuine apologies for the misread if so, but there is a whole “being outed to unsafe people is the PRICE you PAY for being RESPECTED (ps I definitely don’t respect you)” discourse happening all. the. time. for us trans folks, and it’s exhausting, and I think it’s fair to ask that people be mindful about not echoing that, unintentionally or otherwise.

        1. anna*

          “I don’t think anything about the LW’s letter implied that they aren’t fully aware that this news could work its way back to their parents”

          I feel like we have read different letters! They literally wrote, “Is it possible I could just go for it anyway and hope the staff at the other branch won’t notice or care enough?” But probably getting off track at this point.

          1. MHA*

            I admit I genuinely don’t understand how that question would imply they think deliberate gossip is the only way their pronouns could possibly come up in conversation with their parents…? They clearly think it’s the most likely way– as in, “if those specific coworkers do notice, I’m pretty sure they’ll gossip about it instead of being chill people and not going out of their way to mention it”– so that’s what they’re most worried about, but nothing there precludes the understanding that there are other ways it could happen. (I just think that we can trust queer adults to understand the risks of coming out, y’know?)

            1. MK*

              It seems to me the OP understands the dangers, but really, really wants to come out…without any danger. And would really like to believe it is possible to come out without their parents knowing. I don’t understand what issue you are taking with Alison’s response; she gently pointed out that there was no way to guarantee this.

              1. MHA*

                I have no issue at all with Alison’s response! It was very kind and the only real advice to give in this situation, unfortuneately. My comments have been entirely in response to other comments in this thread.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yeah but asking “is it possible” seems like they know it’s likely not and they’re hoping Alison will tell them that their assumptions are wrong. We get letters like that all the time.

            I think the root of the question is “can I be my genuine self here somehow” and that’s just a really tricky thing that we can’t solve for the LW because it takes into account a lot of specific dynamics as well as their own personal risk tolerance.

        2. Cj*

          “being outed to unsafe people is the price you pay for being respected” may sound harsh, but for many trans and nonbinary people, it is unfortunately true.

          1. Saddy Hour*

            That is true but I’d wager that most, if not all, trans and NB folks already know that. That the LW is already predicting this outcome suggests to me that they’re very well-aware of that risk, but are hoping (understandably) that there’s some way to be respected and seen without the fallout. I agree that the answer is: “if you want to be sure, then no” but I also agree that it could be phrased a little more kindly.

            1. Cj*

              I agree that the original post on this thread did sound a little blaming, with the capital you and all.

          2. MHA*

            Exactly what Saddy Hour said, yeah– the base idea may be true, but there’s a way to say it that’s kind and acknowledges how unfair the situation is, and a way to say it that betrays the incredibly common transphobic sentiment of “this is what you people get for being so unreasonable about your little words.” My ask was that people keep that fact in mind and do their best to present themselves as the former and not the latter!

    2. bamcheeks*

      I’ve been on the other side of this— known a trans man, also known his parents (who were good friends with my parents), and not known whether to misgender him to their parents and not-out him, or respect and affirm his correct pronouns and name and risk outing him if his parents didn’t know. Obviously in an ideal world I’d have asked him, but I ran into his mum unexpectedly and had to have a, “and how is, ahh, hm, getting on all right? Glasgow, isn’t it?” conversation.

      LW2, if you haven’t already, I’d crowdsource some opinions on this question from your queer and trans community (I hope you have one!) As you expand the zones where you are out and using accurate pronouns and/or names, it is going to come into conflict with the expectations of family and friends who expect you to be something else and it’s a difficult dynamic that lots of negotiate somewhere along the way. It’s really tough! There often isn’t a perfect way to do it that allows you to both maintain the integrity of your identity and your privacy, especially if you live in a relatively small community with your parents. Good luck, and remember it’s a journey and what feels impossible now might feel very normal and comfortable in a few years.

      1. bamcheeks*

        (bother, I originally wrote this with “they”, then changed it to “he” and missed a “their”! Sorry.)

      2. FashionablyEvil*

        This is where I find the phrase, “How’s the family? Everyone doing well?” to be very useful.

        Related: if you’re seeing someone with a small child and you’re not sure if they’re the parent/grandparent/care taker, “How old is your little one?” is also very helpful.

      3. Freida*

        *Just* had this conversation in a higher ed context – if the student hasn’t waived their FERPA rights (meaning, they have not granted access to their educational records to their parents – this is something you have to actively do rather than something you have to actively prevent) … should the student’s advisor/instructors/etc. use their deadname or their preferred name (if the two are different) when speaking with parents? My vote was: deadname, because the worst you can do is give the mistaken impression that the school isn’t up to speed on the student’s identity (not great) vs. if you use their preferred name, you risk outing the student to their parents (potentially catastrophic.)

        (Note that this was a hypothetical and NOT an actual situation, where of course the best route would be to ask the student.)

        1. Samwise*

          I never respond to parents without checking to see if the student has provided a passcode for permission under FERPA. I also always let the student know the parent is inquiring and ask, with a boilerplate FERPA explanation. Because I serve the student, not the parent. There are very few reasons why I might respond before hearing from the student. Emergency situations tend to be: parent gives me info, not the other way round. I can get info without giving anything back to a parent; usually I will give parents general info, such as explaining school policy related to their question.

          FYI, FERPA rights are not absolute. Parents can get academic info on their dependent offspring without the student’s permission: it’s a PITA process but they can get it if they wish to pursue it.

      4. Aggretsuko*

        Ohhhhh man. I was in a project situation where we had two trans people in the group of college age. One of them is about 18 and openly said, “I use he/him, my parents are conservative and they do NOT know about this, I’m not telling them I’m doing this activity,” they were billed under the male name in the program, etc. Which was all cool and fine, exactly what we needed to know. Though I note that Person A has now gone back to the same activity site and is now being billed under a female name…I am assuming that their parents now know they are doing the activity and thus there’s a female name going on, but that threw me for a loop when I saw the list. I didn’t run into Person A really later so I didn’t ask, and kind of would have been afraid to anyway.

        Person B apparently decided to out themselves as trans/the other gender, but very passively and *only to certain people in the group*, forcing the rest of us to hear it through the rumor mill, “because they don’t wanna make a big deal about it.” So we had no effing idea if (a) we were supposed to know, (b) were we in trouble if we didn’t call them by the new name and pronouns, or (c) were we in trouble for outing them if we used the new name and called them by those pronouns, because it sounded like they also weren’t out to the parents. It really annoyed me to be put into that level of weird situation. I felt like “am I the asshole?” applied in both directions here.

    3. ceekee*

      Yes, and this is really not just “in a work environment” in the sense of “the people that work with them,” but if it’s in their email signature it’s going to apply to anyone who receives an email from them for any reason. I think it would be very hard to control the information at that point.

      1. metadata minion*

        Sure, but in my experience the only people who notice pronouns in signatures are other trans people. I had my pronouns in my signature for over a year before more actively coming out to my coworkers and nobody except the other nonbinary person noticed it.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I had what ended up being a very sweet conversation with a coworker in her 70s at my last job when she asked why I had pronouns in my email signature. I’m cis and my name is one that’s commonly used for my gender, so to her mind it was obvious what my pronouns should be. I said that not all people who have names associated with one gender or another use the pronouns people would expect, and my goal in having pronouns in my signature was to help break the habit humans have of associating names with genders and pronouns. That led her to some more questions, and we ended up talking for almost an hour and I gave her my best “gender for beginners” lesson, and I could tell in later interactions that she was really trying to learn.

          So sometimes cis people do notice and it can lead to productive conversations. Not always, but sometimes.

        2. JustEm*

          Maybe I’m unusual, but I always notice pronouns on email signatures and I am not trans… I just care about not misgendering my colleagues

          1. Siege*

            Same. My name is commonly misspelled, it drives me nuts, I automatically double check the sig block for name spelling and pronouns at least the first few times I email someone until that info is cemented in my head.

          2. Leia Oregano*

            Yep, I always check and I’m cis. I never want to misgender someone if I can help it!

          3. Chirpy*

            Same, and if I saw pronouns that were different than I had previously used for that person, I’d just switch to the correct ones. I probably wouldn’t say anything (other than correcting others as it came up in conversation, now that I know) because I wouldn’t want to make a big deal about it if the person hadn’t themselves.

          4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Yep. I spent 3 years emailing a client contact named Ashley and I had been referring to them as “she”….yeah, no, this was a dude named Ashley who was British and was just too polite to correct me. But I felt hella dumb (apparently I am the only human who never saw “Gone With the Wind”) when I got on the phone and asked him to speak with Ashley and he said “You’ve got him” and realized my 3 year long error. I really appreciate the pronoun signatures.

        3. Rose*

          I’m my experience cis people notice but don’t comment on it and on average are not as mindful about getting them correct. Assuming no one’s noticed something because they haven’t mentioned it to you is a leap.

        4. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Disagree. I notice them because I know a lot of trans/nonbinary people and I want to respect their pronouns if they tell me what they are. But also I suspect that the people who think that people who put pronouns in their email sigs are “snowflakes” also notice when people put pronouns in their email sigs. And for all the wrong reasons.

        5. Lenora Rose*

          We have one person with she/they as pronouns, and I noticed and have been using they when they come up in discussion, trying to keep it in habit.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, obviously I’m missing a lot of context on what OP’s day-to-day interactions look like so I could be way off base, but my first thought is that if you want your immediate coworkers to know but don’t want the more remote coworkers who might interact with your parents to know–I would think that putting your correct pronouns on the buttons makes more sense than in the email signature.

        I’d probably leave them off the email entirely myself, if I didn’t want to be misgendered there but also didn’t want to put information that might get back to someone that I didn’t want to have it.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          +1 to leaving the pronouns off the signature if you want. Every org/community should allow individuals to decline sharing their pronouns.

          1. TheyThem*

            This this this. I’m genderqueer too, but HATE the thought of trying to explain my gender to people I work with. People make assumptions about my pronouns; I don’t mind and don’t correct them. Every time I’ve been forced to share my pronouns in a work setting, I’ve felt like I had no choice but to lie.

            1. Anon a Bit*

              Agreed. I technically am “agender”. I really just don’t “feel” like any gender because I have no idea what that is supposed to feel like. So I, myself, have no preferred pronouns because pronouns only exist for me as a short hand for knowing who someone is referring to. So call me whatever conveys my identity in 2-4 letters to another person.

              But if I put “no preferred pronouns” it feels like I am co-opting a trans/genderqueer identity. I present female, it was what I was assigned at birth, what matches my DNA and anatomy, and I have no problems being referred to as “she/her”; I am enduring none of the struggle of a trans/genderqueer person and it feels grossly unfair of me to imply that my utterly unfused experience of gender is on a par with a person who is having to fight to carve out a space to be the gender they truly are in an actively hostile world.

        2. Bee*

          Right, I was going to suggest leaving them out entirely – that seems like the safest middle ground between risking your parents finding out and actively misgendering yourself.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s an inherent problem of wanting to present different aspects in different contexts–if those contexts are strictly siloed from each other, it’s fine. As soon as there is overlap between them, though, there is the potential for someone in group A to say a totally innocuous thing, based on how you have chosen to present yourself to group A, that you were not intending to announce to group B.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – public is public, and you can’t control what people do with information. Particularly when they don’t know that you don’t want the information to BE public. It doesn’t have to be gossipy or malicious – could be a perfectly innocent comment that “your son, he is doing great at work” when your parents think you are female, for example.

      If you don’t want to share with everyone, don’t share with anyone, I’m afraid.

    6. Teach*

      I was wondering if it might feel more honest to OP to just take pronouns off of their email signature and not wear a pin. If someone managing them asks about it (or if they want to proactively explain the choice), they can say they are normalizing keeping pronouns private for anyone who does not feel safe outing themselves, or just prefer not to. After all, there are people of every gender who do not want that to be the first thing people know about them. It’s a hard situation anyway, sorry and good luck!

      1. Venus*

        I think this is the best option. I wouldn’t include it in the email because that is a written record that could be shared unexpectedly. Maybe wear a pin with the correct pronouns some days when not working with the public, or never wear a pin at all.

        If using one’s pronouns is likely to be problematic or dangerous then I think it’s best to not share at all. Forever and always the mental and physical safety of the person is most important. There are other places like online and socially where one can make preferred pronouns public, and at work it’s reasonable to not lie but also not say anything at all.

      2. RagingADHD*

        Does *not* announcing pronouns need to be normalized, though? It’s the older default, that is still the most prevalent default (at least in my personal & work experience).

        Unless there’s a policy that they have to share pronouns (which is a bad policy) I can’t imagine why a manager would ask about it. That seems like terrible, tactless management.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Not announcing pronouns passively is what is normal. Actively stating that your gender is personal is not so normal but should be. I actually agree it is a good idea because I think we all want to steer people towards always defaulting to a gender neutral pronoun like they/them unless they have been told otherwise as opposed to seeing someone and assuming them to be “he” or “she” based upon societal conventions about gender presentation.

    7. WillowSunstar*

      This is why I don’t think organizations should make pronouns mandatory. Essentially for some people, they may wind up feeling like they have to lie depending on factors like a. where in the US they reside, b. their family, c. general attitudes of their employer but also immediate coworkers and boss.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the OP says that it’s not mandatory. So that gives them some better options here.

    1. anxiousGrad*

      I can’t find it, but I definitely recognize this letter from something. I tried copying and pasting the first paragraph into Google and ended up getting George Santos’s Wikipedia page as one of the results.

