Insights gained via one's career
July 2, 2009 11:27 PM   Subscribe

What have you learned through your career, major, or specialization that you wish the general public knew?

I'm mostly curious about short and sweet things - stuff like "As a dentist, I've learned that you really should floss", or "It's worth it to understand the Fundamental Theorems of Calculus, even if you don't like math".
posted by Earl the Polliwog to Education (210 answers total) 380 users marked this as a favorite
As an accident reconstructionist, you should always, always wear your seatbelt.
posted by sanka at 11:32 PM on July 2, 2009 [11 favorites]

You should always try turning it off, and then on again, before you call someone to whinge.
posted by pompomtom at 11:39 PM on July 2, 2009 [9 favorites]

as someone with a BA in English and History, i wish more people knew that the answer is almost always, "it depends."

as someone with a BEd, i wish the general public knew how much work goes into being a teacher (and how much more goes into being a good teacher).
posted by gursky at 11:42 PM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

Most computer problems can be fixed by simply doing what it says in the error message. There's a reason those things are there, y'know.
posted by wsp at 11:50 PM on July 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

Always try it on in the store.
posted by clorox at 11:51 PM on July 2, 2009

A rotten apple spoils the bunch. I'm a teacher. Different classes have different personalities, and I think the biggest factor is the attitude of the alpha male/female in class. If a class has an alpha with a shitty attitude, someone bored with the subject at hand, it will amplify those feelings and behaviors in students who would otherwise be at least neutral, or even positive.

But the good news is the opposite is also true; alphas with a bright, positive attitude will improve a class' general mood and atmosphere tremendously. I believe this doesn't just apply to students and classrooms and kids. I think this is fundamental to group dynamics in any group and in any culture.
posted by zardoz at 11:51 PM on July 2, 2009 [28 favorites]

I wish the general public knew how automated call centres are and that in many call centres you're put on hold because the service rep cannot make outbound calls and therefore can't call you back.

Also from customer service. I wish the general public realised that people who define themselves as "good customers" very often aren't.
posted by Lolie at 11:54 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Forgot to add: And always keep the receipt.
posted by clorox at 11:55 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a public defender: if there's ANY chance you are a suspect and the cops are questioning you, ask for a lawyer and shut up!
posted by janerica at 12:06 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

If the dance floor is happening, the DJ does NOT want to talk to you, even if you're drunk and incoherent.
posted by philip-random at 12:06 AM on July 3, 2009

And from the health-care field, I wish the general public knew the definitions of "urgent" and "emergency".
posted by Lolie at 12:08 AM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

As a world business traveller, I wish Americans and Brits would learn the concepts of "indoor voices" and "shouting doesn't get your point across, it just makes people hate you".
posted by cmonkey at 12:12 AM on July 3, 2009 [13 favorites]

Watching The Sopranos has not, in fact, endowed you with an accurate understanding of what being in therapy is like, or what it is about.
posted by so_gracefully at 12:16 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you're going to conduct business in 2009, and critical business systems are delivered electronically- spend some time to educate yourself in the basics of the delivery mechanism.

When I say "open a browser" and you respond with "Do I click on the blue e?" means that I cannot take you seriously.
posted by mattoxic at 12:16 AM on July 3, 2009 [21 favorites]

I've learned that no matter what the company, government office, or crucial segment of society, there are people in there saying "Oh my God I have no idea what I'm doing here", other people who will sit and do four minutes of work per day, and entire systems held in place with little more than spit and hope.

There will be bosses who have absolutely no idea what they're managing, whole divisions devoted to tasks that go nowhere, and people doing hours of work because they're unaware of the simple procedure that takes ten seconds.

Whole creaking procedures are followed because the guy who wrote them left the company years ago and nobody wants to rebuild from scratch. You can pay people tens of thousands of dollars to deliver reports that show nothing and really are derived from thin air.

And above all, above everything else, the very first credit card swipey machine ever invented should have had the sensor on both sides so you couldn't swipe it the wrong way, yet nobody will ever invent a device like that.
posted by geodave at 12:17 AM on July 3, 2009 [94 favorites]

Your data is only as useful as your model that (attempts to) captures it.
posted by orthogonality at 12:22 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

The power of compound interest.

I'm a banker and I've helped out so many friends and acquaintances with their money problems. Over a sufficiently long period of time it is amazing how much trouble ignorance of this principle can bring to someone's life.
posted by Mutant at 12:25 AM on July 3, 2009 [21 favorites]

All languages are equally complex; no one language is objectively harder to learn than another. People who speak non-standard dialects are not uneducated; AAVE, Appalachian, Southern are dialects of English and they have their own distinct grammars. English is not being bastardized, especially by poor people, kids, or the internet. Linguists ≠ polyglots. Accents ≠ dialect. Everybody has an accent. Things change; don't fight it. Language is much more fun when you observe what is, rather than what is 'right' or 'wrong'.

Whew! That felt good. Sorry, I couldn't eat just one.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:26 AM on July 3, 2009 [62 favorites]

A majority of people never touch a general purpose computer while at work, or if they do it does little more than scan a barcode and update a database.

For most people, work, (or at least a significant part of it) has the literal meaning from physics - exerting energy to move an object.

Twisting or bending your spine is the primary cause of back injuries, the object you are lifting or pushing may help, but your posture is the main deciding factor.

With most jobs, you can count on eventually getting an injury that will require taking time off work to recuperate. Chances are sometime before you die you will get an injury at work that is sever enough that it will cause you pain for the rest of your life. This injury will probably be a back injury.

Staying in shape is easy. Getting in shape is hard. When you get laid off / quit / get fired, start lifting weights, hiking, bike riding. At least one, preferably all three.
posted by idiopath at 12:27 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

As a professional translator, I wish more people realized that translation is not replacing one word with "the same word in a different language". It takes years of study, experience, at least some living in a country where your second, third, etc. languages are native, and a real openness to other ways of being and comprehending the world (i.e. cultures) in order to translate properly. We translate meaning, not just words. This means that literal translations are often incorrect, to varying degrees, but non-translators like to think that because the dictionary says so, it must be right, leading to what can be gross misunderstandings.

I also second what gursky said, my BA being in French language and literature (with a good helping of comparative literature and anthropology studies): I wish more people knew that the answer is almost always, "it depends."
posted by fraula at 12:29 AM on July 3, 2009 [12 favorites]

posted by idiopath at 12:30 AM on July 3, 2009

If you're going to conduct business in 2009, and critical business systems are delivered electronically- spend some time to educate yourself in the basics of the delivery mechanism.

And back up your data. Offsite. Your business records are critical information.
posted by Lolie at 12:31 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Don't go strippin' in the woods.
posted by ryanissuper at 12:37 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

From every industry I've ever worked in - common sense isn't.
posted by Lolie at 12:38 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you drive a white SUV with flashing lights on it, quite a bit of the law suddenly doesn't apply to you.
posted by phrontist at 12:42 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

geodave writes "other people who will sit and do four minutes of work per day,"

I agree with your post, but another thing I've learned is that four minutes of genius is worth far more than four days of mediocrity.
posted by orthogonality at 12:45 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Related to the question, math is like steroids for the mind, in a good way. I stopped taking math 20 years ago and have forgotten nearly all of it but the benefits of once understanding the general lay of the land of mathematics are still with me.
posted by @troy at 12:45 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Poetry that doesn't rhyme came first.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

Creating a thing isn't particularly difficult; getting a group of people all responsible for that thing to agree on what the thing needs to be and do is damn near impossible. Put one person in charge and let the buck stop there, so everyone else can get on with making that person's vision happen.
posted by davejay at 12:48 AM on July 3, 2009 [11 favorites]

As an EMT, I would say: Do not ride motorcycles unless you have a large life insurance policy and are comfortable with the idea of dying. We call them "Donorcycles" for a reason.

"Oh but I'm a careful motorcyclist and I always watch where I'm going!"

Doesn't matter. You vs. car, car wins. Period. I can't tell you how often careful, responsible motorcyclists have literally been transported to the local morgue in buckets due to the inherently unsafe nature of motorcycles.

That and always wear your seatbelt.
posted by Avenger at 12:49 AM on July 3, 2009 [23 favorites]

corollary: put a person with vision in charge only if you are confident that their vision is clear and that they fully understand it, even if you do not.
posted by davejay at 12:49 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

From the funeral industry: prepayment does NOT equal "all taken care of."
posted by Vavuzi at 12:51 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Backing up the language teaching bit from iamkimiam, going to your language class once a week isn't enough (like going to your garage doesn't make you a car). If you actually want to learn a foreign language, it requires active effort on your part. You need to set aside (ample) time outside of your lessons to practice, review, explore the language you're trying to learn.

Also, not only does the rotten apple spoil things, but quite often, you should check to make sure that you aren't the bad apple. The way you carry yourself, the attitude you bring into the room with you, does a lot to determine how people will react to you, long before you ever speak to them.

Pay attention to your body language, no matter what field you're in. It doesn't take an expert in body language to be offended by your willingness to show how little you care about the person you're talking to.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:53 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

due to the inherently unsafe nature of motorcycles around cars

I could argue that cars are inherently unsafe, being large metal boxes that fly around at high speed and all, but it's really the proximity between the two. See also: pedestrians around cars, bicyclists around cars, anything that isn't a car or larger around cars.
posted by davejay at 12:53 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

In engineering, and much of life: If problem can be expressed mathematically, we know something about it, otherwise we're stumbling around in the dark. It's easy to fool yourself in to thinking you understand mathematical concepts, when really you're just playing a game with half-understood symbols on paper. The only way to really get it is to practice it a lot, and be able to boil every sign and process you use down to the barest definitions on demand. If a middle-schooler asked you "what's a derivative?" and then "what's a limit?" and kept going like that, you should be able to lead them all the way back to ineffably basic concepts like union and disunion of sets, through a maze of nomenclature. A lot of engineers aren't so hung up on rigor, but it's their loss, as being able to be creative mathematically (which is what rigor and deep understand earns you) is what separates the truly great from those just following formulas.
posted by phrontist at 12:54 AM on July 3, 2009 [12 favorites]

There's no such thing as "obviously".
posted by secret about box at 1:01 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

I stopped taking math 20 years ago and have forgotten nearly all of it but the benefits of once understanding the general lay of the land of mathematics are still with me.

