I'm having trouble dealing with dissatisfaction with my first post-college job, which makes me feel more than a little over-entitled. My frank impression is that the workplace is in shambles and that I'd been lied to in the interview process; more charitably, I'm wondering if perhaps this particular posting just isn't for me. Given the details, what's the best way for me to go about readjusting my mind for the position, readjusting the position for my mind (i.e. closer to what I was told it would be), or giving up the ghost and going for something different?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am a recent college graduate with background in a clinically-relevant field, and have been working as a research assistant in a lab at a prestigious academic institution (not my alma mater). Thus far, I've really hated my work. I feel like a bratty, snotty prick for feeling this way; at the same time, I feel like I've been had by the higher-ups in the lab.
Even though it's somewhat possible I could have gone straight to graduate school given my undergraduate experience, I didn't do as such. I wanted some time away from thesis/manuscript writing and the pressures of graduation to discover whether the academic life was truly for me, to hone better what precisely I wanted to specialize in, and to get some additional professional experience that would be valuable for both my personal growth and for graduate school admissions. I focussed on getting my current job as it (allegedly) entailed working with a disease in which I have significant personal and professional interest. In all four interviews I did for the position, I was promised the same set of things, which included particular responsibilities and tasks that genuinely excited me, and particular hours to go with those responsibilities.
After accepting the job (in the process turning down two others, which I feel ridiculously stupid for doing now, even though I made the right decision at the time), I get a call from the PI asking me if I would be OK with having some weird hours for a month because he wanted to "train me" on a particular project in the short-term. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I agreed, because, hey, I don't have any reason to distrust the person who just gave me my first post-college job, which seems so wonderful and awesome and, wow, golly gee, life is just beginning!
Except: the job, as practiced, is almost entirely different! The disconnect between the prospectus and the actuality seems almost dream-like in its illogic. The hours are unrelenting and irregular, leaving me feeling drained/unhappy, and unable to plan the rest of my life in a coherent manner. The project, bizarrely, has little-to-nothing to do with the subject matter/disease I was hired to help investigate (which, more perplexingly, is the signature disease of the laboratory, highly regarded in its study). It's severely understaffed, which seems to explain why they've thrown me on it, but this seems in many ways to be not my problem... chief of which being that I wasn't hired (on my end, at least) to do this project.The significantly clinical portions of my job description are almost entirely absent. At first, I chalked it up to being a greenhorn and not getting assigned certain things as I needed to grow into the position. As time progresses, it seems more and more that this is the order of things around these parts, rather than a temporary situation accompanying my being a new hire.
Dishearteningly, everyone I've spoken with at the lab seems to dislike it as well to varying degrees, informing me that my sense of the situation is both legitimate and not especially unique. They are more-or-less resigned to do whatever is asked of them with the hopes of getting a pay-off of a high-impact recommendation at the end. I haven't seen any evidence that this actually takes place (even if I wanted to switch to this cynical-but-pragmatic mindset) and, given my feelings of having been deceived, I don't have any reason to trust that this would occur.
It's not that I can't do grunt-work—I did grunt work as an undergraduate in a research lab—it's just that it's both unexpected in its exclusivity (e.g. lacking in the clinical portions) and devoid of any connection to the larger picture of the lab. As an undergraduate, even when I was super-low on the totem pole and just doing basic data collection, I would go to weekly meetings where the PI would let us know how the project was doing, what the interesting data trends were, why they mattered, why our work mattered, et cetera. In comparison, if I hadn't sought out the material by my own prerogative on my own time, I wouldn't have the fucking faintest clue of what this lab is even doing. If I had any connection to my work, or if it was what I was told I would be doing, I could probably bear the weird hours. As it stands, it's uninteresting to me, and seems set to get me nowhere either intellectually or professionally.
Environmentally, another major thing that's been getting to me is that I've discovered that few members of the lab know why they're doing why they're doing certain things or even what they are doing, which horrifies me, as we're dealing with human subjects in research that sometimes involves pharmacology. If you're giving someone a drug, even if you know many professionals were involved in developing the protocol for giving this drug, I think you should at least have a basic idea of what the fuck it does, no? But, that's the environment that this place inculcates—do your micro-task, and don't ask any questions.
Do you think it would be worthwhile to pursue my concerns with my supervisors? (That's an issue in itself. I don't know if I'm asking for too much, but I've barely spoken twenty words to my PI, and he's been physically around. Just... extremely unavailable, which I'm told is typical. Any report to him seems invariably like it must be A Big Thing, as the norm is no communication between him and his laboratory staff.) It seems manifest that there's a lab-culture that I alone can't change (i.e. intellectual detachment of non-PIs from the work being done), but maybe I can get something done for myself? I'm considering: (a) faux-innocently pressing the claim that I'm "training on a project" even though it seems I'm really on it for the long haul and asking when I'll get involved on the projects I was sold during the hiring process, (b) making inquiries as to whether my hours will change, and (c) asking whether any of the clinical connections in the job posting and from our interviews will actually come to fruition. Is any of this worth it, do you think? Any tips for going about this in a way that's the least likely to trigger a catastrophic response? (I suppose I must accept the possibility that This Will Not Go Well, regardless.) How do I make requests or inquiries of an employer like this? I'm worried about damaging my reputation here (even by doing things that are to all appearances reasonable), and thus hurting myself for future jobs/graduate school. (I've never had a worse sense of a boss, even on jobs I disliked.) If I end up having to stay with this position, what can I do to best keep my sanity and sense of self-worth? How can I make the best of this job?
(Part of me is considering quitting if it doesn't get better, but the option terrifies me for a host of reasons... one of which being that the only other subject-relevant jobs in the area I've moved to and can't move away from for the short-term are probably also in this same academic institution. That seems like it'd be awkward to fly and manage, heh.)
I apologize if I seem whiny or ungrateful, or if the question seems all-over-the-place... it's entirely possible that I am indeed being whiny or ungrateful. (I mean, hello, record-high unemployment rates for my age range!) I figure, though, that if I want to get as honest and accurate an appraisal of my situation as I can, that in turn I should be as honest and accurate about how I feel. I feel like a bit of a failure for finding myself in this situation, and I'm not sure what the proper channels are for dealing with these concerns. In the past, I've been the type to get steamrolled and martyr myself as needed. Instead, I'd like in this present situation to do right by my own self, for once.