      1. JC*

        Ah me too! I couldn’t find it so I’m glad I’m not going crazy! I even remember thinking this would have been a good one for them to send to Ask a Manager instead! Lol

    2. nnn*

      I think it might have been in Dear Prudence recently? It’s happened before, people send to multiple columnists. I think this just happened with Captain Awkward and Dan Savage too.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Which question was that? I tend not to read Dan Savage (The NSFW aspect) but I thought I got a pretty similar vibe when it comes to the general tone of his advice vs. Jennifer’s.

          1. Janeric*

            Mmm, I think it was the most recent one about BO, though I haven’t read the Dan Savage response.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      Yes, it was one of the question in Help! My Friend Wants a “Good Marriage” Like Mine. And Then Dates the Worst Women. from April 17, 2023.

      1. Myrin*

        Fascinated by the very short answer there that ends with “You’ll have to keep an eye on LinkedIn and make a call to his next employer”.

        1. LimeRoos*

          Also fascinated by the answers to that one and the first one in the column. Eep. The comments there are interesting – at least general consensus is why are you monitoring your old coworker this closely. So that’s something.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Funny that the answer to “my friend is a known chaser of married women, possibly to include my wife” is “butt out,” but the answer to “my acquaintance lied to his employer and got the just consequences for it” is “stalk his Linked In to ruin his future career prospects, too. (As it happens that’s exactly what Allison said not to do and I definitely agree with Allison here)


  5. PharmaCat*

    For #1, Depending on the role, could this person be reported to CBER / CDER? A disbarment would keep them out of clinical trials. The other possibility is an anonymous report to the IRB.

    1. NotThatKindofDoctor*

      An additional idea: if the person has ever contributed as an author on a scholarly publication, you could try reporting the resume fabrication to Retraction Watch. A significant downside of this approach is the potential for reputational harm to innocent coauthors associated with this person, so you would really have to weigh the specifics before choosing this option.
      I’m a medical researcher, and this kind of thing really does make me uncomfortable – especially if the person still works in a research setting. If they blatantly fabricated something as easily verifiable as a graduate degree, what else are they comfortable fabricating? OP #1’s concern is relevant to a major issue in science, namely the shocking frequency with which results are non-reproducible (at best) or manipulated/fraudulent (at worst). However, sadly, I would have low expectations that anything would change as a result of reporting this person.

      1. Cj*

        the person lying about their degree doesn’t have a graduate degree at all. are people in undergrad authors on Publications? I’m curious, because my degree is in accounting, and there were no publications involved.

        1. Nancy*

          Yes, people are listed as authors if they contributed to the work being published, and that includes people with an undergrad degree or no degree.

          1. I have RBF*

            Yes, I have a couple publications as co-author. The primary was my late boss who had an honest PhD in Chemistry. I do not have a degree, nor do I claim one in any publication.

            I have had agencies put a degree on my resume without my knowledge. This pissed me off when I found out, in an interview, that they had fudged the stuff on my resume. I was able to present the real thing, and restore my credibility when they asked about something I didn’t know and I stated I didn’t know it. They pointed to it on the resume they had, and it was BS, but I had my real resume with me. They fudged both my skills and my degree. Seriously, I was mortified.

        2. amoeba*

          The one in the letter was claiming a graduate degree, though, at least that’s what the LW says!

          To your question – some do, the undergrads I worked with during my PhD are authors on the respective publications. But it’s not the rule and would certainly not be suspicious if you don’t have any. (It’s also entirely possible in most institutions to get a PhD without having publications! In experimental fields, you don’t necessarily have the nice, publishable results for it if the science doesn’t work out for you… or the project might be kept going by other people and published years later.)

        3. Nesprin*

          In scientific disciplines, a significant minority of undergraduates contribute to publications.

    2. PharmaKat*

      I am not sure what country OP1 is from and what exactly is the job title of their acquaintance, but it is unlikely that the regulatory authorities will care much about it. In clinical trials, the role usually either requires medical degree/licensing, or does not require medical degree (e.g. data analysis, technical writing, admin roles, etc), and in the latter case it usually does not matter whether an employee has a degree in physics/philosophy/whatever or not. And in roles in which it does matter and which may affect safety of trial participants, the credentials are very thoroughly checked by employer and by external regulatory organisations. That being said, the lack of integrity is a massive problem regardless of job title, and the employer was completely justified in firing OP’s acquaintance.

      1. amoeba*

        I could imagine it being some kind of ethics advisor position, in which case the degree in philosophy (or something related, obviously) might actually have been necessary/highly relevant for the job?…

        1. ecnaseener*

          But that’s why ethics review is done by a committee. It’s not one guy with no medical background unilaterally approving anything. At most, maybe he served as an IRB member or consultant. The actual medical risks of a trial would be reviewed by the medical experts on the committee.

          For any clinical trials studying a drug or device and/or receiving federal funding, there are specific legal requirements for that ethics review (and in practice those standards are applied similarly even when not legally required). There are specific principles to be followed – don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of subjective judgment calls on whether a requirement is met (e.g. whether risks and benefits are balanced enough) but that’s not, like, graduate-level philosophy territory.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Yes, my only concern would be that if the IRB was relying on him as an ethics consultant or similar role that would be represented by the degree, then that could be something the IRB would want to act on. I can’t see that he could otherwise have too much influence on a trial on a participant risk level of things.

          2. amoeba*

            Well, no, but those are jobs for which a degree in philosophy or related fields might actually be required! I don’t think one person alone would rise to the level of danger like a fake medical doctor, no. But it’s still a different situation than “some unrelated degree that’s not connected to the job at all”, I’d say…

            1. ecnaseener*

              They might be required if an institution decides to require it for the sake of expertise, but not for any regulatory requirement (im 90% sure — maybe the military hospitals have something baked in). Re the top-level comment, I don’t think there’s anything to get disbarred from.

            2. bamcheeks*

              There’s a really big difference between “highly relevant” and “necessary” though- they’re not even close to interchangeable! There are certainly jobs where a philosophy of physics degree is a highly relevant or useful — science comms, ethics, bid writing, preparing submissions for drug licenses — but it’s relevant because it demonstrates you have a good understanding of science and the ability to communicate about it, not because of any quality of the degree itself. Those skills can be acquired through experience or other qualifications too. Philosophy of physics just isn’t the kind of degree that works as a qualification for a specific professional role.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, this is my thought too. A qualification in the philosophy of physics is unlikely to be a qualifying degree for any specific role, and it’s quite possible to gain the skills you need to work in clinical trials in a non-clinical role through work experience rather than a graduate qualification.

        The lack of integrity is the bigger issue, but that *is* outside your wheelhouse, LW. If he’s been fired once already for lying about his credentials, then his previous manager is well-placed to share that information formally or informally with his professional networks, and has the standing to do so. If he declines to do it or doesn’t think it’s appropriate, there’s definitely nothing a random member of the public could do.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Very much this: This is not a degree that confers the technical ability to do any direct patient-care task. Or approve treatment. Or design lab trials.

          Like a fake, or real, philosophy of anything else degree.

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Someone who lacks integrity to be dishonest about his credentials has no business purporting himself as an ethicist. (If that indeed is what he is doing, which is sounds like based on the degree/roles LW1 is describing).

          1. bamcheeks*

            I think the ethicist part has been made up by commenters— all LW seems to know for sure is that they’ve worked in medical research. They seem to be assuming that means clinical trials, and the commentariat has assumed it might be ethics because of the word philosophy, but it’s just as likely they doing data analysis or IT or science comms or s whole range of other things.

            1. Happy*

              It was in the letter to Dear Prudence:

              “He didn’t hold a role that requires any sort of license, but he worked in medical research ethics at our medical center, and it worries me that he might end up harming someone when he gets a new job in the same field”

      3. ecnaseener*

        Yes, I was coming here to say, if it sets LW’s mind at ease, that a clinical trial absolutely would be led by a licensed physician. Whatever Mr. Fake Doctor of Philosophy’s job was, it was not overseeing the medical details of those trials, or unilaterally designing/approving them, or anything like that.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          I work in a similar field (albeit on the opposite end) and yes, this was my first thought as well.

          If truly “He doesn’t hold a role that requires any sort of license” then I wouldn’t be concerned.

    3. Sutemi*

      Considering how much else they are lying about, why take them at their word that they have a high-level position in medical research at a military medical center? Are you sure they aren’t stretching the truth about their stated role?

    4. JustaTech*

      Having just (this morning) done a training on this, usually CBER/CDER do disbarment for submitting fraudulent data, not for lying about non-licensed credentials. (Sadly).

  6. Brain the Brian*

    We’ve started doing Kudoboards for people who are retiring or leaving for other jobs. Our departments works from multiple countries, and this is a really nice way to do thank-you notes when a paper one won’t work. All this is to say: go ahead and thank anyone you want to, whenever you want to!

    1. allathian*

      Yes, we did the same thing recently when a coworker left. Our team’s distributed and I have close coworkers in half a dozen offices across the country, so we only see each other in person a few times a year.

    2. alienor*

      My last job did this – I thought it was really nice and saved all the comments from the one I got when I moved on.

    3. Greener pastures*

      I recently left a job and was humbled to receive really lovely cards and messages. It’s valuable professionally to build that rapport and it feels good too, it’s a humanizing touch.

    4. Leia Oregano*

      My office does cards when people leave! We pass it around and everyone signs and writes a little message and it goes back to their supervisor who makes sure they get it. We’re all in-person/very sporadically hybrid, so this works for us, as most people are in the office during the 3-5ish days it usually takes for a card to make its way through everyone.

  7. JSPA*

    #2, let’s say you use she/her but prefer they/them (but replace with whatever is relevant, below).

    I’m guessing your parents know you are working with people who are younger or more liberal than they are?

    Then you could specify the full range of what you’ll answer to as “she or they / her or them.” And if your parents ask, just say, “Yeah that’s what I answer to! In my location it’s a bit like answering to Ms even if you are Mrs. I find it comfortable and it makes people comfortable.”

    That’s then a discussion about society (if you choose to engage) rather than one about your gender.

    And it’s not even (strictly) a lie, because you’re not specifying which part of the string is an accommodation to other people’s social preferences. (It’s also true that you will and do currently answer to both.)

    1. Snarl Trolley*

      I was coming here to say something similar – ie, that just being outed to your parents doesn’t necessarily have to mean a fight about it. You have no obligation to engage about this with them, no matter how much it may feel like it, or how much they try to have a debate over it. You can simply continue existing as yourself, and just…politely decline having any conversation about your gender, if it comes up. As you said: you do not owe them this, doubly so if you know they’ll be hurtful or harmful in their rhetoric about it. (Therapy is *infinitely* helpful to maintain this attitude, ime.)

      When I came out as t/nb at work, I quickly realized it means losing some of my long tightly-held control over who knows this about me. It’s taken a good bit to truly accept that – and even appreciate it! – but it’s certainly nerve-wracking at first to know people I may have non-work connections to will have information about me that I didn’t personally divulge to them. That being said, there’s a critical freedom to that loss of control. You get to exist without HAVING to answer to anyone about it. People can wonder, and do their own research, or make their own assumptions and none of it means bunk to you. It’s intensely stressful at first, but just as liberating once you let go. Wishing you all and only good in your work and family and community life going forward, LW2. <3

    2. NerdBoss*

      JPSA, unfortunately I think this would create bigger problems for the OP rather than solve them. This frames pronouns as a “young person” thing that is about the youth’s comfort, rather than the safety and identity of everyone. Everyone has pronouns – young, old, all races and genders. So I don’t think framing this as a society thing is a good call.

      1. dackquiri*

        This is… a lot of semantics for blowing smoke up a transphobic relative’s ass.

    3. dackquiri*

      This is honestly probably what I would do. I can’t know what your parents are like to argue with, but if you’re comfortable maintaining that it’s just a language/comfort thing and not really a gender thing (and comfortable toeing the “it’s nbd, really”, to the point of letting them use the pronouns they’re familiar with for you, and not arguing against any hurtful things they may say about it)… Even if it gets out, you might be able to compartmentalize it somewhat.

      Also, have you considered wearing the pin, but removing your pronouns from your email signature? If it’s mandated, the mandate is likely intended toward cis people who Don’t Wanna. Hearing a trans/nb person explain why pronouns attached to their name makes them uncomfortable in their current stage of transition or their unique relationship with gender… if they’re actually About It, they’ll give you some leeway. (You don’t even need to invoke your parents. “I’m comfortable being out to my branch but I’m not ready to be out to all of our locations”.)

      My personal advice is that every person who has ever done the gradual-coming-out has known there was a risk of it getting around to the last people they wanted to be out to. And no matter how small the risk was, they have at some point felt like it was an inevitability. The stress is part of it, and the bliss of the freedom tends to far outweigh it.

      1. TheyThem*

        Joy Demarra (blogger and novelist) talks about having a “cis worksona”, as in a persona one acts out at work, in this case a gender-conforming one. I embrace this idea, not because it changes anything about my work or my home but because it helps me feel better.

  8. Emmy Noether*

    #1 I can’t believe I’m saying this (because I very much believe in higher education), but I actually don’t think that a degree in the philosophy of physics will prepare one to work in clinical trials in any practical way. It should make people better at the job, on average, by training scientific and ethical thinking, sure. But nothing that would make a difference on an individual level in a practical, “public health hazard” way.