Addendum. The basic principles of maths do not cease to apply just because you're looking for a way to get rich quick or to borrow more than you can afford - there isn't some quantum formula which makes your financial stupidity exempt from the usual, predictable consequences.
posted by Lolie at 1:01 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Engineering is all about straddling Hume's Guillotine. The discipline is not concerned with deciding what you want (what "ought'), but how to get there from what you have (what "is"). As a result, many engineers have a sort of nihilistic streak - the joy of the work is in solving interesting problems, the results being less relevant. This was what I took away from two summer's working for a defense contractor, but I think thats just a particularly egregious case of a more widespread ethos.
posted by phrontist at 1:04 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they're not.
posted by alchemist at 1:08 AM on July 3, 2009 [33 favorites]

Insurance Filter...

- Please, please, please don't automatically go for the cheapest home insurance policy you can find! There's a reason some companies are low low low when it comes to premiums and a separate reason why a larger, well-known insurance company will charge slightly more. Uber-cheap home insurance may seem like a great idea from your end - '$XXX for a year?! I'm in! Isn't all insurance the same?'

No, it's not.

If you read your home insurance policy [yeah, no one ever does this, it's okay] you will find that THE WEIRDEST OF CONDITIONS exist that determine your payout when you claim - and these weird conditions are amplified x100 if you go for cheap-o online-y insurance.

Example of the attitude you're up against with cheap insurance:
"Oh you didn't *fully* drain down your mobile holiday home in May? You only *thought* you drained it all in June, but left about 5% of the water in the pipes? Sorry, not covered. No payout for you. At all."

"Oh the $80K diamond ring you lost [covered under home contents] can be replaced from Dubai @ a fraction of the cost to us, like $15k? Guess what? You've got to wait for your ring to be sent from Dubai. No, you can't get it replaced at your local jewellers."

"Oh your broken windows cost $600 to replace? You do know your excess is $500 with this policy, right?"

"Oh your house has burnt down? You did have both smoke detectors working, right? As stipulated under the policy, right? Because our investigations show batteries in only ONE detector. So, uh, yeah. No payout for you."

"Accidental damage isn't covered, who the heck told you that?"

I've *seen* these conditions happen. So just fork out that little bit more for decent home insurance from a place with physical offices and not just a faceless website. That little bit more every year makes an ENORMOUS difference when it comes time to make a claim.

Why it is cheaper to get diamonds from Dubai than your local jeweller is another issue entirely though...
posted by Chorus at 1:13 AM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

In my work as a programmer and ersatz system administrator, I've learned the importance of the Principle of Least Privilege, which simply put means that any user/program/component should be granted the absolute minimum level of access needed to do the required job effectively. This prevents both careless accidents and malicious attacks while also making it easier to assess exactly what each part of the system does.

Also, I've had lots of system administrators tell me that data is being backed up, but I don't believe it until they prove they can actually restore it. Too many people find out the hard way that their trust has been misplaced.
posted by tomwheeler at 1:15 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Failure of a test to come out statistically significant can mean that the test lacks power (and not that the effect is absent). Nevertheless, this is often stated as "there was no difference", in journals and especially in media.
posted by parudox at 1:18 AM on July 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

Should be so self-evident that it doesn't need saying, but...

If you're planning to rip-off a company, screw your employer, or otherwise behave illegally or unethically, do not seek advice about how to do so online - you're not the only person on the planet with access to the internet. Really.
posted by Lolie at 1:22 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

A person working on one TV or radio program is almost certainly unable to "fix" a station's overall output.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:30 AM on July 3, 2009

Work is good, but its not that important.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:36 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you are not a trained writer, or have spent significant time acquiring writing skills, editing your work and re-editing it, it is very likely that that website, ad or other business copy you just vomited out is cliche-ridden, soul-destroying, passive-voice business buzzword tripe.

Just because 'good communication skills' is in every job ad ever written does not make you suddenly capable of replacing the work of trained and experienced copywriters.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:52 AM on July 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

the very first credit card swipey machine ever invented should have had the sensor on both sides so you couldn't swipe it the wrong way

When you have to make someone incur a penalty, decide who it is.

That design decision removed an inessential but complicating component from the design and amortised the extra burden on to the users. The machines are more price-competitive to all the people who made decisions about whether to buy it, and the penalty of annoyance is forced on to people who have no effect on that decision. WIN.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:03 AM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

As a city planner:

- Research property before you buy it. That field next to you might not always be a field. Don't EVER trust what a realtor or developer tells you without doing your own homework first.

- You live on the backs of commercial tax bases. They maintain your roads, put water in the tap and make sure your shit goes somewhere where they can deal with it. Residential areas pay the least amount of taxes and use the most resources - by a very long shot.

- If it's not going next to you, it's going next to someone else. Think about that.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:06 AM on July 3, 2009 [17 favorites]

Cellphones stop working when wet. Which makes them a poor choice for summoning help if your boat sinks.
posted by rongorongo at 2:32 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

Making your logo larger will not make your campaign better.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! at 2:50 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

Regardless of what your veins are like, always drink a few glasses of water before donating blood or having any kind of blood test. Even if it's a fasting blood test, it's ok to drink water.

(Fasting for surgery means nil by mouth, but fasting for blood tests is a different kind of fasting.)
posted by taff at 2:54 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Postmodernism and [academic] feminism aren't just eye-rolly buzzwords. They're also useful and complex collections of smart thoughts about understanding the world.

It makes a difference when your support request email sounds reasonably polite instead of just irritated. And be friendly to cashiers; they're often bored.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:05 AM on July 3, 2009 [11 favorites]

Imitating the way another company does something is not a guarantee that you'll get the same -- or even a similar -- output. "Make it look like Microsoft's" or "Do it the way IBM does it" are not business plans.
posted by transporter accident amy at 3:12 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not everything is online. Just because it's a public document does not mean it has to be online. Or free. (librarian)
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:29 AM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

From a global business perspective, remember who you work for. Never feel entitled as part of an organisation that your location/department/division is better than the others and/or its leaders.

On a sidenote from a comment above - although the Sopranos may not tell what therapy is really like, it will give you a great idea of how the mob works in Jersey.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 3:31 AM on July 3, 2009

As a mom to a child on the autism spectrum:
When you see a child behaving in a way you don't like, give the kid and the parents the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming you're looking at a bad kid or a bad parent. Most likely they're doing the best they can.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:33 AM on July 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

If you are responsible for anyone at work...

say thanks.

a simple thankyou makes that worker 100 times more satisfied with the job they are doing for you.
posted by greenish at 3:34 AM on July 3, 2009 [28 favorites]

Most people with non-writing day jobs who think they can write a children's book can't.
posted by Elsie at 3:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Manage people for the results you want, not the process of how they're reached - there's more than one way to solve any problem. Communicate expectations clearly, in advance. Recognize that even if you're an "open door, no stupid questions" kind of person, some essential questions may go unasked, so keep your ears open.
posted by deliriouscool at 3:48 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

People are not "misquoted" in newspapers and magazines. Nor were their words "taken out of context". They said everything it says on paper, and probably a hell of a lot more that they specifically demanded to be 'anonymous', 'on background' or 'off the record'.

What they mean is: "I said so many worse things in that interview that I let this pass, and I can't believe people are now offended as a result".
posted by NekulturnY at 3:49 AM on July 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

Do not let your maintenance contract expire on hardware/software in a corporate environment. There will always be a new feature/bug fix/broken thing that will cost you tons of money to have fixed out of contract that would have been free otherwise. The TCO always seems expensive until you have a system failure.

You are not always right, someone may have a better way of doing things. Doesn't matter how old/young/experienced/inexperienced they are.

Document EVERYTHING. Have a diary/calendar that you put major meetings in (hard copy, outside of Outlook), take minutes and notes at said meetings, and have procedures for what you do at work. At performance-review time, you're able to say 'This is what my job currently entails'. If you have to go to court, or defend yourself in some other way, you can say 'I did such-and-such on this date' years after the fact, even if your Outlook file is inaccessible. And when you go on vacation, just maybe someone will be able to take care of some of your work, instead of leaving it on your desk for when you come back.

Microsoft has lots of resources online for Office. Lots. LOTS! Everything you can do with Office is on their website. They even have little demos to show you how to do things.

(Fantastic question!)
posted by cathoo at 4:02 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

One-in-a-million market meltdowns happen roughly once every two years.
posted by The Shiny Thing at 4:26 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Lawyer: Come to see me before you sign that contract, deed, etc. It may cost a little, or it may not cost anything. When you come to me two days or two years later, asking what you got yourself into, your options are much more limited. And it will very often cost you a lot.
posted by megatherium at 4:29 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

(and one I frequently hear from E.R. physicians)

Wear your damn bike helmet.
posted by megatherium at 4:30 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Literary criticism ≠ book reviews.
posted by permafrost at 4:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

"The Media" is not a single, monolithic entity which conspires in smoke-filled rooms to suppress the truth, give your daughter an eating disorder and grossly misinform the public about your pet area of expertise. "The Media" is huge and diverse. It includes high and low quality publications, competent and incompetent staff, ethical and unethical journalists, and a bunch of stuff which isn't journalism at all.

Some publications are rubbish and some journalists are complete hacks, but most of us take the responsibilities of our vocation very seriously. We are deeply aware that we don't always get it right and that the profession must continue to change and evolve. Some of the strongest critics of journalistic ethics come from within the profession itself.

If I tell you I make long-form factual radio, please don't launch into a diatribe about how much you hate skinny models in women's magazines/that dumb thing the Prime Minister said on telly last night/the way reality TV is ruining young people's morals. Journalists deserve scrutiny, but there's nothing savvy or insightful about reflexively blaming an entire industry for everything you don't like about the world.

Get your news from multiple sources. Keep your bullshit filter on while you read, watch or listen. If you spot a factual error, let the organisation know; complaints are usually logged and acted upon. If you have extreme views on a social or political issue, know that no news item on the topic will ever seem 'unbiased' to you, and that's not necessarily the journalist's fault.
posted by embrangled at 4:47 AM on July 3, 2009 [20 favorites]

Coming from a designer/artist:

If it looks so simple that you or your five year old could do it, why haven't you?

