You've got to be kidding me

So I went off on one of my students today…for just a ridiculously stupid mistake that she made last week and just figured out this morning. Normally mistakes are OK in science as long as you catch them but this one was particularly nefarious in nature. It produced attractive looking data (which I of course naively shared with my advisor…thinking that the data was valid) which got me excited and then the student proceeded to find the mistake after the fact and then blame the mistake on me. This particular mistake was literally taking the wrong chemical off the shelf to make a solution. HOW COULD THAT BE MY FAULT? Its not like I placed the incorrect bottle into her hands and forced her to make the wrong stuff. Besides that, even if I had done so…she showed me her notebook in which she wrote down the correct chemical with all the calculations that I had approved. If she had done what was written instead of what she did it would all be correct. UGH!!! The consequence of all this was going to my advisors and telling them…we made a mistake, please disregard that very nice looking data because it might not be right. Their response, well that’s the peril of working with undergraduates. To that I say…bullshit. This instance demonstrates the peril of working with people who make stupid mistakes. Following my objection to that appraisal of the situation, she (my advisor) then said…”I’ve got a lot of experience here and I can tell you it’s a lot different trying to work with undergraduates than it is with graduate students.” Again, that’s bullshit. It should be true and it would be nice if it was but there is no such thing as a mystical piece of paper handed down from upon high that confers upon its bearer knowledge that they didn’t have before. A college degree is not a revelation of common sense…rather it’s a certification (a very loose one at that) that the recipient sat through some classes at some point and didn’t fail every exam. There are lots of perfectly good undergraduates who are totally suited to work in a lab under me (some could verifiably be my boss) and there are many grad students who I wouldn’t trust washing my bench after a day’s work. Much like there are many graduate students who are more ingenious than the professors they work for…but I won’t go there at this point. The fact of the matter is that, like I’ve said before here, the academic degree is truly a silly thing to judge someone on (so said the hypocrite after 4 years of research towards such a degree). I am totally convinced that any idiot can get a PhD if they try hard enough, kiss the right ass, and BS their way through it all. Furthermore some people are just idiots…probably not their fault (at least not entirely) and some people are just smart. Of course most of us think we are the latter but if we were the former would we ever know it? The answer is actually a resounding “NO.” It was shown in actual academic work from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published by the American Psychological Association. The work by Dr. David Dunning and his graduate student Justin Kruger (now at NYU business school) from 1999 was entitled, “Unskilled and Unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Perfect. I’m never been more jealous of research than when I found this. The point of the paper is that if you suck at something (like telling a funny joke) then you are also more likely to over-estimate your ability to do such a thing. Nervous??? However, the inverse is also true…lets say you are really a funny person, they argue that you would be more likely to underestimate your abilities in relation to peers…interesting. You would be correct if you surmised that this trend results from most people placing their ability at about average for most tasks…in reality, the trend is to place one’s ability just above average. Of course, this study was done with college students…if you had taken their professors…the over-estimations of ability would likely be much higher (my personal hypothesis here…not the authors of the paper). From now on, I’m only going to look for employees with seemingly low self-esteem, science says it’s the best way to go. Patrick OUT!!!

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