    What is concerning is that this person maintains a fairly big and risky lie to get results (being hired) without doing the work (the degree). That’s someone with a mindset to cut corners and fake study results.

    There was a scandal near here some years ago about a guy that faked a medical degree and worked as a physician. He was surprisingly good at it – at least he was never found out due to medical errors or incompetence. One would think at least that’s a profession where the degree has practical relevance…

    1. MK*

      Eh, all these cases I know of are about people who hadn’t completed the degree; fake medical degree doesn’t mean zero medical training. A degree is a signifier of X knowledge and skills, and it’s possible to have the knowledge and skills without the degree.

      1. amoeba*

        Nah, in Germany, there were definitely some cases where everything was completely faked, not just a matter of not passing the final exam or whatever. (Which would, here, also still mean not having the five year *practical* part of your training, which comes after the final theoretical exam… so still not great, I’d say!)
        Will post a link to a more egregious example below…

      2. Emmy Noether*

        The one I’m thinking of (though my recollection is too vague to find the case again) definitely had no formal medical training/studies at all, which is why I found it so shocking. I’m guessing he must have self-studied with books (or videos? youtube will teach you anything these days) to be able to fake it, but still…

        Someone who just failed their final exam is very different – exam results are only vaguely correlated with actual practical skill in my experience, so I wouldn’t be all that bothered (still very wrong to fake, obviously, but I’m less concerned about competence, just ethics).

        1. amoeba*

          The link is still in moderation, I think, but one prominent example was a man named Gerd Postel.
          (And to the second part – well, yeah, but as I said above – almost all practical training actually comes after the exam in Germany though, doesn’t it? I’d definitely be more worried about the fact that they would’ve faked their entire “Facharztausbildung” and depending on which exam, even the practical year. Like, fresh out of uni you don’t really have a lot of the training that really matters to treat patients… If you somehow only faked the exam results and still did all of that, sure. But pretending to be a full doctor just based on half a university degree would still be quite worrying… )

          I can imagine that would be different in other systems though, for sure.

          1. Myrin*

            I mean, there is one final final exam after your practical years (source: my best friend took hers in November) but I don’t see how you’d be able to fake that unless you’d also faked your whole practical time (because the two are highly interwoven) which just brings us back to square one.
            (There are internships during your uni years, of course, but they’re pretty short and often not terribly substantial depending on which hospital you were at; my friend always said she was able to get a lot of practical experience in one that was only three weeks but almost wasted her time in another one that was three months.)

          2. Emmy Noether*

            Yeah, I agree that the practical training part is kind of essential to being a competent physician, there’s no replacing that. Gert Postel seems to have been fairly bad at it according to what I read (and a compulsive swindler?), but there have been others.

            Maybe someone who faked their way into the practical training, but did do that part, could become an ok physician.

            To close the loop, I think that someone hired to do clinical studies with a fresh philosophy of physics degree would have to receive practical training in any case, even if the degree was real.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I am wondering whether it’s actually a degree in the philosophy of physics, or an MPhil or DPhil in Physics, which would kind of make more sense as something to forge than a graduate degree in philosophy! Speaking as someone with a PhD in an arts subjects, it’s not exactly a magic door opener.

      1. Artemesia*

        oh yeah — I assume it was a philosophy degree not a doctor of philosophy which is odd since I have a PhD and know it isn’t about philosophy. That makes it trickier if he is doing dangerous experimental work in physics.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Speaking as a physicist, that degree in itself does not really prepare one to do dangerous experimental work either. Like maybe the work one does during the Master’s or PhD does, but only in whatever specialty one has chosen. Someone specializing in optics will know about laser safety (summary: never, ever, look into a laser beam), but not about radioactive radiation safety (summary: put a sheet of lead or a wall of concrete between you and the radiation, carry a dosimeter on your belt), for example.

          Most physicist’s work isn’t all that dangerous anyway, beyond what is covered by common sense and a 2-hour training.

          1. Stitch*

            It’s interesting because my undergrad degree was in Chemistry and my degree was heavily practical. I got cleared to use all sorts of analysis equipment.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              I think chemistry does tend to be more practical (and the one chemistry lab I had to do did have more of a safety component – much easier to spill things or set things on fire in a chemistry lab).

              1. amoeba*

                Oh, yes, it is! I’d say Chemistry undergrad is roughly 50% lab-based, with a fully experimental three month Bachelor’s thesis in the end as well. Interesting to hear it’s different in other fields!

              2. Emmy Noether*

                To be clear, there is lab work in physics – but playing around with polarizers or measuring the speed of light requires very little safety training. And the times there were dangerous things (high voltages, radioactivity, lasers, …) we were closely supervised. I sometimes get CVs where someone tries to pass off a 2-hour coursework lab as actual work experience and… it’s not. It’s supervised playing around according to a script. Now, thesis work, that does count, but that will be much more specialized, and it may or may not match what’s needed for the job in terms of practical skills.

                I also have to say that I specialized in particle physics, and that’s a lot of data analysis safely ensconced behind a computer screen (and the once-a-year opportunity to go on site somewhere). Biggest danger is probably a non-ergonomic chair.

          2. Venus*

            Radiation: lead, concrete, or water

            I visited a small nuclear reactor many years ago as a nerdy tourist and the bright glowy blue ball was at the bottom of a big pool. It was weird to think that I was looking directly at it!

            1. Gumby*

              My absolute favorite “what if?” answer was the one about swimming in a spent fuel pool. Mainly for the last line.

            2. Lydia*

              I was able to tour a small reactor at a local university recently and it is SO COOL. A very neat peek at what it is and what it does.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        Mmmh, the letter says “graduate degree in the philosophy of physics”, which of course could be a fundamental misunderstanding by the LW of what an MPhil or DPhil in science is, but I took it literally as a degree in philosophy, specialized in the implications of modern physics in how to understand the world (quantum theory and all that).

        I don’t know how valuable that degree is, my only experience with the subject matter was reading Heisenberg’s “Philosophy and Physics” some years ago, which was interesting (and I also learned that Heisenberg was kind of full of himself). If it’s in that vein, one does have to have a fairly good understanding of modern physics to make any sense of it.

        1. Katie Impact*

          Yeah, philosophy of science is a real field that you can in fact get a degree in, so it’s likely that the fake degree is being represented as something along those lines. It’s not something with particularly obvious direct career applications, but it can be useful for people whose roles require them to communicate scientific information to the public — so I could see it being a helpful qualification for interacting with clinical trial participants, if somebody actually *had* the qualification.

          1. amoeba*

            It would also be quite funny if it indeed reflected a fundamental misunderstanding in the nature of a physics PhD, but not by the LW but the guy doing the faking!

        2. Juggling Plunger*

          It says it’s from an Ivy League university, though, which is American (are there any Ivys that use the British degree names?), so I suspect that it’s not a misinterpretation of an MPhil or DPhil. Then again, the LW could be using Ivy generically (and thus including, say, Oxford or Cambridge) rather than linking it to the athletic conference that the name comes from, but I think that at that point we’re really starting got reach.

          1. doreen*

            Columbia University does but it’s not a standalone degree – it’s awarded on the way to Ph.D.

          2. L.H. Puttgrass*

            But it could be a misrepresentation of a PhD from an Ivy. Or the acquaintance could list, “Doctorate in the Philosophy of Physics, MIT,” on his resume and let employers assume he means PhD.

    3. JSPA*

      “Philosophy of” is, I suspect, a red herring. EVERY PhD is a “philosophy” doctorate in a topic; that’s what the “Ph” in PhD means. No matter how hard-science and practical: a doctorate is a “Doctor of Philosophy in” degree.

      If someone claims to have almost any hard science doctorate, they could legitimately be expected to know stuff like, say, basic statistics. Or how to read fairly complex graphs.

      Worse, if the person is claiming association with a lab that uses lasers or gamma rays or X-rays, they might be expected to calculate the right dosages, and set the machines appropriately.

      I see this as a real risk, and absolutely would follow up with past, current and future employers.

      (That said, I’m not clear how a person who doesn’t seem to understand the terminology is so sure that a pal wasn’t ever associated with a particular university, and doesn’t have a doctorate. I’ve had people assume that I don’t have a doctorate, because I also do my own home repairs, or because I stutter, or because I have my certificate in a file box somewhere, not mounted on the wall.)

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        “Doctor of Philosophy” is such a weird phrase when you think about it. My PhD means that if your philosophy is sick, I’m qualified to diagnose it. Or something.

        I’d like to believe that any employer where the PhD is actually a requirement for the job (as opposed to impressive-sounding resume fluff) would either check transcripts or rely so heavily on professional networks that the lie would be instantly obvious. It seems like it would be really hard to fake a PhD to get into academia, for example, since you also need to have lots of publications and professional references. Research labs? I don’t know.

        Come to think of it, though, I’d expect that a military medical center would do a thorough background check. I’m just a civilian government employee without a security clearance and I had to provide transcripts and have a background check that involved investigators calling people. I find it hard to believe that a military medical center wouldn’t check someone’s claim to have a doctorate. Even if the doctorate isn’t relevant to the job, lying about it would be.

        1. Pippa K*

          “Doctor of Philosophy” is such a weird phrase when you think about it. My PhD means that if your philosophy is sick, I’m qualified to diagnose it.

          I know this is getting slightly off track, but “doctor” originally meant scholar, not medical practitioner. Its Latin root is related to teaching or providing knowledge. It’s actually medical doctors who are the “borrowers” of the term – the PhD predates the MD, historically.

        2. rural academic*

          “Doctor” in the PhD sense comes from the original Latin use of doctor as “one who teaches.” University lecturers had it first, medical doctors took the term over later.

          1. amoeba*

            I have to say I am very happy that my language has a separate word for medical doctors! Avoids a ton of confusion.

            (Also, I’m a “Dr. rer. nat” – so a doctor of the natural sciences, which does make more sense. No philosophy involved for us!)

      2. bamcheeks*

        I also suggested this possible confusion above, but it’s not necessarily the case — there definitely are postgraduate degrees in the philosophy of physics (at least in the UK.)

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        There are programs (at least one I know of in Toronto) where you can get an MA/PhD in the “history and philosphy of science and technology”… so that wording is reasonable at least

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          History/philosophy/sociology of science/technology. Parse and combine as appropriate.

          Philosophy of just physics, rather than science, would be an unusually narrow field, certainly not enough to sustain a graduate program–but it could be a special self-designed program within a History of Science and Technology program.

          He’s more likely to get away with claiming this background if it’s not related to the work per se, and is just code for “I am very smart.” If you’re applying for jobs where this is a relevant qualification, those employers are probably calling up their friends at Cornell’s History of Science Department to ask about the applicant’s time there. It only works if it’s a vague “I am a smart person” signifier, not a specific “I am trained to take on this job teaching the philosophy of physics at McGill University” signifier.

        2. Anon historian of science*

          For what it’s worth, the academic history and philosophy of science community in North America is…not large. So LW1 can be somewhat confident that if this acquaintance crosses paths with people in the actual discipline, they’ll probably figure out he’s a fraud pretty fast.

          Also: history and philosophy of science is a great field with many potential applications in the wider world! But no, it does not grant you statutory authority to use the really big lasers without supervision. (I recognize the issue is the larger one about integrity and accurate representation of credentials, I just have to defend the honor of HPS here.)

    4. Lexie*

      I think the real issue is not what specific degree was faked but that one was faked at all. If they are willing to lie about that what else are they willing to lie about. Obviously results of any studies they are involved in would be a big concern but also other things, expense reports, purchase requests, times sheets, employee evals if they manage others, etc.

    5. Lora*

      The only way I can think it would be helpful would be at certain very large employers who definitely require a PhD for certain job levels – even if the day to day work is crunching budget numbers in Excel and making PowerPoints. Blame the overproduction of PhDs and the paper mills in some countries that don’t have proper boards of accreditation, but a couple of places I’ve worked didn’t care what the PhD was in or even where it was from, all they cared about was that all director levels on up had either the PhD or MBA.

      As far as I know only a handful of companies operate like that, and even in biomedical science the vast majority of employers accept MS or ME plus some years of experience as a perfectly fine substitute, but there are definitely a few out there where they won’t take anything else even if the degree is in a field that’s completely irrelevant. I did ask the rationale there and was told that it shows your drive and passion for learning generally. I’m not saying that’s a reasonable explanation, but I will also point out that the people saying this did not do their own STEM PhD in the US, and also came from extremely privileged backgrounds, and thus had a very different experience than most PhD holders in the US have had.

  9. anxiousGrad*

    Ugh I’m non-binary and letter 2 is a great illustration of how the pressure to share pronouns can get problematic. It’s not safe for LGBTQ people to be out in all settings and if you use any pronouns besides she/he, there’s no way to share your pronouns without outing yourself, so then you have to either lie or come out (and if you come out in one place, you have to be prepared for that meaning that you’re out everywhere). And the idea that everyone should share their pronouns to normalize it doesn’t actually really work. My cis coworker including she/her in her email signature does very little to assure me that I won’t be discriminated against if I include they/them in mine.

    1. Well...*

      Thank you! I was waiting for this comment. can’t LW opt NOT to include their pronouns in their email sign-off? This policy is meant to help LGBTQ people, so clearly it’s counterproductive in this case.

      1. amoeba*

        I think they can, at least the way I read it, that it’s encouraged but entirely optional – they’d just like to be able to, understandably!
        But yes, sad as it is, I’d probably just leave my pronouns out in that case.