Yes, you can do pretty much anything on a computer. That doesn't mean there's time to do it or you have the budget to it.

Design is more than making things look good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:00 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

As a strategy consultant: Every problem can be solved. If it's too big, break it down into smaller pieces. If those pieces still are too big to solve, you haven't broken it down enough. Break them down some more.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:06 AM on July 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

criminal lawyer here:
Never underestimate how much harm one human can do to another, and harm they can do to their own lives in one drunken night

Truthful and reliable are not the same thing. People might be honest but it doesn't mean they are correct

Always be polite to court staff. At the very least they can ruin your day. At the very worst they can ruin your client's life.

And most importantly, if your lawyer tells you to reply 'no comment' to every question, don't answer 'no comment' to some and 'goddamn slut had it coming, y'hear?' to others.
posted by tim_in_oz at 5:07 AM on July 3, 2009 [18 favorites]

You know a solution is the right one when all the problems and constraints that popped up along the way suddenly slide into place and the outcome is elegantly simple.

Until then, keep working.
posted by mightshould at 5:21 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

Chronic homelessness is a mental health issue, not a lack of willingness to participate in the labor market. Coordinated acts of charity will not solve the problem, nor will homeless shelters. The problem will be solved through bundling intensive community mental health services with permanent housing.
posted by The Straightener at 5:23 AM on July 3, 2009 [91 favorites]

In science scientific method is only a backup system which gets used when discourse becomes too confused. Progress is made by constructing theories, experiments are only one tool in a toolbox when arguing others to accept a theory.

The crux in materialism/dualism discussion is that "matter" doesn't mean anymore what it once meant and any dualist that claims that matter lacks property X and thus a very different way of being is required, needs to explain why it has to lack that property. (It is not small billiard balls bouncing anymore, it is much more powerful and mysterious).

Human languages are very similar to each others and form only a small subset of possible languages. Those other possible languages cannot benefit from our hardware acceleration and are processed very differently. Word meaning is not part of language proper.
posted by Free word order! at 5:25 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yes, you should wash your fruit before you eat it.

No, it probably won't kill you if you eat one piece of unwashed fruit.
posted by veggieboy at 5:39 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

In the biosciences, grant money is awarded to projects that are essentially completed. Applying for a project that you aren't mostly done with will result in rejection.

Labs are well lit and messy. What you see on television is completely inaccurate.

Scientists are a cross section of the population - not all scientists are nerds.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:44 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Teaching is not just reading the teacher's book aloud. And no, actually: being able to speak a language doesn't mean you can teach it.
posted by mdonley at 5:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

You owe your boss(es) neither your loyalty nor your honesty, until you are compensated at the same level as they are.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:48 AM on July 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

"Wear your damn bike helmet."

Wear your bike helmet *correctly*, not on the back of your head, and buckle the goddamn strap. Otherwise, it's a fashion accessory.

This goes for a lot of things in life.
posted by notsnot at 6:01 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Handicap stalls and sinks in toilet rooms (in the US) are available for everyone to use. They are counted as part of the minimum required fixture count necessary to provide facilities for everyone. However, it's considerate/common sense to not use the handicap stall in case someone who cannot use a regular stall comes in.

Handicap parking spaces are available exclusively for those people who have the required handicap sticker/plate. Really - they are not available for "just a few minutes while I run inside/wait for someone"....
posted by mightshould at 6:14 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

not all scientists are nerds.

Not all scientists are even intelligent. Career advancement depends as much on networking as good science. (some people get by without the latter)
posted by Eumachia L F at 6:15 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Chances are, you're not allergic to wool. You may have sensitive skin and find most wools are scratchy, but it's probably not an allergy.
posted by MaritaCov at 6:35 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Going to go with what fraula said.
1. Very few people speak more than one language fluently unless they learned both before the age of five. Virtually no-one speaks a second language fluently if they learned the second one after the age of eighteen.
2. Computers are as reliable at translating standard texts (i.e. those not written especially for computers to translate) as they are at open heart surgery.
3. Contrary to what early machine translation experts thought, Chinese is not English written in Chinese code. It is an entirely different thought process.

And following on from what hal_c_on said, HR is not there to help you. They are there to help management. If you don't believe me, ask who pays them, you or management? But they are (usually) more likely to help you than management.

The purpose of most meetings is to establish pecking order. Particularly when more than one male is present at the meeting.
posted by TheRaven at 6:35 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Most experiments produce ambigous results.
posted by telstar at 6:36 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Being able to send someone fanmail does not give you the right to be a creepy stalker asshole. Don't write anything in a fanmail you wouldn't want someone writing to your parents or children.

There are very good reasons why people in the public eye don't give out their contact details willy-nilly. Trying to befriend their staff just for access to said details is utter uselessness.

Celebrities are people first and foremost, and would actually rather you treat them as regular people than as some sort of demi-god.

Burlesque isn't just "fancy stripping"; indeed it often doesn't even involve removal of any clothing, depending on which side of the Atlantic you're on.

Just because we strip on stage and show off our tassled boobs doesn't mean we'd be willing to let you watch us change clothes. Or have sex with you.

Performers can be totally different people onstage and offstage.

Reading about someone in the press does not equal having close personal knowledge with them or being their friend.

Not all creative people create on demand. This depends on the individual artist.

Just because I know my way around the Internet doesn't mean I'll be able to write a web app for you. Having one computer-related skill doesn't mean being competent in all computer-related skills.
posted by divabat at 6:38 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not all heart conditions can be traced back to diet and exercise. I don't care how much you work out and how low-fat your diet is, you're not going to fix that leaky valve without help.
posted by dogmom at 6:53 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Software enhancements that you may feel "ought to be an easy change" are often not.
posted by usonian at 6:54 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whatever it is that someone is trying very hard to convince you they are, they privately believe they aren't. Corollary: the most aggressive or strident people are really just afraid.

Hard-earned maturity usually disappears when someone is under stress.
posted by DrGail at 6:56 AM on July 3, 2009 [33 favorites]

From my time as a historian and manager of a historical society:

1. Whatever it is, it's not valuable and we probably don't want it. The chances what you have being valuable from a historical or economic standpoint are very close to nil.

(This one is a bit New England/Eastern Seaboard specific)
2: George Washington did not sleep in the old house you just bought. No, I don't care what the fucking realtor said. He didn't sleep there, quarter his troops there, or pass by and look at it funny.

And from a crap job at a hospital:
Maintaining the behind-the-scenes at your doctor's office is a relatively complex job. Showing up late throws everything off and is massively inconsiderate.

Also, learning Spanish is a fantastic idea, no matter where you are in the United States. If you live in a city, figure out what your number 3 language is, and pick up at least a phrasebook in it. Translators are worth their weight in gold. Treat them nicely.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:00 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

As an accountant: 90% of North Americans can and should do their own taxes. It is much easier than most people think, and the CRA and IRS support lines are very helpful. Paying someone $70 to file the simplest of tax forms is a huge waste.
posted by yawper at 7:07 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

From working in the collection department of a law firm:

- people who cosign a loan for a friend or a relative don't often grasp the implications. they get upset when the friend or relative flakes on the loan and we go after them. "It's *his* loan, why aren't you talking with *him*???" does not absolve you of the responsibility you undertook when you cosigned.
posted by Lucinda at 7:16 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The customer is not always right.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:16 AM on July 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

From the Army:

Hope is not a plan.

If you're standing in front of thirty guys trying to explain something,
one is not listening, and another is listening but will do his own thing. Scale as needed.

Ninety percent of the military is as enthusiastic and competent as the post office.

From diving:

Make sure everything is prepared and running before getting in the water.

Commercial diving is like plumbing, underwater. Not glamorous. But fun.

From picking trash out of the bayou:

Skoal cans and 40-ounce malt liquor bottles are equally represented there.

From journalism:

They said it. Now they regret it.

From all of the above:

Confidence does not equal competence, and vice versa.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:23 AM on July 3, 2009 [11 favorites]

Public Policy and Government:

The government does not "create jobs."

Again: The government does not "create jobs."

The President does not pass laws.

Members of Congress do not sign bills.


The public Web face of the government you see online is run by private-sector contractors. If you, as a librarian or financial aid administrator or the like, don't understand why [contractor name] hasn't done x with the site/provided y online content, it is because the contracting government agency restricts them from doing so, or because the private-sector content provider does not want their work on the government site. (*Librarians* get stymied by this one, and it just boggles my mind that they do.) (This of course implies that you librarians and administrators, etc., know the contracting company, as is often the case.) The government cannot just scoop up private intellectual property and put it on their Web sites.

The government runs on contractors who wear pleated khakis and polos at work, and take University of Phoenix classes at home. Most are not Web 2.0-savvy. "What is RSS?"


Something on the Internet is not automatically correct - not its veracity, nor the grammar and spelling, nor the is the original integrity of the photo/audio/video necessarily intact.

Something on the Internet is not, not, NOT automatically "for public use" or "in the public domain"!!! You cannot just use it yourself!!!

Reporters get edited; if they're poor writers (many are) they get heavily edited.

Often, editorial content is geared to the advertising. :::Surprise!:::

Just because you can use all of those fonts and attributes does not mean you should. In fact, you probably should not.


Sales staff in smaller stores are not helping you find something you'll be pleased with so that they can get a commission. They almost certainly are not getting a commission. I sure never got one, but I did love helping my customers find something.

Dry clean or at least Dryel the clothes you bring home from the store, based on the back rooms I've been in.
posted by jgirl at 7:25 AM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

My dad, a math professor, told me this before I went to college:
The easiest way to do well in school is to go to class and do the homework.

Also on college:
If you hand in plagiarized work, you will most likely get caught. I too can use the internet.

If you need more time to do your assignment, ask for it, you may get it. I'd rather not read something that is poorly researched and poorly written.

