Monday, November 16, 2015

The Kind of Thing that Makes my Job Hard

I grew up on a farm so I’ve dug plenty of ditches, put in postholes, hauled hay, chopped wood, chopped ice off the ponds, herded cattle, picked up rocks, planted garden, dug up gardens and plenty of other kinds of physical labor. I’m under no illusions that what I do today as a professor is anywhere nearly as tough. However, I also wouldn’t say it’s easy—at least much of the time. Just today I experienced another example of how my job can be tough, and how it is so often made a lot tougher than it needs to be because of others not doing their work.  Let me walk you through a frustrating moment of my exciting academic life!

At my university, I’m chair of a research committee that has to evaluate all research using human participants on campus. I get a lot of proposals to look at, averaging about 4 a week during the school year, and a whole lot more questions or requests for information. Around 85% of the proposals I get require some changes, although many times these aren’t very extensive. I’ve learned over the years to be very, very clear on the changes I require, because it saves me a lot of time.  The problem comes in when people either don’t listen to my requirements, or make mistakes in implementing them. Here’s an example from today, and—unfortunately—not a particularly rare example.

For one particular proposal, I required changes to three pages of a 25+ page document. These were mostly minor. First, I needed to have two lines removed from a document that the participants will see. Second, I needed to have a typo corrected on a part of their survey, so that the participants wouldn’t be confused by the wording. Third, I needed some clarification on a line from their proposal. The proposal was sent in Friday and I emailed them my requested changes Friday evening.

Today, Monday, the researchers sent an email indicating that they’d completed the changes I requested and the documents were attached. Here’s what I found.

First, the exact same page with the same two lines in it that needed to be removed. Nothing whatsoever was changed.

Second, they did indeed correct the typo. However, instead of just correcting it, they reworded the entire sentence. This rendered the sentence incomprehensible.

Third, no clarification of the issue from their proposal, which was the most important of the three.

This is not from students, mind you. This is from PhDs. And almost certainly this is a case of the researchers feeling overworked and trying to rush to get something done. I know they know how to make the corrections I needed them to make. But haste and carelessness do not go well together. The big problem is that it costs “me” time.

Had the researchers just made the corrections/changes I asked for, it would have taken me maybe three minutes to process it and get them their approval. Instead, I had to construct another email to clarify what I needed, to indicate the new problem introduced into the survey, and to ask once more for information I’d already asked for.  At least some of this I could copy and paste from original email. But it still took a lot longer than three minutes since I also have to keep careful records on all correspondence carried out for every proposal I see. That means quite a lot of additional paperwork for me. And we’re still not done!

Now, who wouldn’t want to go to school for umpteen many years so they, too, could have this kind of exciting academic adventure?


Bill Crider said...

This sounds so familiar that it might have happened to me. And probably did at one time or another.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am glad this occurs now though. When I see the sort of experimentation that took place without oversight in the past, I am appalled. I am thinking of the Tuskegee soldiers for instance. And the people Masters and Johnson used in their book.

Keith West said...

"Now, who wouldn’t want to go to school for umpteen many years so they, too, could have this kind of exciting academic adventure?"

Well, I certainly wouldn't...oh, wait. I did.

My frustrations come from answering student emails when they clearly haven't read the syllabus and dealing with rampant stupidity when sitting on a student conduct committee.

You have my sympathy, my friend. And my thanks, because those types of positions are too often thankless. Absolutely necessary and completely thankless. So even though we aren't at the same institution, thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bill, a major pain

Patti, it's because of things like that that we have such restrictions today. And yes, a very good thing.

Keith, man, true about the thankless part. They only notice us if something goes wrong.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

How much you want to bet it comes back wrong again? I face a lot of that where I work - a constant battle to get others to correct their mistakes and more than once.

Richard R. said...

It happens in jobs in the public sector too, Charles. I was an administrator in social services for many years, and the forms have to be word perfect there too. Unfortunately, revisions were often required (often in conjunction with new elcetd officials who decided they could "fix the system", and we went through this constantly. Sheesh!

Erik Donald France said...

The Dylan line, "Twenty years'a schoolin' & they put you on the day shift" comes to mind.

I hate this kind of stuff, especially via lengthy email back and forth -- though landline phone calls are even worse.

If you had the power of the Emperor, you could just have them strangled or sent into exile. End of problem.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I think I'd go back to farm life.

Charles Gramlich said...

Akex, no takers on that bet. Ive seen it happen.

Richard R. so much wasted time.

Erik, oh how I long to be emperor!

Prashant, me too

oscar case said...

It isn't only PhD's that put out crap like that. I've seen work from BA's that is pitiful in their grammar, English, and spelling and they waste a helluva lot of time getting them corrected.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, if folks would just pay a bit more attention it would make a lot of lives easier.

jodi said...

Charles-ain't nobody got time fo dat! How frustrating! You better get yourself a cold one a.s.a.p.!

sage said...

Life as a clog in bureaucracy... I feel for you! Wonder what Kafka would say?

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, I hear and obey

Sage, it's sooooo tiring.

Angie said...

There's never time to do it right but there's always time to do it over...? :/ Yeah, I remember running into a lot of that too. Back when I worked in an office, I was very efficiently lazy -- I did things with as little effort as possible, and right the first time. 'Cause doing things over sucks.

Much empathy.


Vagabonde said...

That sounds so frustrating. I hope you have nerves of steel so you won’t get high blood pressure…

G. B. Miller said...

Sadly, I see this level of, shall we say, "smartness" in guv'ment all the time, and of course, our unit, like yourself, ultimately has to bear the brunt of the laziness/ignorance that was inflicted on the general masses.

Father Nature's Corner

X. Dell said...

I used to edit a professional newsletter. All of the contributors were PhDs, or EdDs. I was also teaching undergraduates at that time. I witnessed far more of what you describe here from the former than I did the latter.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, and they suck for everyone who has to deal with it.

Vagabonde,too late. I have high BP. Probably due in part to this kind of thing.

G. B. makes one want to go "ARRRGHH"

X. Dell, a lot of it is just carelessness, which is even more unforgivable

Riot Kitty said...

Sheer laziness drives me nuts. Because it's so unnecessary!