      2. linger*

        If pronouns are forced, then in lieu
        Of outing yourself, what to do?
        You may, if you’re able,
        Just say in your label
        You’re paid to respond to (hey, you).

    2. Tinkerbell*

      Yep, OP2, be prepared for even a *hint* of you being trans/nonbinary to become The Big Gossip among the the kind of people who are friends with your parents. In my experience, it goes one of two ways: either someone tattles to your parents and they come to you with a bunch of drama prepared, or your parents try to ignore the obvious signs for as long as they plausibly can before they’re forced to acknowledge that you’re just humoring them. Only you know which way your parents are likely to go.

      If I were in your shoes, I would skip the pronoun in the email signature entirely for now. Putting something and then changing it seems to be more of a big deal than just not putting anything at all.

      1. KateM*

        I wonder if I did it wrong then. I put “she/they” as my work prounouns with the thought that what I’d prefer most is my coworkers not giving one thought about my gender. Is there some other pronoun for that?

        1. MHA*

          I’ll gently disagree with WS, though just because I think we’re reading “I’d prefer my coworkers not giving one thought about my gender” differently– unfortunately in my experience there’s really no way to keep people from extrapolating assumptions about your gender from your pronouns in the current environment.

          In an ideal world, all people would take away from “she/they” pronouns is “this is a person who is fine being called either she/her or they/them” because a person of any gender could prefer those pronouns– a cis or binary trans person because they genuinely don’t care/pronouns aren’t an important part of how they experience their gender, a nonbinary person for the same reasons or because those pronouns do reflect how they experience their gender– but honestly even in progressive circles a lot of people are going to see “she/they” pronouns and assume some flavor of nonbinary/trans. (And in not-progressive circles the use of “they” pronouns is a hot button issue all on its own because of the association with less rigid definitions of gender, so. Definitely not a “neutral” option in those circles!)

          All of that to say, use whatever pronouns you like and whatever makes you comfortable, but if, like… “not drawing attention” is your goal, “she/they” pronouns are unfortunately unlikely to accomplish that. (But if “go ahead and wonder; my gender is a ~mystery~” is your goal, they could accomplish that!)

          1. Allonge*

            Fully agreed – in addition, take into consideration that a lot of people will not be familiar with what she/they means in the first place.

            Even for a lot of reasonable people, the meaning will not be obvious, simply because we have not been using pronouns in this way for that long. Some people are still not clear on Mrs / Ms, and that distinction has been around for decades!

            If someone wants to achieve ‘others should not be thinking of my gender’, I would guess their best bet is not to indicate pronouns at all. But then there are a lot of other issues that approach brings.

          2. WS*

            Yeah, I am a non-binary person who uses she/they mostly because my ideal gender would be “no” but I present as a cis woman and I live in a fairly conservative rural area where I am definitely not up to having eleven thousand conversations about gender a day. It does, in my experience, lead to people not bothering me about it.

            1. I have RBF*

              Yeah, I’m non-binary or agender, but my voice and body “present” as female. Big boobs will do that to you. I’d much rather the gender thing would just go away. I refuse to perform any gender for someone else’s convenience, but people keep trying to shove me into a female box then get upset when I don’t conform to the stereotype of female/woman/mommy figure.

              I use they/them pronouns in my email at work. Lots of my friends and family know my opinion of the whole gender binary thing.

              Most people I find still are stuck in the “Has boobs, thus is woman, therefore must act like what I think a woman should act like.” thing, and it’s aggravating. I’m just done with the whole thing, I want to opt out, and people can’t seem to let me.


              1. Anon a Bit*

                I think you hit on a big problem with all this. Gender identity is so tied to gender presentation and societal expectations that no one really can opt out. I have to wonder how many people are just like “Sure, I guess this is kind of close? But honestly, I wouldn’t pick any of these boxes except for the fact society is literally imposing it on me.”

                Don’t feel like your body is wrong? You’re cis!
                Am I? Ok, sure, but I really just want a ‘no thanks’ option.

                Don’t feel strongly attached to the gender you were assigned at birth? You must be non-binary!
                Um, that does feel closer to who I am rather than having to pick one of the two in the binary you’re offering, but again, thanks but no thanks is my top choice.

                Feel like a whole NEW pronoun?!!!!
                ….I FEEL like you are really not getting how much I have NO FEELINGS on this subject other than annoyed that I am still stuck having to pick a damn pronoun because you can’t just let it go. Surely there are people who do have strong feelings about their gender whose pronouns you can spend more time trying to get correct rather than trying to force me into a label?

              2. KateM*

                Yeah, I feel most like “generally speaking I’m a woman and nobody has any right to tell me I’m not being a woman in the correct way”. But at work I feel mostly “why should it even matter??”.

          3. Irish Teacher*

            “In an ideal world, all people would take away from “she/they” pronouns is “this is a person who is fine being called either she/her or they/them” because a person of any gender could prefer those pronouns– a cis or binary trans person because they genuinely don’t care/pronouns aren’t an important part of how they experience their gender, a nonbinary person for the same reasons or because those pronouns do reflect how they experience their gender– but honestly even in progressive circles a lot of people are going to see “she/they” pronouns and assume some flavor of nonbinary/trans.”

            This is exactly what I find tricky about putting my pronouns on stuff. I am a cis woman who is fine with she or they but to say that gives an impression that isn’t accurate and that may make people feel obliged to use both interchangeably, when I’m perfectly happy with being “she.” But just putting “she” feels a bit like I’m saying “don’t call me anything but ‘she'” when I’m really not that invested in it.

            I realise I have the privilege of knowing people will usually use a pronoun I’m fine with even without my saying anything and I’m not in any way trying to compare being unsure about what to do here with the difficulties that people who are non-binary or even those who are binary but trans, have. For me, it’s just a theoretical dilemma. I just thought you expressed what is very much my thought processes here.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, and that’s really interesting, because I’m a cis woman who definitely identifies as a woman, even though I’m not particularly “feminine”. I don’t wear makeup and dress as frumpy as I can get away with professionally, which is quite frumpy because I work in a casual environment. Jeans, a patterned long-sleeved t-shirt, and street sneakers are what I typically wear to work. I very rarely wear any accessories at all. I also hate shopping and relationship-based reality TV and lots of other things that women are supposed to like.

              But I get offended if someone questions my gender simply because I don’t like a lot of the things that women are supposed to like, and I’d definitely be offended if anyone referred to me as they. (Thankfully I work mainly in Finnish, a language that doesn’t have any gendered pronouns, so this question doesn’t really come up.)

              For me personally, my gender is such a key part of my identity, the lens through which I look at the world in a fundamental way, that I feel that people who aren’t as closely tied to their gender are like an alien species to me.

              Assuming I communicated with someone who considers their gender irrelevant in a language with gendered pronouns, I’d naturally do my best to use that person’s correct pronouns, it’s simply basic respect. But I admit that for each person I’d probably stick to one set of pronouns, switching between different ones would be very hard for me because the idea that someone considers their gender totally irrelevant doesn’t make any sense to me.

              1. JSPA*

                There’s never or almost never an expectation to rotate pronouns at random, for us “don’t much care” folks.

                There may be a request to match pronouns to presentation, for someone who’s multigender and whose presentation is intentionally highly variable. So (e.g.) they prefer to be “she” when wearing a skirt and nylons and makeup, and “he” in jeans with 2 days worth of beard growth.

                But in general, an “gender-expanded to they” set of pronouns very often (most often?) means, “use what feels right at the moment and will get you understood.”

              2. Queer Earthling*

                As a nonbinary person who uses multiple pronouns with people I’m close to (and they/them with strangers or acquaintances), it’s not that I’m not tied to my gender, it’s more that a) my gender is not the same as my sex assigned at birth, b) my gender is fluid but no form my gender takes is strictly binary, and c) I am comfortable with multiple ways of communicating about me and my gender.

                That said…I do know several people with no attachment to gender, or no internal sense of gender at all, and the fact that it doesn’t make sense to you…kinda doesn’t matter? You don’t have to understand something to respect it, y’know?

              3. Anon a Bit*

                I’m ok being an alien on this. I don’t “get” your deal with gender either. The important thing is that you have told me it IS important to you to be she/her and I should respect that. And if I say it is NOT important to me if I am she/her, they/them, he/him or anything, believe me. Don’t go on a pronoun quest for me. I’m good, you aren’t disrespecting me if you look at me and go she/her just because I present female but I haven’t said I prefer those pronouns. We can all exist in this space.

          4. Alanna*

            At my company, “they” tends to supersede “he” or “she” as soon as it’s presented as an option. I have a colleague who uses both and is adamant that both are totally fine, she truly doesn’t care, but everyone else at the company (including me) always uses “they” and sometimes even corrects other people who use “she.” (I have been guilty of this myself!)

            Most people still default to rigid gender categories and not wanting to Get It Wrong rather than a “eh, gender, it’s a construct, who cares and not your business” attitude.

            1. Silver Robin*

              Interesting; my workplace (rather progressive social issues place) does the opposite. Had a colleague who presented relatively femme at work who used she/they and the vast majority of folks used “she”. I was the only one I knew who consistently used “they”. Interesting to see how different workplaces handle that!

            2. Humble Schoolmarm*

              I have about half a dozen students (11-14) who use she/they and we generally default to they too. I know my concern, since they are all AFAB and present in fairly feminine ways, is that I’m just going to forget that they’re kids that may need extra care around gender/bullying/transphobia etc. if I don’t keep reminding myself that there’s a they in there.

    3. anontoday*

      This issue came up when a nonbinary staff member at my church was being super aggressive about insisting everyone had to list pronouns in their sigs, state them in meetings, put them in their Zoom name. It was kind of weird that they insisted everyone basically had to be Officially Out when they were getting all kinds of microaggressions and bullying for being nonbinary. Maybe they were tired of potential allies hiding in the closet? Dragging them out by their feet isn’t the best way to get them on your side, though.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s so unfortunate when this is catered to, especially given that we have the solid example of the gay community’s anti-outing policies to draw from.

        Outing of people really was very rare, for decades if not centuries, except in cases of hugely anti-gay politicians who led a double life. And it’s still rare, except by accident or from people who’ve grown up so sheltered as not to know that outing can still be a big deal.

        Some of the “must pronoun yourself” energy even has a hazing-type edge to it. I flash back to a childhood where a “friend” might egg you on to lick a frozen hitching post, touch nettles, walk on thin ice, or otherwise experience a painful moment in the name of bonding (or how the endorphins will supposedly make it all worth while, afterwards).

        Wasn’t cool then, isn’t cool now.

        People who give orders on how you are to live your personal life are not good friends, nor good coworkers, and they’re incidentally not doing any favors to the group(s) with which they (loudly) identify. (Not that any one person can ever “bring the group down,” rationally-speaking, as they’re only one person, and nobody’s deputized them to speak for the rest of the group. But when a group is small, the loud, demanding, entitled voices may be the only example some people encounter (or notice).

        1. GythaOgden*

          Thank you. I think focusing on the broader context — making the world safer for the LGBTQ community in general — will help the pronoun issue become normal and mainstream better because it isn’t perceived as either coercive or putting people who may not even have thought about it properly on the defensive. Aggressive policies or assumptions harm the cause rather than assist it. As neurodivergent, I have a similar relationship to labels as people do to their pronouns, but don’t tend to pounce on people who slip up — even though I’ve soured on the term Asperger’s because of Hans Asperger having a closer relationship with Nazism than I’m comfortable with. But I wouldn’t expect people to keep up with the nomenclature if they weren’t directly impacted by it. I give that grace independent of whether I would receive it, but at the same time if you’re going to make unflattering and unfounded assumptions about me from a single email signature (presumably about something unrelated to gender identity) without knowing me, then perhaps it isn’t beyond reasonable for me to make unflattering assumptions about you in return. And that’s where the tit for tat nature of making those kinds of assumptions falls down.

          For illustration, let me use my own very limited experience of getting to know a non-binary person.

          My friends are all in their 40s and 50s and those of us who have children are experiencing the world through the eyes of recent university graduates. My friend’s daughter had an NB date for a while. I was able to help be an ally by correcting my friends when they misgendered them when they weren’t there themselves, and they were very grateful when it got back to them that I’d stood up for them in this way. (I was kinda shocked that they were so effusive about it, but NVM.)

          But this is a new area for people in my friends’ social circles to navigate. They met a number of trans people through their scifi circles (and one of our close acquaintances was a transgender woman) but hadn’t encountered non-binary people before and were a little confused. No big deal, we established that Hermes considered themselves neither male nor female and moved on (and the coupling with our friend’s cis daughter petered out) and got to grips with it.

          But given my social and even my professional circles, it’s not a concept most people I know would understand, and if GGD was silently judging us for not having pronouns in their email signature, she’d be way, way off base. I doubt anyone I know would be unaccepting or actively anti, but familiarity with the issues involved can’t be taken as a given.

          I therefore think it’s wise not to make assumptions in both directions, and wise not to impose things on others. As I said, as someone with issues that both conform to (neurodivergence) and are orthogonal to (loss of a husband and thus more acutely aware of male health concerns than is expected from a cis woman) typical social justice paradigms, I would prefer to give the benefit of the doubt over terminology.