The easiest exams to grade are the 100% and the 0%.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:30 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Law: There are many interests which the laws and court decisions are protecting. Even though you are deserving of justice, a rule or law serving another, equally important interest of the justice system may prevent you from getting it.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:33 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Working for a large corporation:
Your manager may not have your best interests in mind. No matter what they said.
They may not have the company's best interests in mind. No matter what they said.
They will just as easily do something to save $5,000 in this month's budget and look really good in the books while it will cost the company $20,000 to recover next year.
posted by Drasher at 7:35 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

No man is an island.
posted by lullaby at 7:41 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Applied mathematician:

If a mathematical model has to be run on a supercomputer, that is because it had to be discretized, and then even if the math is right the answer will be wrong. The answer to "How wrong?" isn't always "It's off in the 15th decimal place", and too many people just try to avoid the question.
posted by roystgnr at 7:48 AM on July 3, 2009

Music educators aren't just musicians that couldn't hack it in the "real" world - well, not always. They trained in music and education, to teach your kids a little about something that is so important to the soul and mind that they devoted their career to it. Don't just assume they're idiots just because they teach.
posted by SNWidget at 8:09 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

No matter how large the font or how prominent the sign, people will find a way to not see it.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 8:39 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

Law: The law is complicated and frequently counter-intuitive, but most of the time it gets it right, particularly on those issues which are largely settled. If you think a particular law or procedure is arbitrary/confusing/unjust, you may be right, but you should always remember that there's a really good chance that it is there because the alternatives are all worse.

Yeah, there are controversies and unsettled issues on the fringes of the law, e.g. civil rights, and these wind up getting a lot of press. But that's because the vast majority of the law works really well and is thus largely ignored by the general public, e.g. the U.C.C. is really unsexy, precisely because it's spectacularly efficient.
posted by valkyryn at 8:42 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've worked retail, specialty items usually.

If it says, "Collector's Item" on the package... it isn't. If it is "Limited Edition" it should specify the qty it is limited to. Otherwise, the information is useless as essentially everything is limited edition.

If you "usually" get a deal from the person who "usually" serves you, do not bitch when you don't get a deal from a new or unfamiliar server. You look like an asshole. Instead, be grateful about all the money you've saved in the past and this time pay full price.

If you were a "regular customer" you would know what our policies are. And you wouldn't have to tell me you were a regular customer because if you were, I'd know who you are.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:45 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

From working in pharmaceuticals: contrary to popular belief, the FDA is actually not at all in the pocket of Big Pharma. In fact, Big Pharma is terrified of the FDA, because the FDA does. not. screw. around. when it comes to drug safety.
posted by feathermeat at 8:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

From a graphic designer to friends:

I don't mind making you a logo for your T-shirt or website, but please know that you're asking me to work for free and that it's awfully nice if you do me a favor in return or compensate me in some small way.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

As a computational linguist:

1. Pick two: cheap to build/maintain, open domain, accurate.
2. Nothing on the is secret and in fact anything you have ever posted online it is probably rattling around in several thesis projects right now.
3. Bad spelling and grammar are part of any language.
4. Human language remains a challenge for machines. Data extraction on anything other than a superficial level is still really hard.

Bonus grant evaluation advice:
If you are writing a grant proposal outside of your field of expertise and you don't really know what you are talking about you have two options:
1. Get some one who is an expert in that field to edit the grant.
2. Just stop writing and put everything the the trash can. You will save everyone a ton of time.
posted by Alison at 8:48 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Telling me "I need a web site" is not enough information for me to give you a cost estimate or an idea of how much work is involved.

If you're having trouble using a web site, it's likely due to bad design.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:52 AM on July 3, 2009

That stuff in plastic bags at the grocery store sold as bread is an chemically-enriched artificial food product almost certainly made using the Chorleywood Bread Process. Even the ones you feed to your children, the ones that look like wholesome whole wheat, that have 13 grains, all fake.

Real bread does not take 20 minutes. Nor does it use high-pressure ammonium chloride injections, genetically-modified oils, proteins, glutens, mold-inhibitors, Stearoyl-2-lactylate, diacetyl tartaric acid, and who knows what else.

Real bread is a slow food–it often takes 2 to 3 days–for natural yeasts and ferments to slowly leaven the dough into a real food that's sustained us for millennia.

Real bread looks like this, uses unbleached flour, water, yeast, and salt. It's made by real bakers with real bakeries and they work their asses off to make it for you every day.

Find it at your local artisan bread bakery and know that when you pay $4-7 dollars a loaf, you're getting a really great deal, especially with the price of flour these days.
posted by foooooogasm at 8:57 AM on July 3, 2009 [39 favorites]

Journalism tips: Don't become a reporter in order to "express yourself." Get to the point. Eliminate most adjectives.

To the subject of a story: No, I can't tell you when it will run/let you see it before it runs/send you a copy.
posted by lazydog at 8:58 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

(Mathematician) Don't be too amazed when something really improbable happens. Really improbable things happen a lot.
posted by escabeche at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

publication designer: never, ever underestimate the importance of the baseline grid.

reporting: take what you wrote, cut it in half. nobody wants to read 6 inches worth of background information on the business of herring importing.
posted by kerning at 9:08 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Technician: Tell me the symptoms of your problem not the "solution". If you tell me your machine needs a new hard drive I can replace it for you but that won't fix your flaky power supply. It willl however waste a lot of time while I drill down to the actual problem.
posted by Mitheral at 9:18 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another scientist here.

People who test on animals don't actually think that it's fun. And when we have to do surgery, yes the lab rats have full anesthesia, post-op painkillers etc. etc.
posted by gaspode at 9:18 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Political Scientist:

The data is clear, the world is happier, healthier, richer, and more peaceful than ever before in human history. You live in the best time for humankind, and things will only be better for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
posted by chrisalbon at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2009 [36 favorites]

From college

- You can't categorize people. Someone in your survey will have the characteristics of one group but think like another.

- Forcing people to have things in common is stupid. People don't live on the Math and Science floor of the dorms because they like math and science. They live there because it's the first floor and they don't want to carry their 27 inch TV up 2 or 3 flights of stairs. The sooner that's accepted the sooner everyone will be happy.

- If you need to take a class about how to handle yourself in college you don't need to be there.

- Learn to suck up the consequences. If you're late on an assignment and there's no warning you're not getting any special treatment. Likewise, if you're at the point where you can turn in a paper on time and get a 50 or turn it in late and get a 90 before the penalty, it's probably a good idea to turn it in late.

- Ask for things. The worst that can happen is they'll say no. But don't make ridiculous requests too often.

- Mommy might be paying the bills now, but make sure you have money left over when you're done.

From my time being a waiter

- Waiters works for tips. If your food sucks it's not their fault all the time. It's really not a good idea to get people mad at you when you're handling their food.

- Don't get into other people's business. For example, don't walk over to another server's table, notice that there's an issue with the milkshakes, and tell the people they'll get free milkshakes. You never know when it was part of the burger/shake combo and now they'll have to get the whole meal for free because you stuck your nose in someone else's business.

From my time being a photographer (newspaper and covering events for my school)

- Not all photography is the same. You might be able to set up a shot better than I can, but are you able and willing to sit there on your knees while multiple guys each weighing at least 50 pounds more than you are fighting for a ball a few feet away with nothing between you but an arbitrary line painted on the floor?

- Give people enough shots to make a choice but not so many as to overwhelm them. If you really like something then let the people in charge know. But in the end you're getting paid the same amount anyway.

- Don't hire someone to cover an event and then make it difficult for them to cover the event. Let them know when the photo opportunities will be starting somehow and make sure they can get where they need to be do get the shots. Not everyone has a long enough lens that lets in enough light to get a shot of a specific person from across a room essentially lit by candle light.

- At the same time, when you're being the photographer make sure you're not thrown into a situation like what I described above.

From working with preschoolers

- Little kid logic always makes sense. It might not be the way you think, but there is nothing illogical about it at all.

- There are always going to be some toys that are better than others, even when the toys are exactly the same.

- No blood no band-aid. Little kids use band-aids as stickers and they think they fix everything.

- Being consistent is the best way to train people. They'll do what you want when they know what to expect from you .

- The three most important skills when dealing with people are knowing when to leave them alone and fix their own problem, knowing when to get in their face and get mad at them, and knowing when to let them know that you really appreciate their behavior.
posted by theichibun at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2009 [11 favorites]

posted by him at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Science: I wish people understood the concept of uncertainty and how it crops up in daily life. Clinical tests especially seem to baffle and enrage people who expect a definitive answer from Science. Well, a huge part of science is dealing with uncertainty: there are always errors in measurement, which have nothing to do with incompetence but are fundamental to the way measurements are made.

So when your cholesterol/blood glucose/whatever test comes back saying X mg/dL, realize that there are implicit error bars around X, which really means that your result is X plus or minus Y mg/dL. (So if X = 10 and Y = 5, your actual level is somewhere between 5 and 15 mg/dL.) And furthermore, those error bars only encompass a confidence interval, usually around 90%, which really means that there is a 90% chance that your actual level is between 5 and 15, but there's a 10% chance that it's outside this range.

This is almost never explained to patients, who tend to believe that spiffy white lab coats and fancy machines full of blinkenlights will always produce God's Own Truth on the matter. If people understood more about how laboratory measurements are made, and the fundamental uncertainty involved, I think there would be more realistic expectations and less dogmatic attitudes among patients and doctors.

In addition, tests can and do give false positive and false negative results. This is inevitable, but the better the test, the lower the error rate.

I guess, overall, I wish people understood that Science does not give absolute answers. That's the domain of religion and perhaps certain areas of mathematics; empirical science deals with measurements that will always be uncertain, right down to the quantum level. Uncertainty is intrinsic to science, and part of becoming a scientist is growing comfortable with the idea that We Can Never Really Know For Absolutely Sure.
posted by Quietgal at 9:29 AM on July 3, 2009 [12 favorites]

From someone who's worked in an environmental lab:

Never, ever, ever trust a lab report from a single source.

Lab work is production work, it's done over and over and over again day after day by people that make $12/hr. They don't care. The last time they calibrated that pipette, who knows! That $500,000 chromotography machine running on Windows 95, last time it was calibrated? Calibrated? What's that?! Standard Operating Procedure manual, Last Updated Date, 1996.

And if you think you can't buy the results you need, you probably haven't tried.
posted by foooooogasm at 9:33 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Photographs aren't real.
posted by bradbane at 9:37 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Putting your company logo on all of your slides will not help your audience "remember who you are". It will, however, add clutter and reduce real estate on your slide, thus making it harder to achieve effective visual illustration of whatever-it-was you were trying to make a point about, and making your audience less likely to care "who you are" anyway.
posted by eleyna at 9:37 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

The problem is not that the professor doesn't "get" your writing style or message. The problem is your writing sucks.
posted by vincele at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

Babies are a lot smarter than you think. And avoid Baby Einstein and the like - they are no substitute for human interaction.

From academia in general, I've learned that having a good advisor can make a huge difference in your career. When you pick a grad school, make sure you have a backup in case your first advisor choice doesn't work out. And if you are unlucky enough to pick a bad one, remember not to be one yourself when you get the chance. Motivation through belittling and abuse just results in resentment and people talking shit about you to future prospective students.
posted by dropkick queen at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

From science:
- An experiment that fails to support its hypothesis does not DISPROVE the hypothesis.
- On the other hand, when there's an alternate hypothesis that has lots of supporting evidence, it makes logical sense to work with that one until something better comes along.

From being a conscientious consumer of media, and a math nerd:
- A person can imply almost anything they want to by choosing how they state their numbers. Was it "nearly 70%!" or "only 70%"? They can also accidentally misrepresent their information by not understanding how percentages work. A change from 25% to 30% is not a 5% change.

From programming:
- Just because I know how to write computer programs does not mean I know how to build you a computer from scratch. Conversely, that guy who built your computer in his basement can't necessarily build you a decent website or a customer database for your home business.
- If you, as a manager, push development of a new piece of software on an unrealistic schedule with an unrealistic feature set, please expect bugs. Please expect a lack of documentation. And please expect that when you later want to modify or augment the software, it's going to be 10 times harder and take 10 times longer because you didn't give your people enough time to build the foundation properly.

From nursing school:
- Exercise burns fewer calories than you think. Food has more calories than you think. Riding your bike to work is not going to compensate for donut breakfasts and fast food lunches.
- A person with the job title "Nurse" can have anything from a 2-year technical college degree to a doctorate. Don't assume you know anything about someone's educational background, intelligence, or ability to provide care just because they aren't an M.D.
- Bacteria really are everywhere, and washing your hands WITH SOAP really does help prevent the spread of disease. Even if you don't think your hands got dirty while you used the bathroom, it's an excellent time to wash off all the other germs you've been accumulating all day.
posted by vytae at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: This question is too ... something. It requires its own subsite.

I think some people have taken this as "What would I tell someone entering my field", which I think would be too broad for one question. That isn't really what I meant it to be. I was hoping for advice or counterintuitive facts that only a specialist would know, that would be interesting or useful for people in the general public. Anyway, thanks for all the great responses everyone.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:57 AM on July 3, 2009

If you had to get a protection from abuse order against your lover/spouse/whatever, getting back together with that person is a bad idea.

No, they have not changed. Yes, you will be back in a few months for another PFA.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 9:58 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

From someone who's worked on political campaigns and for advocacy organizations:

- If you want to change something in your community, it's probably more do-able than you think. There are probably other people who feel the same way. Find those people. Figure out who has the power to make that change, and make a plan to influence that person. Get lots of other people involved. The combination of a solid plan + getting other people involved is the key to making community change.

- Yes, you do have a right to not tell anyone who you plan to vote for. But that kid at your door also has the right to ask you who you plan to vote for. They are not infringing on your rights by asking you.

- Following on that, the best way to get rid of a political canvasser on the phone or at your door is to politely tell them that you don't talk about politics with strangers. If you simply say you don't know who you're voting for or that you're too busy to talk, they will come/call back again and again.

- Most nonprofits have high staff costs, because the work most nonprofits do is people-intensive. Don't just give to the organizations with the lowest staff costs. Give to the organization whose results you like the best.
posted by lunasol at 10:01 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


"A change from 25% to 30% is not a 5% change."

Can you elucidate this for a non math geek here?

posted by pakoothefakoo at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2009

pakoothefakoo, I could be wrong, but I think that a 25% to 30% change is a 20% increase, because the difference between 25% and 30% is equal to 20% of the original figure.
posted by SamuelBowman at 10:47 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

This question is too ... something. It requires its own subsite.

Actually, I wasn't intending to be negatively critical. There's just way too much good info in this thread (I love a good one-liner) and it was getting in the way of me getting to work ... speaking of which:

WRITER (the creative variety):

There's always a damned good reason NOT to write. Always. So what makes a Writer is not style, talent, insight, imagination, any of these things; a Writer makes the time, a Writer writes.
posted by philip-random at 10:49 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

I haven't been working long enough to pass on wisdom, but my mama the seasoned banker says:

Everyone should start saving for retirement from the day they start mowing lawns or scooping ice cream, no matter what.
posted by ashputtel at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Books are judged by their covers.

Many authors can't actually write a coherent sentence.

Just because an e-book doesn't exist as a physical product doesn't mean it didn't incur 90% of the exact same costs (overhead, editing, marketing, copyediting, typesetting, production supervision) as a physical book. The cost of a hardcover is only about $1.25. So, yeah, the e-book will cost about the same.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:00 AM on July 3, 2009

From programming, graduate school and corporate life in general:

Being smart helps, but if you really want to separate yourself from the rest of the pack you need initiative and follow-through. Especially follow-through.

Most programmers suck, and not that many people have the patience to become a programmer in the first place. If you employ someone that is in that small group that doesn't suck, try to keep them happy.

If you think you have the patience and opportunity to become a good programmer, you really do not need to worry about your job being outsourced. Really.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:17 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

From Volunteering:

Don't expect thankyous.
Don't expect recognition.
Don't expect to change the world.
Don't expect people to give a crap that you have volunteered.

Expect complaints.
Expect unsolicited advice.
Expect to spend time, sweat, and monetary cost.

Expect nothing in return other than maybe feeling good about yourself (and that's the payoff).
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:18 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Retail management:

- Your attitude determines the scope of options we're willing to afford you.

Personal training:

- If you still need us to get you through a workout after 3-4 sessions, either the trainer is doing it wrong, or you're doing it wrong.

Band manager:

- If you come to our shows and enjoy what you see, please at least donate gas money.


- Get as much emotion out as you can when tragedy strikes, it'll benefit in the long run.


- When using coupons or receiving complementary items, please remember to tip out on the service rendered, not the bill total.

Movie theater business:

- Movie popcorn is one of the most toxic things you can put in your body.

Smoothie business:

- There's plenty of added sugar and chemicals. Don't be fooled into thinking it's all-natural.

Overall health:

- You save money in the long run by spending a little extra to get the organic stuff over the taxing nature and medical costs of putting crap into your body.

Social psychology:

- Manipulation is inherently neutral.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 11:26 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a mature student.

I know you are 18 years old and partying is the best thing. But if you don't show up to the lectures you won't know what you need to study and you won't get a good mark.

As a seasoned world traveller.

Most people you meet are honest genuine people who deserve your friendship. Other people are travelling because they are poisonous scum who have been driven out of their own country.

As Technical Support.

turn it off and on again, then call back if it still doesn't work.

As Retail.

I enjoy helping you. But I don't enjoy my job so don't push it lady.
posted by gergtreble at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the wipes. Ever. They clean the dirty table, the poopy butt, the snotty nose, the sticky hands, the stained shirt, the sweaty pits, the muddy shoes. They will make your life easier and make you a hero to others. The wipes are the Great Good Thing. Everywhere, all the time--bring the wipes.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:51 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

As a behavioral therapist: setting and sticking to limits for your child is only helping them in the long run, no matter how guilty you feel about denying them the right to eat gravel.
posted by corey flood at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'm a neurobiology student.

Things that my fellow members of the scientific community have not touched on yet:

Science requires facility with concepts from the concrete to the abstract. It requires good critical thinking - I have told my advisors, several times, that it should be REQUIRED for us to take an informal logic and formal logic class in order to learn to construct arguments and to make sure as many people as possible avoid common logical fallacies and that we know how to ARGUE against people who fling them at us.

Also, science is done by us humans. There's a lot we don't know shit about. If we don't know much about it, the slobbering masses are going to know even less. It helps reinforce, in a lot of ways, that we are utterly insignificant bags of flesh in the scheme of things. We are run by brains about which we are finding new things every day (c.f. schizophrenia's control by thousands of genes), we are in a universe which is so big most humans who don't have the proper training literally cannot comprehend it and those of us who do have the proper training have to look at it in pieces, in a way, we are made up of tiny little particles which do the most amazing things, and, well, we are but motes of crap in a giant wonderful universe. And it's great.

Also, in response to the PETArds, no, we do not necessarily get our rocks off from dissecting laboratory animals bred for the purpose. As said before, there are stringent protocols set by government regulatory agencies, who give us the money we need to do our experiments, and these animals are usually treated pretty well (and when they're not, those around them get angry). Biological systems do not exist in isolation, and to study one system, you need the whole organism.
posted by kldickson at 12:20 PM on July 3, 2009

My answers, as an attorney --

-- Litigation is probably not the answer to your problem.

-- When you need a lawyer, looking for a bargain on legal fees is a terrible idea. You should be happy to pay high fees to get the services of a good lawyer, because those higher fees will be worth it in many ways.

-- Unless you are a practicing attorney, you should accept that you know nothing about the law and you shouldn't offer anyone advice about the law, because you're almost certainly wrong.
posted by jayder at 12:29 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

As a writer:

Most adjectives and adverbs are superfluous, but not all.

99% of the time, "said" is the best verb for dialogue.

When explaining something complicated, imagine you're talking to a 7th grader.

When in doubt, read it out loud. Does it sound weird? Probably needs work.

As a freelancer:

Never forget your time is worth money. Most other people will. Freedom has a flip side.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:30 PM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Recreational drug and alcohol use is a complex issue, and the public and governmental attitude towards drug use is not reality-based. Recreational drugs vary widely in terms of safety and addiction potential; similarly, the same drug can have vastly different effects on different people. The illegality of most recreational drugs means that a lot of the available information is highly biased and often stone-cold wrong. Do your own research using reputable sources; D.A.R.E., television commercials, your stoner buddies, and your dealer are not reputable sources.