          It would help things immensely if we all acted with a little more grace and courtesy. We can’t control the active bigots, of course, and those are sadly legion right now. However, we can probably start from a better assumption about the absence of certain things from people’s signatures or their mistaken use of an outdated but not immediately offensive term, and not push the issue so hard we risk alienating the wider public.

    4. Green great dragon*

      Yep, strongly encouraged is not forced. Keep leaving them out. If a colleague or report of mine was the only person without pronouns in their sig I might keep an eye out for signs of wider bigotry, but absent those, I’d not give it another thought. And there’s enough complexity about the subject that I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about why.

      1. anxiousGrad*

        “If a colleague or report of mine was the only person without pronouns in their sig I might keep an eye out for signs of wider bigotry”

        And there’s the other problem with this whole pronouns at work thing – my options are come out and face bigotry for being non-binary, leave off pronouns and be accused of being a bad ally, or lie. There’s really no winning.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, agreed. It seems like an overly intrusive assumption to make — particularly when managing someone. Don’t get me wrong, when I had an email signature (long story but NVM) I had them in there. But if my manager had posted what GGD has just posted, I’d be looking for another job — because what else is she assuming about me?

          1. Green great dragon*

            You’d rather I totally ignored potential warning signs until I had cast iron proof? I said I’d keep an eye out, not that I’d assume anything.

            FWIW, I held back from putting mine in for a while, exactly because I didn’t want others to feel obliged to.

            1. anxiousGrad*

              The point is that someone not including pronouns on their email signature shouldn’t be considered a warning sign of bigotry, because it could also mean that they’re questioning or in the closet.

              1. Green great dragon*

                It could! And getting someone’s pronouns wrong could just be someone who struggles a bit more with remembering new things! And the sick day on the day of the anti-bias training, twice, could be unfortunate coincidence. And we should never assume someone’s not an ally just because they mention they don’t have any queer friends. And many people were taught at school that ‘they’ is a plural pronoun only. And there are many reasons not to contribute to the trans fundraiser. And sometimes colleagues don’t really get on with each other and it could be nothing to do with one of them being binary.

                None of these should be considered any sort of proof. And if someone is doing ALL these things I’m STILL NOT going to assume they are a bigot. But they might find the next time I spot check them, it’s their non-binary clients case. Just in case.

                I was very clear that if there are no other signs of bigotry I’d think nothing more of it. I would not ‘assume’ anything – others have tried to attach that word to my comment. But it doesn’t make things safer for women and minorities if invoke plausible deniability for anything that may have an innocent explanation.

        2. Well...*

          I’ve seen them used extremely cynically. For example, I work in an international field, and people who want to move (back*) to the US or other English speaking countries will put this in to signify that they are connected to those networks, especially people with last names that would make people assume otherwise.

          The idea that not putting them in your email sign off is “wrong,” has far-reaching implications beyond just allyship for LGBTQ folks.

          *I’m an academic, so permanent jobs in the US are highly competitive, even for US citizens who are in principle free to move back, but in practice can find themselves shut out of US networks after taking postdocs abroad. This is especially true if their last names are more strongly associated with countries that speak different languages.

          1. Chirpy*

            As an example of a different reason why not having pronouns in an email signature can mean other things: I have an unusual name, and it would be useful to have pronouns listed because I’m constantly misgendered by people who have not met me in person and are unfamiliar with my name. (I am cis female, and while not particularly intentionally “feminine” in my presentation, I do read clearly as female. My name can be gender neutral.) And, I would like to be an ally to those for whom having pronouns listed is important. But, being misgendered as male in writing sometimes works to my advantage, because people are more likely to take “a guy” seriously! But it’s also caused problems when people find out that I’m female on top of the unusual name, some people get really weirdly angry about me correcting both my gender and name pronunciation. So I’m just personally conflicted about it for myself.

        3. Green great dragon*

          Yeh. Though I’d hope most people wouldn’t jump to Bad Ally conclusions so easily, and those you work closely with would have more information about you.

        4. JSPA*

          You’re not a bad ally for leaving them off. Anyone who’d accuse or guilt you is being a bad ally to you, and you can feel free to tell them so.

          Gender identity isn’t simple, even for people who are “simply” trans, partly due to how we (still) link approved behaviors with perceived gender, and partly because gender means different things over the course of a life. I had one friend say, “I really wanted to be a girl, and treated like a girl. But being a boy wasn’t too bad, because I got to be a tomboy and walk alone in the woods. Being thought of as a man, though, just because I got taller? That was the worst. And now I love that I can look forward to being a crotchety old lady, rather than a bitter old man.”

          Pretty much everyone is triangulating between what gender means to them (or doesn’t mean); what it means to others; and what’s practical to share. (And that’s true even for people who are cis, het, single gender & mostly conforming.)

      2. Observer*

        f a colleague or report of mine was the only person without pronouns in their sig I might keep an eye out for signs of wider bigotry,

        You mean on the part of the colleague or within your workplace? The latter makes sense. The former? Not fair.

    5. trans and tired*

      I’ve never known an org to officially require pronouns in signatures, but in some places, the social pressure is real. I think it’s great to have the option for people who want to use it, but there are plenty of examples of people in the community for whom it’s better and safer to opt out. For that reason alone it should always be optional and never required, even implicitly.

      All of my coworkers at my company who choose to put pronouns in their signatures are cis women with gender-ambiguous names. So for them, it does make sense beyond allyship – cis people also want to be gendered correctly.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Yes! I posted in another thread but I miss gendered a client I worked with via email for 3 years. There name was Ashley and I had been using she/her for three years until I spoke with them on the phone and learned that Ashley is apparently a fairly known guy name. He was just too polite to correct me for 3 years. I felt terrible because no one wants to miss gender anyone and certainly not for years.

      2. LK*

        I truly believe avoiding the social pressure is an important part of normalizing the sharing of pronouns. I recently worked a conference where everyone had the option of including pronouns on their badges. With everyone I made a badge for, I made a point of approaching it as an offer/invitation, and the reception was positive even among those who declined, and I believe it was because no one was made to feel put on the spot. Because of the demographics, mant of these folks were wholly unfamiliar with the concept of sharing pronouns before this, so this was a really positive outcome.

        In general, I think we’d all benefit from society loosening its assumptions about what any given pronouns someone chooses to share (or not) means about them. For my part, I use she/her pronouns exclusively, and being afab and femme-presenting, it’s any easy assumption to make that I’m a cis woman, but I’m actually genderqueer.

    6. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I actually had this conversation with a former colleague(albeit, cis, straight) who works in the EEO/DEI space, and that is EXACTLY what she said about pronouns and for that reason I resisted it for a while. I ultimately decided to start sharing them (before it was as prevalent, though was starting to become more prevalent) to show I agreed with affirming pronoun preferences and was against misgendering. But now it’s so mainstream I think it probably feels less safe again.

    7. Critical Rolls*

      I don’t disagree with your comment, but it sounds like the LW would *like* to share pronouns and be mildly out at work, but worries specifically about the info getting back to the conservative parents, which is a different problem than the pronoun-announcement (pronouncement?) practice.

    8. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yeah, agender and same.

      For me, being gendered by someone else isn’t particularly an issue, but gendering myself feels terrible, so opting out of pronouns works out all right. I’m lucky that way. (I will also “accidentally” ignore the pronoun question if possible in meetings.)

      My workplace is trying to be inclusive but would be a nightmare to be out in so here I am. On occasion I’ve noticed that in spaces trying to be very inclusive, this can risk people reading you as Not Down With Pronouns in General and there’s not a great solution apart from queer-coding myself in other ways. Ironically the people at work who think agender is made up are also the people who would never think twice about me not using pronouns.

      1. Reed Weird*

        Ooh, similar boat here, I’m genderfluid and use all pronouns. I mostly present as a woman at work, but if suddenly we had to add pronouns to our email signature, I would not be happy. My workplace isn’t unsafe for me to be out, but it’s not one I feel comfortable having those kinds of conversations. I’m fine with letting people assume I’m “just” a butch lesbian with a picture of her girlfriend on the desk, but I do not want to try to figure out what to put in my signature that will minimize Conversations About My Private Gender Nonsense but not feel atrocious.

  10. Imposter! (they/them)*

    For LW 2, as a fellow non-binary, I am unfortunately all too familiar with the mental calculations we all make to compromise between truth and safety.
    Realistically, you can’t control which people will see your email signature or what they’ll do with that information, but would it perhaps be possible to switch things around so that your “expected” (ew) pronouns are on your email signature while your in-person pin states your actual preferred pronouns? Presumably you’ll have far more control over who sees the latter, and it’ll be far more easier explaining yourself (or making excuses, your choice) to the people you work with than people at a different.
    More importantly, having a physical reminder of your actual pronouns (and perhaps, being able to carve out a space where people address you correctly?) might make it easier to mentally compartmentalize having to hide a part of yourself for your safety.

    1. Silver Robin*

      ooh, yeah good thought! So many comments focused on the email, because that is what OP was talking about, but yeah, why not switch which pronouns are where?

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Was thinking that, and would add, you could quietly remove your pronouns? I take note when I see them in someone’s signature so I know how to address them correctly, but I honestly don’t really notice if they are left off.

    3. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      Came here to suggest this very thing, so I’ll just upvote.

      Pronouns in email sigs are very encouraged at my institution and I both
      1.Do not put my pronouns in my sig, since people who would learn them *only* there would not have enough context to treat me appropriately from that alone and I’d have little way of knowing whether they did anyway;
      2. Explain to people I interact with directly, to give them the context that doesn’t fit in an email sig, like other ways to refer to me respectfully, when to inform/correct others on my behalf, what questions I’m willing to answer, and why I don’t put pronouns in my email sig.

      Signed, nonbinary trans queer with nonstandard pronoun preferences who’s very out in person and in virtual circumstances where I can ‘read the room’ ….and absolutely noncommittal where I can’t know or respond to how people use my information.

    4. GreenDooor*

      Came here to say the same as Imposter!. If you use your preferred pronoun in an email, it becomes codified in writing and you have no idea who will forward it where. That could even include people outside your organization – even harder to monitor/keep from your folks. Can you leave pronouns off email entirely? You might consider doing that, and than just correcting emailers on an as-needed/as-comfortable, basis in writing. Using your preferred pronoun on the pin would do the job of helping reduce the chance of being misgendered by people right in front of you – and can quickly be removed if someone closely related to your parents comes into your worksite. This sounds like a stressful thing to have to stay on top of either way. I’m sorry you even have the need to strategize this!

  11. Artemesia*

    Promised promotion? Not only is this guy likely to cruise along indefinitely but there is also no guarantee you would get the job when he left. I know someone who was in this exact place and put her eggs in that basket and didn’t search outside the organization and then when Jim FINALLY left years after he first started hinting, the board hired some guy with good connections from outside the organization. Jim never had the power to pass this job on and it isn’t clear he even advocated for my friend. She wasted her prime career building years waiting for a job she never got.

    Absolutely start a serious low key search for the kind of next step career roll you want. You don’t have to jump unless something wonderful comes along — but waiting is a fools game.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I’m stuck on the idea of an employee announcing that they’ve decided to continue working forever.

          “Hey everyone, I’ve decided to hire a necromancer to bind my soul forever to this desk, so no need to worry about a transition plan!”

    1. Caroline*

      Agree completely!

      If the OP has a really good relationship with the supposedly-retiring guy, it might be worth a more serious conversation – there’s no shame in asking questions about timelines and how the process would work, who’d be doing the actual hiring and so on. But I’d wager that they’d be best off looking for roles that actually exist, now, here in reality. Who knows? Maybe they get a great director position elsewhere, do it for 2-3 years *and then get hired back when old director finally gets carried out of the building*.

    2. M2*

      This! He also might be saying it so you will stay and make his life easier. Many times the person leaving has little say over their successor. I would start doing a search and only a search for jobs you would love/ worth it to leave. If your boss does eventually retire you can always apply back to your organization.

    3. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      Yes absolutely, I haven’t met a job where grooming a successor means that the higher-up has much or any say in who replaces them, but it’s considered a development opportunity. You might get experience and training that you wouldn’t have otherwise, which can position you well when applying to any higher level job, but a “promised promotion” it is not.

      1. Expiring Cat Memes*

        Yes. Take whatever mentorship/experience/training is being offered with full enthusiasm, but also keep a keen eye out for other opportunities.

        It cuts both ways: dangle a potential promotion with a drip feed of training over an employee with no guarantee that it’ll actually happen, and I think it’s perfectly fine for said employee to dangle the potential of staying with a drip feed of professional growth over the employer with no guarantee of actual retention.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Yes I think I’d say out of ALL the people I know who have started talking about “grooming someone to take over for them” I don’t think I’ve EVER seen the role actually go to that person. It can still be great to pick up some mentoring and gain experience, but I’d just take this with a HUGE grain of salt. Even when the second in command was a great leader I have seen the organization deliberately pass over the chosen candidate more times than not because they want something new.

    5. Antilles*

      I agree. To me, it’s as simple as this statement, right here in OP’s own words:
      In the past year or so, my boss (director level) mentioned that he’s grooming me to take his place when he retires “in a year or two,” which is great!
      The title might call it a “promised promotion”, but I see nothing of the sort in that description. That isn’t a promise or plan – because those would require buy-in from others, a clear timeline, specifics on how to get you ready, and plenty of other things that don’t seem to exist.