Drug addiction not a moral failing; conquering it is not a matter of "just stopping." Kicking a drug addiction is harder than you can probably imagine. Many drug addicts started using when they were preteens or younger; their parents used, their friends used, and they were too young to know what they were getting themselves into. For decades, their lives have revolved around their drug use. It's all they know. Getting clean involves far more than just quitting the drug; they have to rebuild their lives from scratch, having never developed the skills required to do so, while suffering from the cognitive ramifications (i.e. brain damage) and physical effects of abusing a drug for years upon years. Also, depending on the drug, if they just stop taking it they might get extremely sick or even die. Also, they often have no money and nowhere to go. Also, they're human beings, and they're suffering.
posted by granted at 1:02 PM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

A tip is a service charge you pay for the convenience of sitting down in a restaurant and having someone take your order, answer your questions, bring you your food, and dote on you. If you don't want to pay a tip, order take-out.
posted by granted at 1:04 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Raising children can be very, very, difficult.

There should be affordable, quality childcare options for all parents.

Even stay-at-home parents need help--a lot of help.
posted by kathrineg at 1:23 PM on July 3, 2009

Make sure you have more than one version of your child's favorite toy and switch them out regularly so they both smell equally funky.
posted by kathrineg at 1:24 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


My abilities to operate in a professional manner, get along well with clients and subjects, show respect for other people's time, be flexible, and be fanatically punctual far outweigh my creativity.

My thorough understanding of the capabilities of the specific equipment that I use daily is a greater asset than having the ultimate pieces of equipment to shoot any given picture.

Out of the tens of thousands of photographs that I take each year, I shoot less than one hundred that I really love. My clients love way more than that, and that's why I'm still able to be in the business.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:05 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Retail electronics: yup, they hire 18 year olds who don't know what a USB port is to sell computers. Be wary.

Retail electronics (different chain, a half dozen years later): Young women do work at electronics stores and, in fact, may know enough to be the manager of said store! Don't blow me off just because I happen to sport boobs.

Paper pusher: Don't be uppity to the admin staff. We're the people who bail your ass out, repeatedly. We can also make you look really bad. Oh and by the way, I've had as much college as you and we're the same age. You're not a special snowflake because you're the "professional." I'm just in the wrong industry temporarily. :) And if I didn't hate numbers I would be a better accountant than you'd dream of being you snotty little brat.
posted by CwgrlUp at 2:48 PM on July 3, 2009

Yes, your landlord does need the rent on the first of the month. He has a mortgage.

No, you probably shouldn't flush that down the toilet.

Yes, your cigarette smoke, pet hair, and pet yecch will be noticeable after you move out.
posted by dhartung at 2:56 PM on July 3, 2009

Having trouble finding this old website, but there used to be a collection of these "Tricks of the Trade" collected by Matthew Baldwin (over five years ago), who writes for Here's an example:

Technical Support:

When helping someone fix their computer over the phone, and you want them to see if all the cables are plugged in correctly, don’t ask, “Have you checked to see if the cable is plugged in?” because the customer will always say, “Of course I did, do you think I’m a moron?” Instead say, “Remove the cable, blow the dust out of the connector, and plug it back in.” The customer will most likely reply, “Hey, it’s working now—I guess that dust really builds up in there!”
posted by belau at 3:07 PM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Just because a measure is touted as being the best predictor of an outcome, doesn't make it a good predictor of that outcome. Example from my current field: while students with low SAT scores do worse on average in a statistically significant sense, there are plenty of them who still get excellent grades. Conversely, a good number of students with exceptional scores get awful grades.

Corollary: mean scores are meaningless. Learn how to read a histogram and a box-and-whisker plot.
posted by McBearclaw at 3:08 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Firefighter: people do not wake up from the smell of smoke, people wake up when they hear their smoke detector.
posted by tr0ubley at 3:08 PM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Wildlife biologist: Buying a fishing or hunting license is one of the most cost effective things you can do to support wildlife conservation. By law, all of that money goes directly into wildlife management and research, most of it in your own state.
posted by tr0ubley at 3:21 PM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Investment management: The vast majority of investment firms do not have your best interests in mind. Just pick Vanguard.
posted by milkrate at 3:38 PM on July 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

From college (poli.sci. with an interest in history):

Be more grateful for every day you wake up in the first world (if, in fact, you are waking up in the first world).

Sure, life gets a little shitty from time to time, and your problems sure seem to swallow all your attention. Yeah, maybe you don't like taxes or you don't like policemen or you don't like government... but around you are years upon years of solid infrastructure (unless you're in Italy, semi-kidding). Has anyone ever hacked YOU with a machete because you were voting/a woman/tribe x/religion y? I doubt it.
posted by the NATURAL at 3:40 PM on July 3, 2009 [11 favorites]

It is paleontologists, not archaeologists, that dig up dinosaurs.

Despite all the plots of B movies everywhere, humans ("Cave men") and dinosaurs did not coexist.

Evolutionary theory does not say that humans evolved from modern apes or monkeys, but rather that humans and modern apes shared a common ancestor, a species that no longer exists.
posted by gudrun at 4:15 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Most people that want to have a meeting just want to justify their salaries.

Your screenplay is terrible.

Your story idea has been done before a thousand times and it's terrible.

It's NEVER that we don't get it. It's always that you are bad at your job and not as clever as you thought. (FYI: We are probably MUCH smarter than you, plus we actually spend 60 hours a week, every week, thinking about this stuff.)

Rewriting something is not the same thing as proofreading it.

If you don't proofread your screenplay, you are sending me the message that it is not interesting enough even for you to read it yourself.

The Hollywood System makes the best movies in the world. There are no undiscovered geniuses.
posted by paperzach at 5:59 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

It is paleontologists, not archaeologists, that dig up dinosaurs.
Amen, gudrun. And yes, I've found stuff. Loads of stuff, none of it interesting to the casual observer.
posted by Eumachia L F at 6:05 PM on July 3, 2009

IT: You shouldn't piss off the people who will be preparing your food, and you should NEVER piss off a guy with administrator access.

Author: The fact that you love to read and want to write doesn't qualify you to be an author. Published authors and good professional writers are people who can spend nearly every waking moment thinking about rarely-used words, semantic gotchas, advanced sentence structures, the unfathomable beauty of moving an obscure comma, etc. I'm talking people who will have a conversation with you and suddenly 'zone out' for 30 straight minutes just pondering a structural ambiguity in a sign they read on the bus that day. Good authors are language geeks beyond what most people can even imagine. If you're not, then you need to stop deluding yourself about that great novel you'll write some day.

Business / Management: Be friendly and respectful to everyone. You never know when some kinda-annoying soccer dad will turn out to be the CFO of a company you would kill to do business with, or when some young cab driver / receptionist / assistant / bike messenger will happen to be better connected and more intelligent than you are. Treat everyone you meet like an old friend / a new client / the most important person in the world, and you'll see how often strangers are carrying gold mines.

Also: The smartest person in the company rarely sits in the boardroom.

Web design: When contracting a web designer, if you spend a few hours beforehand making screenshots of sites you like, jotting down ideas for features, and SPECIFYING THE SITE STRUCTURE (ie. making an outline of what content will actually go on the site), you will be a million times better prepared for the initial meeting, you will have made the designer's job a million times easier, AND you'll be treated 1000% better than any other client because of it.

Media: if your professional web site doesn't offer a minimal press kit (contact info, short copy about who you are and what you do, a few quotes maybe, and HIGH RES images of your CEO, your logos, your main products, and perhaps your offices), you're probably going to lose 80% of the free publicity you could have gotten otherwise. If you do have a press kit, do NOT require reporters to register, email or call your communications officer to get access to it. Reporters have tight deadlines, bad caffeine addictions and tend to work at 2:00 AM when your office is closed. If they can't get a product image *NOW*, they most likely won't run the story. Well, they might, but it will be half as long at best, and moved to a spot where noone will notice because there are no visuals.

If you want to use something you found online, like an article or an image or even a piece of music, and the creator's email address is listed, it's perfectly legitimate to contact them and ask them politely if you can use it for free. Tell them what it's for, and in most cases they will be more than helpful.

"You owe your boss(es) neither your loyalty nor your honesty, until you are compensated at the same level as they are."
posted by JensR at 6:26 PM on July 3, 2009 [12 favorites]

What have you learned through your career, major, or specialization that you wish the general public knew?

As an activist organizer:

Unless you've tried organizing for a cause, sniggering at the tactics of a group trying to achieve something is counterproductive. It displays your ignorance of working together in groups and with the media rather and your willingness to laugh at the mistakes of others. Unless you have a constructive alternative, you don't have anything new to add. Unless you're willing to go out on a limb yourself to start a new campaign or join an existing one, you have little practicable knowledge of “changing the way things are.”

Politics is personal and a result of a person's lived experiences. All reasoning is based on feeling.

If you ever want to become an activist #1: identify the issue you want to work on and work on it. Don't mistake secondary goals for actual goals. If you want to feed the homeless, getting as many people on board as possible to help you feed the homeless isn't the goal, raising money to feed the homeless isn't the goal, feeding the homeless is.

If you ever want to become an activist #2: Not everyone who works on your goals feel as strongly about it as you do, and many are there for purely self-interested reasons, such as looking good on their college applications. It's not necessarily something you have to resent, but it's something you should be aware of.