    6. El l*

      Yeah, the right question is, “Did the organization commit (in some sense) to promoting OP when boss retires on __ date?” Answer, absolutely not. He talked about informally grooming OP to take over at a not-defined date. It’s not in his power to commit organization to OP being his successor, and he’s not even stating a reliable date for taking over.

      I’ve been in a similar situation, and – unless OP is comfortable in making a lateral move and waiting with a chance of failure – they’re going to have to leave. They’re ready to move up, and the job isn’t ready for them.

      It’s okay. Life is built on timing, to an extent we turn our eyes away from (e.g. dating). But OP can’t wait in hope. Too many points of failure.

  12. Nebula*

    One thing about pronouns in email signatures is that most people don’t read them, as far as I can tell. I say this because I have they/them in bold in my email signature at work, and yet I still get people using gendered pronouns for me – I’ve never got the sense that’s in a pointed way (as in, they object to they/them pronouns), it’s just that they haven’t even noticed. It was the same at my last workplace, and the only conclusion I can draw is that people truly do not pay attention to them. I’m not saying that OP should proceed as if no one’s even going to notice so go for it – you don’t know who will notice and who won’t and how they’ll proceed. This is the problem: if it’s not backed up by actual policies and discussion of trans inclusion, the pronouns thing on its own is not very helpful.

    On a nicer note, when I was new at work, the second time I met someone who I don’t directly work with, she used ‘they’ to refer to me. I hadn’t mentioned being non-binary to her, and I hadn’t sent her an email, so I think she’d either heard from someone or possibly noticed it on my LinkedIn. Either way, I appreciated that she’d clearly been paying attention. The bar is low, but nonetheless.

    1. Anon for this*

      At my job (a F500 company), pronouns can be included in your email display name so, in your inbox, you have an email from “Jane Doe (she/her/hers).” It’s voluntary, and from what I’ve seen, it varies across departments. In my department, maybe 60-70% of people have it? Which I hope is a decent enough number to normalize it but also not make it remarkable if one doesn’t have them (for people who are not out or what not).

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I have a gender neutral name but gendered pronouns in my signature and I get misgendered constantly, so I have to agree with your assessment.

  13. SarahKay*

    OP#5, definitely go for it with the thank you note. I recently moved to a new role and location after 15+ years in the old site and got a number of thank you cards.
    I was particularly touched by the one from someone I’d only known for a few months, as it was lovely to think they liked/respected/appreciated me enough from just that short acquaintance to want to take the time to send a card.

  14. eisa*

    I wouldn’t exclusively focus on the staff in the other branch.
    Reading between the lines, you are currently not out at all to the colleagues at your location / the people outside your org you communicate with by email ?
    So, signature with new pronouns goes out. With some people it won’t register at all; with others, it will.
    It’s not really about who among this group you are aware your mother (currently) knows; all it takes is:

    YourMom : So, Susan ! What do you do for a living ?
    YourColleague : I work at (Org), at the X branch.
    YourMom : Really ? So does my daughter Taylor ! Taylor Lastname. Do you know her ?

    YourContactAtOtherOrg : … and Brenda, do you have children ? How old are they ? What do they do ?
    YourMom : … and my daughter Taylor works at (Org) as a lama groomer.
    YourContactAtOtherOrg : Ah, I believe I know her ! (OtherOrg) works with (Org) on (Thing) and I’ve been cooperating with a Taylor Lastname. Must be your daughter then, right ?

    1. eisa*

      (“daughter” might also be “son”, of course. Sorry for assuming what you mom assumes what your gender is)

    2. Angelinha*

      But in your example, the mom and the coworker are both using she/her pronouns to refer to OP. In real life, OP is saying the mom and the coworker would know them by different pronouns.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think in the example the mom shares the pronoun first so the coworker follows suit – which definitely happens, even subconsciously, in just the way people match conversation.

        1. Cj*

          the op gave this as an example of how the letter writer could be outed, so I don’t think that’s the case.

          I’m actually a little confused by the entire post. in this hypothetical conversation, the mother says her daughter works there to, but then the coworker asks if she has children and what do they do.

          1. eisa*

            First off : These are two different hypothetical conversations. Which should have been clear by the space inbetween, and also by the different names for Mom’s respective conversation partner.

            The point I was trying to make was :
            LW was worrying about the colleagues from the other branch which are already best buddies with Mom, but that’s not all LW should be worrying about .

            At any point in the future, Mother might strike up an acquaintance with anybody who has ever received an email by LW containing the “outing” pronouns.
            Mother and new acquaintance connect the dots (I gave two examples of this, one where “Mom’s new acquaintance” is a direct colleague from LW’s branch, one where “Mom’s new acquaintance” is from a different org than LW but in email contact. )

            Once the acquaintance is made and the dots connected, hey presto potential outing.

  15. SimpleAutie*


    I have no advice, coming from a similar background (out to everyone else way, way before my parents found out and then they found out because someone not-me told them)

    But I want to send you love and let you know that anything you choose is the right choice.

  16. Hiring Mgr*

    I wouldn’t say anything about the guy with the false credentials – it’s not your business and as Alison said if it’s that important the employers should be verifying.

    As far as scams go however, faking a graduate degree in philosophy has to be one of the least profitable schemes out there

  17. Heather*

    I’m not trying to be catty, but I’m not sure a degree in “the philosophy of physics” would be bringing a whole lot of practical knowledge to his career in medical research anyway!

    1. amoeba*

      Just out of curiosity I googled for positions in clinical ethics and there are indeed jobs that require a degree in ” relevant field such as Ethics, Nursing, Philosophy, Social Work, or Theology”! If it’s one of those positions, I’d argue his deception would be much worse than if it’s a position that doesn’t actually require the degree…

      1. Cj*

        all PhD’s are philosophy degrees. that’s what the Ph stands for. the PhD he claims to have is in physics, which isn’t on your list.

        I’m indulging in some advice column fanfic here, but you don’t specify if the degree in those areas has to be a phd, or just an undergraduate degree. it’s possible, although I admit unlikely, that he has an undergrad degree in one of those fields. even if he does, in an undergrad degree is all that’s required, he shouldn’t be working in medical research due to his lack of ethics.

        1. Well...*

          There are PhD’s in the academic field of philosophy of physics. If someone told me they had a degree in the philosophy of physics, I definitely wouldn’t translate that to mean a PhD in regular physics. I’d assume they worked in a philosophy department, published in philosophy journals, and generally dealt with philosophical questions raised by physics (like they really love talking about the true meaning of quantum mechanics, when I wish they’d talk more about the hierarchy problem and naturalness! We actually do need their help in physics, but philosophers of physics are largely decoupled).

          To jump to “degree in philosophy” from any PhD is quite the leap. Technically that’s the naming convention, but that shouldn’t be conflated with the academic field of philosophy.

        2. amoeba*

          Well, technically, yes. I’m also pretty somebody like me with a PhD in a completely unrelated area, would not qualify for that kind of job. It’s about the actual content here and applying for it with a PhD in physics or whatever would be absurd!

        3. tusemmeu*

          I didn’t realize the philosophy of science was such an obscure field that so many people would jump to assuming LW1’s acquaintance was trying to claim a PhD. Some of my favorite classes in college were on the philosophy of biology, so I immediately assumed he was claiming an unusually narrow degree in something similar.

        4. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          Not sure, but I think that convention dates to a time when *everything* was part of philosophy: things that we now call history, mathematics, various sciences, etc. As the various branches of philosophy got more defined and more precisely named, the Ph part of the PhD did not get updated. (And this is going back at least 500 years in Europe, probably longer.)

        5. Myrin*

          That’s a centuries-old understanding of the word “philosophy” if I’ve ever seen one!
          (Of course “PhD” stands for “Philosophiae Doctor” but that’s just because the terminology has never been updated. In English, that is; in my native language, there are differently-named doctoral degrees depending on your subject, and I’m sure there are other languages with that model, too.)

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, this. It’s mostly theoretical physics and has nothing to do with applied phsyics.

      As he’s in a medical research field, most employers are probably just ignoring it, as they should, whether it’s real or not.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          But if you needed someone trained in ethics, you might just want someone with an MA or PhD in philosophy itself who has an emphasis in ethics.

          This whole situation is just bizarre, and as we are basically getting this information thirdhand, it’s just going to be a mystery, like those big heads on Easter Island.

  18. ecnaseener*

    For LW3, I do think it’s relevant that 5 years ago was a little under 2 years before the start of COVID. He would be far from the only leader to put off retirement in 2020 to see the org through the crisis.

    Now, we’re probably at the point where it’s no longer COVID keeping him there, so definitely still follow Alison’s advice to assume he’s not leaving unless you hear something really convincing — but the context here is not the context of any normal span of 5 years.

  19. Meghan*

    Based on the phrasing, does LW #1 mean a PhD degree in Physics? Because PhD means “Doctorate of Philosophy,” and I think if this person is impersonating someone with a doctorate, that’s quite different.

  20. Leica*

    I strongly suspect LW#1 is trolling Twitter’s CEO. The philosophy of physics degree, the military contracts, and the health research (brain research), all track.

  21. LibGuy*

    LW #1, are you sure they actually held a “high-level position in medical research at a military medical center?” If this person is lying about their credentials, who’s to say they did not lie about this position? Maybe they worked at that institution, but not in the manner they described? I would not be too concerned about them getting into another such position. Any (US) gov’t job requires a submission of resumes as proof of education. Part of my old job included vetting candidates and it is pretty easy to verify higher level degrees. Anyone with a PhD will have a dissertation. If there is no dissertation record (which are publicized by the universities because it is good publicity) big red flag.

  22. Rachel*

    3: unless or until there is succession planning that specifically names you as director, assume you only have the job you currently have.

    Train yourself to respect him as a person and a boss, but he has a major blind spot that you need to just ignore. Every single time he mentions retirement, let it go in one ear and out the other.

    1. Cochrane*

      Not only that, but the mention of a possible 30% raise probably wouldn’t happen. A lot of organizations have caps on promotion raises and it would be a cost savings win to have someone in the role that you can pay 10% more instead of 30% more, has years invested in waiting around for the role and won’t go anywhere.

      In short , LW3 is absolutely setting themselves up for disappointment one way or the other.

  23. Sylvan*

    1. I think it’s appropriate to contact his next employer and any organization relevant to the clinical studies he’s involved in, like the IRB. They should know that someone’s telling stories about working for them or that they’ve hired someone who doesn’t have the right qualifications.

    If he’s really in the jobs that he says he is, and the information that he’s a liar comes out later, it’ll cast doubt on all of the work he has been involved in and maybe on the real professionals who worked with him. Look at what happened with Brian Wansink’s work in psychology, for example.

  24. Student*

    #2 OP: I’m a fellow LGBTQ+ person. My parents are bigots, to the point where I was concerned they might be violent towards me when I came out. I am estranged from them.

    I still came out to them. Because I am a “grown-ass adult” and I am not going to let fear of them keep me in the closet.

    If you are a “grown-ass adult” who wants to be out, then… I’m sorry, but your parents will find out. If they don’t find out from a co-worker inquiring about your pronouns today, they’ll find out eventually some other way.

    You can decide to stay in the closet. That’s a legitimate choice. It may be the only reasonable choice if you are financially dependent on your parents or if you have no way to protect yourself from expected violence.

    If you decide to come out, though, there is just no way to do it where you can guarantee that only the nice, supportive people in your life find out. We all wish there were. It does not work for the vast majority of people though, and it’s not likely going to work for you. In principal, you don’t owe anyone the info, sure. But this very letter shows that you know your LGBTQ+ status will be gossip fodder, so that’s great in theory but unfortunately not remotely practical in real, interpersonal relationships.

    So, giving advice presuming that you want to be out, and want the least possible drama from your unsupportive parents: you need to face up to the fact that the mature, “grown-ass adult” thing to do is to tell your parents information they will not like directly and calmly, and accept ahead of time that their response will probably disappoint you. I suggest doing so over the phone if there is any risk of violence, and also if you will want the opportunity for immediate disengagement should they become belligerent. If you want the maximum human connection to try to get them to not reject you, then doing so in person might be a better option, but you need to have an exit plan ready.

    The reason to tell them calmly and directly is to pre-empt them finding out by surprise in some chance encounter. It gives them the least amount of emotional ammunition, and it lets you control the time and place of the battle you will have so it’s most favorable to you (for example, by ensuring you have an option to disengage, a chance to practice how you phrase things, a chance to have a friend standing by for emotional support afterward, making sure they don’t find out on some holiday or at an emotionally-charged family event).

    Hiding information from your parents because they will be unhappy about it is not what mature “grown-ass adults” do. It’s what scared children do.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      This is very harsh. There are a LOT of reasons why someone might not want to be out to their parents. You yourself said that you feared your own parents might become violent when you came out to them. That, IMO, is an excellent reason why any grown-ass adult might not want be out to their parents. I agree with you that it’d sure be nice if you could choose only to come out to those for whom it is safe to come out (or better yet, for it to be safe to come out to everyone!), but let’s believe OP that their choice to not be out to their parents is not the choice of a scared child but is the best option for grown-ass OP and an absolutely valid one to make.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree. This is incredibly reductive and insulting to the OP.

        1. eisa*

          I believe Student wrote this in a helpful spirit, from own experience, pointing out a different way forward and how it could best be handled.