Corollary to #2: Many activists and nonprofit workers have a “save the world” complex and a desire to be admired. Many of us won't admit to it. As counterintuitive as it seems, a good activist to work with is one who has a good sense of what they personally want to get out of their work. An activist who can only claim that “they want to help others” is one who will burn out quickly.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 7:14 PM on July 3, 2009 [13 favorites]

I'm a professional performer. I wish people realized that when they speak to a group, they often sound either confrontational or robotic. Anyone doing public speaking should generally imagine they are speaking to a single person that they like and admire, who happens to be standing all over the room. I hate it when people speak to groups in hostile, bossy tones (YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE, etc), as though they expect the crowd to leap at and dismember them. But! If you imagine that you're speaking to a specific person whom you like & admire, your tone will be much more pleasant, and your talk will be better received.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:46 PM on July 3, 2009 [40 favorites]

One more: Your favourite TV or radio presenter almost certainly doesn't write most of what you hear them say. That doesn't mean they don't know how, or that they're not brilliant in their own right. It just means producing an hour of radio or TV is a hell of a lot of work and one person can't do it alone: they need a production team behind them. It also means that if a presenter says something you don't like, your angry letters should be addressed to the show's producer, not to the talking head themselves.
posted by embrangled at 9:06 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never ask anyone if they have killed someone.
posted by Horatius at 10:05 PM on July 3, 2009 [16 favorites]


Your child doesn't need you to be their friend. They need you to set boundaries and teach them how to function in the world at large. Your children are needy for your guidance and the love you show them through strong leadership and good example, not for the latest and greatest toy or video game. I will pick up your slack, facing the ever increasing need to do so, and I will lose sleep over it many nights, but if you work with me, instead of against me, things might go more smoothly, and your child might get what they need.
posted by lemonwheel at 10:29 PM on July 3, 2009 [13 favorites]

Clinical Research:
-Doctors doing research are not bad people out to control participants in the study. There might be a few bad eggs, but you can find those online so you know who/where to avoid.
-Read and, more importantly, UNDERSTAND the Informed Consent Form. It's not just a legal document, it's an ethical one as well.
-My job, as Study Coordinator, is to make sure that each participant is respected, not unduly harmed, and is fairly treated. I take those responsibilities very seriously, and follow all the regulations and guidelines that my local institution, federal government, and international community have come up with. And there are a lot of them. There are multiple levels of protection for research participants, including the nursing staff, Human Subjects Boards, all the way up to the NIH and FDA, and the bottom line for all of us is patient safety.
-All research on human subjects is voluntary. You really can leave at any time. The research staff is required to tell you what the consequences will be if you do leave the study, but you cannot be refused treatment if you refuse the study.
posted by sarahnade at 11:09 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm a geologist working in a gold mine. One thing that I didn't know (or even bothing thinking about at all) until recently was that every single piece of metal you use, apart from anything recycled, has come out of a mine. Everything was dug up in huge pits or extended underground tunnels, using big machines and people working nights and, unfortunately, people dying and being severely injured. Some of these mines have either been careless or unfortunate and had terrible effects on the environment. Some are doing all they can to reduce their impact while they mine the materials you are using.

I wish more environmentalists (and I count myself among them) focused on working with the mining industry to improve practices, rather than against it as a homogenous evil pollution factory that no-one needs.
posted by twirlypen at 12:40 AM on July 4, 2009 [14 favorites]

Skipping the hearing protection while shooting guns, attending loud concerts, etc. is not manly.

Look things up on quackwatch before buying in (or opting out) of something health-related.
posted by kmel at 7:26 AM on July 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Behavioural economics does not explain irrational behaviour, it describes systematic cases of it. The only improvement that we have made is that we now have a better understanding of just how much we don't understand.
posted by munchbunch at 9:12 AM on July 4, 2009

Never write your "objective" on a resume. Your objective should be to get a job; beyond that your potential employer doesn't care (and will most likely find it enormously irritating).

For interviewing I have thousands of tips, but the most important is to practice "mirroring".
posted by ohyouknow at 9:26 AM on July 4, 2009 [10 favorites]

As a shelter worker:

Life doesn't always give you closure, and sometimes you just have to live with it.

Just because you don't like the answer, doesn't mean the answer is wrong.

People will break your heart, in bad ways and in good.
posted by ElaineMc at 9:34 AM on July 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

As a door-to-door political canvasser: Please answer the door with all of your clothes on. And perhaps consider whether a knock on your front door is important enough to interrupt whatever activities caused your nudity in the first place.
posted by cheerwine at 11:15 AM on July 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Biochemistry degree: what the word energy actually means, and what it does not.
Also chemical.

HS math teacher: How multiplication and division work, to include fractions and percents. Did you hate that part of school? You have no idea how much important stuff is going over your head as a result.
posted by molybdenumblue at 12:58 PM on July 4, 2009

cheerwine writes "perhaps consider whether a knock on your front door is important enough to interrupt whatever activities caused your nudity in the first place."

And vice versa.
posted by Mitheral at 1:32 PM on July 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

City planner:
- Taller buildings, with less parking, and with more houses and apartments nearby, are what it takes to have those cute main streets with a coffee shop that you can walk to. If you really want a main street, support the construction of four-story buildings.
- You don't actually have control over what happens on neighboring properties, and if you try to, you'll make life miserable for some enterprising 25-year-old who is doing everything they can to start a business or afford to build their home. So, say you definitely want south-facing solar access. Buy on the north side of the street. You can assume the street will stay clear, but don't assume that your back yard will never be shaded by that property to your south.
- Traffic will always get worse, and street parking will always get harder to find. If you make your peace with those facts now, and live in such a way that they won't really matter to you, you will be more relaxed even as things change in your neighborhood, and you'll be able to appreciate the good parts about those changes.
posted by salvia at 8:39 PM on July 4, 2009 [11 favorites]

The automated speech recognition system you are talking to over the phone will have worked out what it thinks you have said (and hence what it thinks it should do about it next) before you have finished speaking. However the designers put in a delay of couple of seconds or so of "thinking time" before making a response so you are not freaked out.
posted by rongorongo at 6:17 AM on July 5, 2009 [16 favorites]

The person who is shouting the loudest isn't necessarily the one most in need of your help.

If you can't get someone off the other end of the phone, stand up.
posted by Helga-woo at 7:27 AM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Regulatory attorney:

Designing your insurance product in order to be nominally compliant while in essence trying to subvert the law and screw your employees will usually end badly.

Most benefits/insurance law violations will go unchecked until a big claim hits.
posted by Pax at 7:48 AM on July 5, 2009

You can't teach a kid or their parent(s) a damn thing about mental health or problem solving if they're decompensating/hysterical/riled up. Let it go for the time being and come back to it later.
posted by ShadePlant at 7:52 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's okay to throw away those National Geographics.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2009 [10 favorites]

Emphasizing simplicity and usability, even if it means more work in the short term, will almost always pay off rewards in the long term.
posted by seppyk at 1:03 PM on July 5, 2009

- It's a lot harder to be an effective executive/manager/leader than it looks.
- Authority does not equal execution. Just because a CEO (or General, or President, or parent of a five year old) says something, doesn't mean it will get done.
- Severe organizational problems are usually top-down.
- Not all organizational problems are severe. Sometimes they're even deliberate, or at least there has been a decision not to address them.
- You don't need to be as knowledgeable as your sharpest employees are in their specialties (engineering, finance, ...). You do need to be willing to listen, able to learn, and able to discern BS.
- Don't spend half an hour putting something in email when a five minute phone call or in-person conversation will suffice. Keep meetings brief and focused.
- "Mutually beneficial" is a great phrase to use when evaluating your job. If you're not doing anything for the company or the company is not doing anything for you, it's time to move on.
posted by txvtchick at 2:34 PM on July 5, 2009 [9 favorites]

- Science is not just about the discovery of truth. It is also about politics, money, and ego.
- No single result should be considered beyond skepticism, regardless of the source. No five results should either, but it's a good start.
- As a general rule, don't believe anything science-related you read in a newspaper.
- Cutting-edge science involves far more failures than successes.
- Biological research is really, really, absurdly expensive.
- Nonprofit research scientists earn far less money than you might expect.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:59 PM on July 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


That book you hid/stole/lost because you don't want it on the shelves? We have a set budget. Before we buy a new book (perhaps even that book you are angry we don't stock because it is the perfect foil to the book you chose to remove from our shelves) we will replace the books we've lost. That means less money for new books.

Magazine Publishing:

Magazine articles are just a way to fill the space between the advertisements.
posted by Windigo at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Park Ranger:

No matter how stupid or dangerous the action, someone, at some point, will do it. Even if there are fences and warning signs, no matter how high the cliff or dangerous the animal or scalding the water.

Most people just want to know where the bathroom is.


Some people appreciate your improving their prose. A few consider it up there with smacking their kids. Others don't even notice.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

As an artist:

Yes, anyone can create art. No, it's not all going to be good art.
How will you know the difference? As Vonnegut simply put it: "Look at 10,000 paintings and then you will never fail to see the difference."
Yes, I have a full time job not being an artist, most of us do.

As a low-level university administrator:

I know this bureaucracy is large and confusing and full of paperwork, but I will try to help you if only you ask me nicely. Yes, I know this is rare, but I will not run down my coworkers in front of you.
Yelling does not make me more likely to help you. Your parents have no sway over me, and legally, I can't talk to them anyway. Having your parents yell at me is an instant fail.
Deadlines are the first test of your college career, miss them and you fail, instantly.
Some things I really have no control over. Trust me when I say that "I'm sorry, but I can't help you with this," that I really mean it.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:19 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a civil engineer,

When they say a landfill is designed to last forever, make sure to laugh in their face. It’s a gigantic bathtub with a lining that is just waiting to burst with all its fun juices into the soil.
posted by Groovytimes at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Use your checklists. Visually check the inside of the fuel tank for fuel before you take off. Do it a second time. In the air, your first priority is to keep the shiny side up; don't let distractions get in the way (this includes responding to radio calls - you can tell a student pilot was the pilot in a crash if his right hand is clutching the microphone).

Pilot Error will apply to you, I don't care if you fly for United and have 10,000 hours under your belt. Do Not fly single-pilot IFR unless you have an autopilot, and obey the minimums. There's no shame in getting a refresher flight with an instructor if you haven't flown in a while.

(That should keep you alive long enough to tell a good story.)

Working around airplanes:

Ground the fuel truck to the airplane. The truck is bigger than your Civic, watch out for wingtips. Don't walk into the rotor disk when the engine is still running, the only thing holding the rotor still is a handbrake in the cockpit. The most belligerent renter pilots are also most likely to cause large amounts of damage to your fleet.


You cannot bend physics to your will, no matter how much you get paid. Testing is expensive, but not testing usually ends up being more expensive. Keep the data handy to back up your opinions.