          The point about “if you are out to some people, you will eventually be out to your living-in-the-same-area parents, under circumstances you cannot control”, was very well made, and what several others have also stated here.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Student probably did write this in a helpful spirit but calling the OP a scared child rather negates the helpfulness of the comment, if you ask me.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Yes. Also perhaps three too many “grown-ass adult” in scare quotes to be taken in a generous spirit.

      2. Coconutty*

        Student very clearly stated in their response that not wanting to be out to your parents is perfectly legitimate. They’re saying it’s unlikely to be realistic to only be out to select people in your life.

        1. Riot Grrrl*

          Exactly. Student is saying that the condition of being out includes the possibility—nay, the probability—that you will be out to people who don’t support you.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yes, I know, that part of the response was good, if not obvious, but the last part of Student’s comment then insinuates that OP is a scared little kid and that’s the part of the comment I was reacting to. Though if you read my response, I also said I agree with the part about how you can’t just come out to the people for whom you know it will be safe to come out to. And also, as Eldrich Office Worker pointed out, using quotation marks around OP’s words about being a grown-ass adult also give Student’s comment a rather unnecessarily snarky tone.

    2. another Hero*

      This is overly harsh, I think. First of all, lots of people don’t share everything in their life with their parents, even information the parents might feel entitled to, whether because of nerves or because they just aren’t that close to their parents. (For plenty of adults, the nature move is deprioritizing that relationship, not sharing more! And just bc OP hasn’t done that geographically doesn’t mean we know what they’ve done otherwise.) And coming out slowly, on a timeline calibrated by concern about how other people will react, is really common among adults. Sometimes because they’re adults! Either in a mature/caring way (how will this affect the people I care about) or bc of timeline pressure and stereotypes about when people come out.

      It’s true that there’s not really a miraculous way of keeping info from them that shows up in the work circumstances the LW has portrayed, so they’re functioning as an impediment to coming out generally. But the math the LW is doing, and broadly the attempt to avoid hostility from people who are supposed to care about us, isn’t childish just because you (at some point) prioritized differently and faced it.

      I’m not really responding to this to get into it with you, but I do want to at least suggest something tempering this comment. OP has a clear-eyed view of the situation–and, sure, some legitimate concerns. At some point they might be where you are, or things might go better for them, or they might go another way entirely. But I hope they come through it kinder than this comment, at least as it reads in plain text online

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        This. My parents know I’m asexual because I don’t feel any need to be private about that, and have been out about it for 20ish years. They don’t know I’m agender, because I didn’t realize that about myself – or rather that there was a name for it – until the last 5 or so years, and I don’t want to try to explain to them how someone could have given birth and then “decided” (which is how they would see it) they weren’t a female any longer.

    3. Junior Dev*

      As a fellow LGBT person, I agree with this. Harsh, sure. If OP has to worry about their safety or their parents are paying for their medical care or something, they can do what they need to in order to protect that. But at a certain point you can’t keep one foot in the closet forever if you want to be out in a professional sense. It’s on OP to decide wheat their priorities are.

      At a certain point, staying selectively closeted and expecting everyone around you to respect that can reinforce the idea that there’s something shameful about being queer, that people need to hesitate before mentioning it too widely. Sometimes as a practical matter they do—but that’s not compatible with putting your pronouns in your public email address, or any of the openness that implies.

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      It is entirely possible to be a mature grown-ass adult and still be a scared child.

      And parents don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger family and social group that no doubt has connections to LW.

      This is what worked for you. It is in no way guaranteed to work for everybody else.

    5. Danish*

      Bad take, student. More learning suggested.

      The LW has said they don’t want to have the conversation with their parents. That’s something else grown ass adults get to do – decide what fights they want to have. Implying they’re not being an adult by not wanting not have this one is really not landing well for me.

      “I did x-unpleasant-thing and will archily imply anyone who doesn’t is being a child” is never really a great stance when it comes to… Uh, anything.

    6. eisa*

      Very good post.
      The last sentence, I cannot quite agree on though.

      “I have selectively withheld information from my parents because I did not want them to disapprove of me. This in circumstances where I was of voting age and financially and otherwise independent” is something that many, perhaps most, people who largely consider themselves grown-ass adults will probably be able to admit to . (raises hand)

      However, the way LW worded it did not sit right with me either.

      “I hide stuff from my parents. I am a grown-ass adult”. – ok
      “I hide stuff from my parents BECAUSE I am a grown-ass adult” – nah … that don’t fly

    7. reluctant destroyer of houseplants*

      Great, relatable comment with practical advice. I learned this lesson myself when I was in my 20’s and wanted to control this info very closely. I really thought I could pick and choose exactly who knew, when they knew, and how much they knew. It really doesn’t work that way. It’s an impossible balancing act that causes more stress. Accepting that I couldn’t control it to that degree helped me to drop a lot of the crushing anxiety I was experiencing.

    8. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      I think that Student’s point is that in a small geographic area, they will be outed to their parents at some point, so Student is saying to control when and how they become out to their parents. Sure, parents may or may not be happy. At that point, the OP can engage their exit plan (whether in person or on the phone). I don’t think Student is being disrespectful.

    9. ExtraAnonRightNow*

      I’m not out to my parents (or really almost anyone) as asexual, because I don’t think it’s any of their business. My parents would probably be supportive in the end, but I still don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to deal with the LGBTQ community treating me as “not really part of them” since I am heteroromantic asexual, and straight people already think I’m just “broken” without knowing the specific reasons why. And nearly everyone still thinks being a 40 year old virgen is weird.

      I don’t think my sex life/lack thereof is anyone else’s business, and it’s not a “childish” or “scared” thing for anyone to just not want to answer intrusive questions about that.

      1. RagingADHD*

        I think you missed the part where Student affirmed that staying closeted is a perfectly valid choice. The point was that trying to come out piecemeal in their current environment is not realistic, so the 2 most viable options are to either stay in, or come out completely at the time & place of their own choosing.

        1. ExtraAnonRightNow*

          I was responding to the idea that choosing not to come out to certain people (or at all) to avoid a particular argument was in any way “childish”.

    10. *kalypso*

      Hiding information from parents because they don’t need to know to be unhappy about it is 100% what adults do. Unless you’re reporting to your parents every time you have sex, breathe, fall over…?

  25. EngineerMom*

    “graduate degree in the philosophy of physics”

    …does OP #1 mean a PhD in physics? As in “Doctor of philosophy” (Which, incidentally, has nothing to do with the field of philosophy, unless the PhD is IN philosophy!)

    In academic and professional circles, folks who have competed a PhD are frequently titled “Dr. Smith”. In medical environments, it is usually not permitted for anyone who isn’t an MD to use the title of doctor, to avoid confusion (see also, my PhD-prepared mom who is a nurse). But to use that title workout the education is pretty insulting to anyone who actually earned a PhD.

    I’d call them out in social situations (inc social media), but yeah, you can’t do much about employers.

  26. Rosacolleti*

    #2 I’m still hung up on how they describe this as ‘information their parents aren’t entitled to’ and that they don’t trust their co-workers not to out them out of spite. Some relationship building might be in order, not everyone is out to get you.

    1. Not Australian*

      This is a bit unfair. Everyone sets out expecting the best from other people (parents, work colleagues) and then life teaches us otherwise. I suspect OP’s lived experience may not have been the same as yours, and I believe we should listen to what they’re telling us about it.

      1. Silver Robin*

        agreed, we are supposed to take LWs at their word about their assessment of the vibes, so to speak. They actually know their colleagues and parents, and plenty of queer folks have very good reason to be distrustful.

      2. Expiring Cat Memes*

        This. That people might pass that information along isn’t necessarily being “out to get them”, the same harm could still be caused through ignorance, carelessness, nosiness or idle gossip.

        It’s pretty gas-lighty to suggest OP had some kind of a “relationship building” defect.

    2. bamcheeks*

      There’s very definitely a significant minority of people out to get trans folk right now.

      1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

        Yeah, I think it’s *very* justified for NB and trans folks to be on high alert right now.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, some relationship building is always a good thing, but people slip and make mistakes, don’t they? I mean, you can trust people as much as you possible can, but they are still human and to err is human.

    4. Allonge*

      Nobody decides that their parents are not trustworthy just for fun and games. Can you imagine what could make such a decision necessary?

      Not everyone is out to get you, sure. But you get to draw boundaries with the people who are.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      It’s just common sense to not deliberately bring something private to the attention of the very social group you want to hide it from. I think you missed the part where OP decided not to overtly ask people for discretion because her mother is close personal friends with some members of a particular branch. I have to agree with OP that it would be spectacularly awkward and prone to backfiring. You can’t approach your mum’s bestie and say “dont tell mum about my pronouns”. It’s not paranoid or being bad at relationships to rule that out!

    6. Reality.Bites*

      It only takes ONE person, and as others have pointed out, it’s as likely to be accidental as deliberate.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Not necessarily. When it’s part of a negotiation, sometimes you can agree that this is extra PTO for the first year given that it’s preplanned (kind of like a signing bonus in PTO form), or you can borrow from future PTO. That’s why it’s important to do it at the offer stage, where this kind of back and forth is normal and you can find a mutually agreeable solution. Once you’re an employee the power dynamics shift considerably and it will look odd you didn’t bring this up before everyone signed off on the agreement.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Some companies just say “you have x days for the year”, and if you leave before the end of the year, they pro-rate your vacation and withhold any overage from your final pay.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      The time I ended up taking a vacation the second week of a job, they preferred to allow a negative PTO balance over unpaid leave because it was easier to deal with from an an accounting perspective.

    4. Lady Danbury*

      None of my previous roles (all salaried) worried about vacation accrual, as long as it was within the same calendar year. It only mattered if you were just joining the organization (to calculate your pro-rated annual entitlement) or if you were leaving (to calculate potential payouts). PTO may be prohibited during your probation period, but after that you were free to use your entire annual leave without reference to whether it had accrued or not.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Many places with a no PTO during an initial period will still accommodate existing plans at the offer stage.

  27. Not on fire*

    #4 – Be sure to ask before you accept the job, rather than after.
    Others might have scheduled time off and need you to cover. I scheduled time off during Burning Man (to go somewhere else) and one of my coworkers was really mad that I wouldn’t cancel my vacation so that he could take time off to go to Burning Man. (He had gone in previous years and I was supposed to know that it was “his” time off.)

    1. starsaphire*

      I was also going to bring up coverage.

      If you’re in tech in the Bay Area, chances are pretty high that other people from your company also go, and you may be competing for the time off.

      That’s the only thing I’d be worried about, tbh.

  28. KJ*

    LW2: I noticed you mentioned that some colleagues and you wear pronoun pins, and that you wear the pronouns your parents expect. I wonder if that is contributing to your frustration and whether there might be some slight mental shift if you simply didn’t wear a pronoun pin, at least for a while. It could reduce the feeling that you’re not being truthful to who you are.

    In additional: I’m non-binary, but I’m not out to everyone at my work, or everyone in my family. (It helps that the communication in both is not always great!) At work I answer to she/her, and otherwise I’m they/them. I think of she/her as my “business pronouns” – the same way many people are a more formal or dressed-up version of who they really are at work. Something I can put on and take off. I don’t know if that resonates with you, but just putting it out there as an option.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a good point. I think intentionally misgendering themselves is probably making this more stressful. OP could you quietly avoid pronoun discourse in general? I can see how that might be a little tricky in this environment, but it might be better for your mental health at this stage.

  29. sam_i_am*

    I was out at genderqueer at work but not with my family for quite a while. Luckily, I was never in a position where someone from work would talk to my family, but I started to get nervous as more stuff got posted about me online. Like: what if my parents look at my bio on my workplace website? What I really mean to say is that being in the closet some places and out in others can be terrifying, so I understand the hesitancy to put yourself into that position.

    I don’t want to have that fight (besides, I’m a grown-ass adult and they’re not entitled to that level of information about me)

    Completely reasonable! This is why it took me so long to come out to my family. For me, there was a point at which the potential negative reactions were outweighed by the stress of feeling like i was living a double life. But that tipping point may not happen for you, and you never have to share that information if it isn’t safe and comfortable for you to do so (or if it is safe but you just don’t want to. It’s your choice to share or not for whatever reason).

  30. Area Woman*

    I used to work at burning man and have a lot of friends in the higher-ups of the org. Paid gigs for burning man are really hard, and most of my friends are REALLY burnt out on that kind of 3-4 week warrior work. You’ll have terrible accommodations, like 2 showers total and a radio glued to your head chirping at all hours. You will not be a good employee returning after that.

    My suggestion would be to have a job that really lets you get into burning man work (freelance, artsy stuff, summers off) or just… stay a volunteer. I got my big girl job and never took the 3-4 week gigs, but worked my ass off in the 10 days I was on playa and it was sooo draining. Loved the org, the event, all of it, but there’s no way I can fit that in now with my job. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I am giving you my perspective. I have little kids now and haven’t been for a while but I would love to go back as a participant only sometime….

    Also everyone in the Bay knows if you take a 3 week vacay in Aug you’re going to burning man.

    1. starsaphire*

      “Also everyone in the Bay knows if you take a 3 week vacay in Aug you’re going to burning man.”

      Pretty much, yeah.

  31. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: I’m nonbinary and my pronouns are they/them. I am not sure what your gender or pronouns are, but here are some things I’ve done in my career:

    * For several years, I used she/they instead of exclusively they/them. While no one ever confronted me about it, my plan was to lie and say that I am trying to help normalize the use of gender neutral and multiple pronouns by also affirmatively using they/them. It allowed me to straddle the line of authenticity vs. safety in a way that was less painful than just using she/her.

    * Talked to my boss about me deliberately not putting any pronouns in my signature or Zoom handle (precisely because it will hinder my ability to establish rapport with our more socially conservative clients). It’s hard to expand too much on that without doxing myself, but suffice to say these are people that I need and want to work for, and I can have a greater impact if I’m not being asked to out myself. She agreed it was fine for me to not share them.

    * Use my correct pronouns when referring to myself, but let others make their own assumptions. My official bio for presentations as well as my personal website and LinkedIn all use they/them pronouns throughout. But if we’re at a conference and you call me Ms. Smith, I’ll just tell you to please call me Michelle instead of telling you that I use gender neutral terms.

    * Moved 5,000 miles away from my hometown so I could be myself at work to the degree I felt comfortable and only have to put on somewhat of a mask for the one or two weeks a year I visited family.

    Some of these strategies may be more feasible than others, but I hope you’re able to find a way to be true to yourself without having a big family blowup. I think if I were in your position, I’d probably go with the pronouns associated with my assigned gender at birth plus my actual pronoun in my signature (e.g. she/they or she/he or she/he/they) and if anyone asked me about it, depending on what approach I think they’d respond to best, I’d remind them that pronouns and gender are two different things even if they often align for most people and/or say something bland and noncommittal about not caring too much what I’m called (even if that’s really not true).

    Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck. I’m not out to my parents either and moving away was the best choice for me. But people shouldn’t have to do that just to live our lives.

  32. Dasein9*

    LW2, Alison’s advice is appropriately spot-on for work. I’d like to recommend reading through Captain Awkward’s blog, if you haven’t already, to have some tools ready for if and when your parents do find out and decide they want that fight you’re working so hard to avoid.

    Captain Awkward offers strong scripts that can help with building boundaries that save relationships. (It’s not fair. You are a grown-ass adult and this is your business and in an ideal world you wouldn’t have to teach your parents about boundaries.)

  33. Gracie*

    Government bureaucrat here. There’s a chance that the philosophy-of-physics guy is running an institutional review board or otherwise involved in approving/monitoring research with human subjects. I have friends with legit degrees in this area who work on research ethics.

    If you’re concerned that this person is being funded by government grants, you may want to contact the Office of Inspector General for the funding agency. For NIH the info is here: Click on “fraud” for the info on filing a complaint.

    And yes, lying about your educational background when you are submitting the information as part of a grant application is fraud.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      Thanks for this, former clinical researcher here and wanted to come say the same.

  34. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Re: #4 –
    May not apply depending on the organization you’re working for, but I work in Gov’t so of course my mind goes here!

    If you’re going to be there in any kind of official/paid capacity, you may need to disclose that to HR and/or counsel’s office, depending on their policies surrounding accepting outside income. In most cases, in these situations, unless there is a conflict of interest, there’s never an issue (more an issue if you don’t disclose!), and I’d add that saying it’s a paid role may actually legitimize the ask that much more.

    (In my role, I’d even have to disclose I was volunteering, but I recognize most people aren’t in a position where they have to disclose to that level. However, good to get the lay of the land re: what is required surrounding disclosure so you are prepared!)

  35. trans and tired*

    LW#2 – you’re running into a problem I’ve seen before, and doesn’t have an easy answer. It makes perfect sense why you wouldn’t bother coming out to your conservative parents because it’s just not worth having that fight. But, while I hate to put it so bluntly: if you are going to maintain a relationship with them, sooner or later they are going to notice. If they’re the kind of conservative where they’re willing to pretend to not notice to keep the peace so long as you don’t call attention to it in their presence, that might be a non-problem. But since you’re worried about you being out at work getting back to them through mutual acquaintances, that tells me they’re not that type.

    I can’t really advise on this situation because I don’t really know you or your life, but to come up with your answer I’d think about the importance of being out in places where people are supportive, your willingness to lead a double life to a certain extent, and keep in mind what you’ll want to do if and when the news does make it back to your parents. Even if they do find out and aren’t happy, you’re still an adult who doesn’t owe them an apology or explanation. Good luck.

  36. Kan*

    #1 – It’s not nice to have a liar on a clinical research team, but I’m not sure that lying about a graduate degree directly translates into “immediate danger to the public”. I would absolutely report the lying liar to any future employer and it is an ethical breach that would make me want him to not be involved in research.

    But, if it makes OP feel any better, I highly doubt that someone with a “philosophy of physics” degree is running clinical research as the principal investigator, based on that credential. And even if he is – those proposals and protocols for the research are rigourously reviewed and monitored.

    He may be either a research administrator or grants manager – both of those roles are primarily handling the money or paperwork.

    Or he may be research staff. Research staff can have undergrad degrees or master’s degrees and are trained for and supervised in their roles. If there are medical procedures involved (tons of studies do not include anything hands-on), those are handled by clinical research staff (sometimes the PI) – phlebotomists, LPNs, RNs, or MDs. In terms of having no relevant scientific or ethical background — researchers don’t get money to perform research without a sound scientific design that is peer-reviewed, funder reviewed, and ethics board reviewed. The system is imperfect and people suck – but someone with that degree is unlikely to be a lynchpin in the failure.

    ALL research staff recieve ethics training and are required to refresh it every few years, and the employers are required to verify that the training is up-to-date routinely. It’s legally required. You can’t have anyone on your team conducting research activities without sharing those credentials with the ethics review board and the funders. People do violate ethics in research studies, but no one conducts research in total isolation, with no oversight.

  37. Observer*

    #2 – Pronouns and your parents.

    I think you have to choose our battles.

    So I have two questions for you. Firstly, why do you have to have a pronoun or a pin? I totally get that you don’t want to use the wrong pronoun. But your workplace doesn’t require the pin or the signature, so why not just drop it. It’s not quite being fully open about yourself, better than being inaccurate, no?

    The second question is why you are taking so much effort to keep this from your parents. I get that you don’t want to have this argument (see my comment about choosing your battles.) And if that were all you said, I wouldn’t be asking this question. But you also say that a reason for hiding it is that you are an adult and your parents aren’t entitled to this much information. Which is true. But the issue is not whether you should actually tell them, rather whether you should make an effort to actually hide the information. Perhaps it would be worth looking at a different framing and see how it sits with you ie “My parents are not entitled to this information nor are they entitled to be protected from the discomfort that they will have by knowing it.”

    I’m not making any suggestion about whether you should actually use your pronouns. I’m suggesting that framing it a bit differently might make it easier to make the decision that works for you.

  38. Observer*

    #4 – Burning Man and vacation at a new employer.

    Allison is right – negotiate it when you get the offer. But I would strongly suggest that you don’t mention that it’s Burning Man.

    And, by the way, your minimizing of the issues with the festival is more likely to make you look bad than the fact that you go. Because the reputation it has is not just “not *completely* false” as you put it. It’s been pretty well earned. Yes, it’s a lot more than that but this is a real and significant part of its history and even current culture.

    So to me, if I hear “OP is going to Burning Man”, not such a big deal. If I hear “OP says tech bros and drugs aren’t really a thing there”, I’m wondering about you a bit.

    1. gmg22*

      I did not read OP’s comment as an attempt to deflect this particular critique of Burning Man; I read it as admitting that the critique holds some water, even if it isn’t a universal experience.

      1. Observer*

        You could be right. I think it’s still useful for the OP to realize how easily this could be mis-read/heard, to their detriment.

  39. Yes And*

    LW2 – I can’t speak to the experience of being genderqueer, but I can speak to being professionally adjacent to my mother. I’m a semiannual contractor at the company where my mother works regularly. We don’t work together directly, but we have colleagues, even friends, in common.

    In my experience, it’s pretty likely that the relationship will come up in casual work conversation. And that means that even if you did fully trust your coworkers’ intentions (and I’m not here to opine on whether you should!), it’s probably likely that someone who was accustomed to using your correct pronouns would out you by accident.

    I don’t know what that means in your situation, just another angle to consider. Sending you support.

    1. Avery*

      Can confirm, with an even more tangential professional connection. My father is an attorney working in the same field of law and same metropolitan area where I’m working as a paralegal. Not the same firm, or even ones that regularly work closely together, but just being in the same small field is enough that the connection comes up regularly.
      I’m nonbinary myself, but am out everywhere. If I weren’t, though, I’m definitely in a position where using the right pronouns at work would have decent odds of getting back to my parents one way or another.
      I don’t have an answer for the letter writer, sadly, just confirmation that this is a dilemma to seriously consider.

  40. Keyboard Cowboy*

    OP4, in the Bay Area, at a tech company? Yes, you can. There is such a massive historical culture here of techies going to Burning Man that people will be excited, not judgy. Do it, take pictures (if you want), have a great time and be prepared for your coworkers to ask how it went.

    1. I have RBF*

      Yeah, when I was in office at several places in the SF Bay Area that few weeks in August made the office into a ghost town. People were real glad that I didn’t go to BM.

  41. RVA Cat*

    OP3 can move on and then become the external candidate when the director finally retires.

  42. Texas Librarian*

    Re: #5 – So not weird and so appreciated. I got a lovely note from a staff member a few years ago when she left. I have kept it because it meant so much.

  43. bream*

    I’ve never had unlimited PTO, but wouldn’t there be some kind of rule against taking other paid work during your PTO?

    1. Zephy*

      Why? It’s not illegal to have two jobs, your PTO is part of your compensation and just because the day is paid doesn’t mean the company gets to dictate what you do during that time.

      1. Zephy*

        edit/reply to add: If you were in an industry where conflicts of interest were a thing, like, maybe? If you took PTO from your corpo llama grooming job to do some freelance grooming, something like that? But that’s not any more or less unethical than freelancing/moonlighting in your day-job industry with a competitor or as a freelancer.

  44. Zephy*

    So, in regards to #1. There is a dadjoke that goes something like “I’m a theoretical physicist – I’ve got a theoretical degree in physics.” Is it possible that this guy is just out here mangling a joke, and/or that LW misunderstood said joke? In any case I agree it’s not in any way LW’s problem to solve.

  45. Lady Danbury*

    For number 4, when exactly in the negotiation process should you mention pre-planned vacation? Do you throw it in when you’re negotiating salary or wait until you reach an agreement on other key points (salary, wfh, whatever) and then ask before accepting?

  46. SomeBunnyOnceToldMe*

    I would just like to mention to OP #4 and all the other people on here who go to Burning Man that y’all may want to be a little thoughtful about who you mention it to out of your apparently totally accepting Bay Area tech circles.

    Not everyone is that sanguine about BM for a variety of reasons, ranging from disapproval of the rampant drug use there (even if you don’t partake, that reputation is extremely well earned) to being an environmentalist to simply being socially conservative. For instance, I’m someone who has adored the Black Rock desert all her life and I’m completely appalled and horrified by the irreversible destruction that BM has done to the playa and its delicate ecosystem. I’m afraid that when I learn someone is a burner my opinion of them is also irreversibly damaged and it doesn’t matter what my previously held opinion of them was, I will immediately start to view them as immature, selfish, hedonistic, and irresponsible. My first encounter with a burner was a solid 24 years ago and in that time there’s only been one person who’s altered my opinion of her after that. ‍♀️

  47. Random Academic Cog*

    To LW3: I’ve seen this situation go badly, even when the timeline is firm and goes as expected. Retiring leaders often have less influence than they think they do. Sometimes it’s from poor judgement, like everyone tolerating roadblocks for the last couple of years that then drags into year after year after year. Sometimes it’s related to upper leadership just wanting new blood. I’ve seen departmental coupes against the hand-picked successor. All sorts of reasons this might not happen how it’s being presented. Do what you need to do.

  48. Cat*

    LW#1 “graduate degree in the philosophy of physics,” you mean PhD, correct? or do you seriously think generic Ivy League Universities hand out degrees on contemplating movement?

    1. Pippa K*

      Well, philosophy of physics is a real enough field that you can get a graduate degree in it at Oxford….

  49. *kalypso*

    LW2: put your pronouns in your signature and go live your life. You don’t live with your parents, so if there’s fall out from them for you being an independent adult who exists, you can walk away from it.

    Many people choose to be ‘out’ in some places and benignly present in others that sometimes overlap. It doesn’t mean they’re not ‘out’, just that they’re comfortable for people in those other places to figure it out in their own time, and it’s not critical knowledge for people to interact with you there. It’s a perfectly valid way to go in 2023.

  50. LW #2*

    Hi all, OP #2 here! Thanks for all the comments, I didn’t think this one would even get run. I wrote the letter while on a bit of an anxiety spike, and y’all’s comments helped put some things in perspective. I ultimately did decide to put my pronouns (she/they, if anyone was wondering, I generally don’t mind sharing them as long as my family isn’t involved) in my email signature because email signatures usually fly under the radar anyway, so I doubt that the coworker I’m most concerned about will even notice, and if my parents find out, they find out.
    To answer questions about the pins/signature pronouns in general: As I said initially, my workplace does not require pronouns be shared anywhere, but it’s generally encouraged (but very much not mandatory) in email signatures. I was still just using she/her pronouns until recently; I’d bought a pin with those at the time and just haven’t gotten a new one yet (which is still, admittedly, an anxiety thing since my dad has on occasion dropped by my workplace to say hi (we have a cordial relationship outside of being pretty opposed politically and my job is public-facing, so it’s more of an annoyance than an intrusion).

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