When presenting to managers, executives, Luddites, etc., they will invariably ask for every last equation and scrap of data that you used in your method, whether they understand any of it or not.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:30 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Neither cell phones nor microwave ovens will give you cancer. Learn how they work and you'll understand why. I'm amazed and slightly horrified at how many doctors don't know this, and go on giving their patients false information.

Genetically modified foods are not horrible monstrosities that will escape their handlers' grasps and maybe also give you cancer. Regardless of how you feel about megacorporations' profit motives, the actual science is done by legitimate researchers who devote years of their lives to working on slightly adjusting a single enzyme. They're not just throwing stuff into a test tube and seeing what comes out.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:15 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you get low marks in an exam/assessment, it is probably because you either didn't answer the question or wrote something that was vague and rambling. It is very rarely because you wrote something that was coherent but wrong.
posted by Jabberwocky at 2:23 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nonprofit Fundraiser:

I wish people knew two sides of the same coin: how to ask for assistance and how to decline that request - politely.

First, I wish people knew how to ask for something properly. Ask for assistance with the mindset that you are offering the person the opportunity to help your cause, and allow that the person may accept or decline your offer for myriad reasons. Never answer the question on behalf of the other person, whether mentally ("Oh this is too great an undertaking for this person, I shouldn't ask") or in the phrasing of your question ("I know this is a lot to ask, but..."). Be knowledgeable and be ready to answer questions - your target has a right, and often a responsibility, to ask them.

Second, I wish people knew how to say no graciously and politely. You lose nothing in being friendly, even when you are declining to assist someone seeking your help. "I'm sorry, I'm not able to help you" makes the world a better place than slamming the phone or door on someone mid-sentence. Avoid becoming hostile by having a firm but polite response ready which leaves no wiggle room for misinterpretation. Eg. "I'm sorry, but I wont be able to help. I wish you luck."
posted by greekphilosophy at 5:49 PM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Presenting: if you are reading from a Powerpoint slide, your audience is bored.
posted by Paragon at 7:38 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

The number one goal of all nonprofits is to keep its employees employed and itself running. This often is a direct conflict of interest in actually helping the people/element it is purporting to help.

Not that there aren't sincere people involved in nonprofits, there are. But the further you go to the top and the more hoops the object of charity has to go through to receive support, the more the nonprofit works for itself and not the object it purports to serve.
posted by Bueller at 10:13 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

As a billing supervisor:

When my company sends your company a bill for services, be sure to check it over. We make mistakes.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:49 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Peak oil Activist, Anarchist, Ecologist, Historian:

The data is clear, the world is happier, healthier, richer, and more peaceful than ever before in human history. You live in the best time for humankind, and things will only be better for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

That this sort of progress is a myth. That the direction of history is not linear. (And the same goes for evolution.) That an argument for progress is usually a cover for some other more demented agenda. That you must follow your bliss. That it is worth fighting back for what you need. That you must never ever give up but continually reexamine your approach. That though good may ultimately triumph over evil it does not win every battle.
posted by symbollocks at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

That our culture has never stopped killing indigenous people, there just aren't that many left.
posted by symbollocks at 12:14 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Most homes, and bedrooms specifically, are not designed for easy access to, and removal of, deceased persons in a dignified manner.
posted by ericales at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Never expect a reporter to get it exactly right. Be extremely careful in what you say if this matters to you.
posted by idb at 4:30 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Be nice. It is shocking how far simple courtesy can take you. Many of my clients have remarked how great it is to work with someone who doesn't throw a tantrum when faced with difficult circumstances. If things all go to hell, stay cool, even if it was their fault and even if they were being assholes. Getting overly emotional about things doesn't solve the problem anyway. Often people will come to their senses later, and they will appreciate your professionalism in hindsight.
posted by emeiji at 5:31 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

That too many managers subscribe to the Kirk theory of leadership / time management: Regardless of the time a subordinate says will be needed to fix a problem, they can actually fix it in half that or less, if ordered to in an commanding voice. Example: Scotty: "I'll need at least twenty minutes to repair the warp drive, Captain!" Captain Kirk: "You've got exactly ten!". Many apply the same principle to budget approval.

Public speaking / presenting:
Powerpoint is not your friend. Spend a few hours checking out the most viewed / top rated slideshows on (I recommend specifically the one named "Shift Happens"), and you will want to redo every .ppt you've ever created. Do not resist that instinct.
posted by JensR at 7:05 PM on July 7, 2009 [24 favorites]

Short and sweet? As a marine biologist, I've learned that what's really important in life is doing what you love. Money can't buy happiness.
posted by WhySharksMatter at 7:58 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

- As a biz dev'er:
Two important concepts: Seven degrees of seperation and you've got nothing to loose by asking anyways.

- As a biz dev'er working for a public affairs agency:
Democracy is the right to both vote and to petition government. Thousands are fighting for 5 minutes of your representative's time. If you've got an issue, use your right to petition. It's both much more easier and thrilling than you can ever imagine.
posted by ruelle at 9:31 AM on July 8, 2009

Academic advisor:

--In most cases, it doesn't make any difference what you major in. Roughly three-quarters of people end up working in fields that have little or no relation to their undergrad majors. Choose a major you love: you will learn more, achieve more, and have a much better time.

--Even the most bureaucratic college or university is, like any other bureaucracy, made of people. What might seem monolithic from the outside actually has a good deal of permeability and flex. Almost anything is petitionable, if you have a rational case.

--It is an excellent idea to be polite and respectful to everyone, but it is essential to be polite and respectful to departmental secretaries, Financial Aid staff, and the people in Registration and Records. They are the ones with the power to make your life hell.
posted by Kat Allison at 9:48 AM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

Be nice to any person you interact with who is performing a service for a paycheck. Not only is it just common decency, keeps the wheels of society well greased, and brightens someone's day --- but even the lowliest student worker at a library help desk, goofy teen at fast food restaurant, or bored paper pusher at your local _____ branch can often totally thwart your desires if they want to based on perceived jerkness on your part.
posted by diocletian at 10:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

argh.... in other words, pretty much just what Kat Allison said.
posted by diocletian at 11:47 PM on July 8, 2009

Good manners, if used to express respect and consideration, work surprisingly well surprisingly often.
posted by Iridic at 10:53 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

... that people (in pain &/or mental dysfunction) tend to bring those around them to their level of pain and/or dysfunction. (About 81% of the population has some emotional impairment - the Manhattan Midtown Survey... if you have wondered why Winning Friends, etc. does not work, that is why.)
posted by vvurdsmyth at 5:09 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I once summed up my master's degree (Anthropology and International Development Studies) thusly:

When you privatize essential services, people die.

Here are 5 things I wish everyone knew about Africa:

1) Africa is filled with hardworking, creative, intelligent people who are working on defining and solving their problems, and also who are living very recognizable lives (work hard, love your family, want some nice things).

2) The effects of colonialism were very large and, yes, they are still relevant.

3) A lot of the militarism and democratic problems of Africa stem at least partially from the fact that the "Cold" war was fought in several African nations (the First and Second World fought their battles in the Third World, which is where the term "Third World" comes from).

4) International policies such as Structural Adjustment Programs and western national ones such as farm subsidies have a lot to do with why African nations are still poor.

5) "Development" is an industry with poorly defined goals and processes. It is many things, but most importantly, it creates considerable benefit for the developed world in terms of creating markets and jobs, and it does not have any likelihood of creating long-term, broad-scale improvements to quality of life or of alleviating poverty in its target countries.
posted by carmen at 8:14 AM on July 12, 2009 [23 favorites]

Research scientist:
--Begin with a question.
--Leave a week between finishing a manuscript and submitting it to a journal, and read it through before doing so.
--If a reviewer doesn't like your work, or doesn't "get it" it's because you haven't explained it well enough.

Essay/exam marker:
--It doesn't matter what you know if you can't communicate it coherently.

--Never dive with more than one piece of new equipment at a time.
--Don't dive with new equipment on a dive that involves mandatory decompression.
posted by jonesor at 12:05 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. I didn't want to have to pick, but I'm marking one as "best" so the question will show up as answered.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:34 AM on August 5, 2009

Seconding carmen. Approach all development projects/work/workers with a beady eye. Be extremely wary of "client/beneficiary case studies" as indicators of development outcomes
posted by epiphinite at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2009

Law: when you're filing briefs, pay attention to your tone. Under no circumstances insult the trial judge or opposing counsel. Triple-check your cites. Do not use rhetorical questions.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:42 PM on January 21, 2010

As a software developer…
  • If your users can't figure something out, that's your fuck-up. Not theirs.
  • A professional is someone that always has a backup plan.
As a waiter…
  • You cannot over tip.No. You can't. Not ever. There will never be a time when a waiter would appreciate you giving them less gratuity. Banish even the concept of the term over-tipping. It is an impossibility.
As a traveller…
  • Every extra thing you pack is something you will have to carry. When you are tired. When it is raining. When you can't get a cab and have to run up cobblestone streets to try and catch the next train that leaves in 5 minutes.
  • Corollary: Incredibly useful gear that takes up almost no space:
    • Dental floss (non-waxed; can be used as thread, rope, fishing line, etc.)
    • A freezer-size Zip-loc bag filled with 5 empty freezer-sized Zip-loc bags
    • One large, heavy-strength garbage bag (good for segregating your dirty clothes from your clean clothes)

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:17 PM on March 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

As someone who has been unemployed for a long time: Some people deal very well with it, others are completely crushed by it. I would hazard to say that most are somewhere inbetween where they go out and apply for lots of things but then get discouraged once in a while. Many will go through depression and feel that their friends don't want to associate with them anymore. Most people have no idea how to spend all of their excessive free time.
However, some people never really get that discouraged and send a million resumes a day and network like crazy until they find a job.
If you know someone who has become unemployed for an increasingly long time, reach out to them, even if they are doing well during this time, it is very helpful for them.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 8:39 AM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Biochemistry degree: what the word energy actually means, and what it does not.
Also chemical.

And (chemistry degree) even more so for entropy. Most importantly, it is not "disorder," or "chaos," those are just analogies to entropy which may be helpful for an initial understanding of the concept, but like any analogy they break down if stretched too far. Like energy, entropy is a physical quantity which can be measured.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:28 PM on April 2, 2010

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