Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Snowflakes, Waifs, and Calculators

I found the discussion to yesterday's entry so interesting that I decided that instead of leaving my own comment I would just write a whole 'nother entry!

A majority of my commenters seem to believe that there exists a class of people who believe (consciously or not) that bad things that happen to others will not happen to them. (I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a maladaptive trait that would have been heavily selected against in the days when people getting eaten by predators was a more common occurrence. Then again maybe they were the ones who kept the clan from starving because they ignored that Bob, Billy, Mary, Susie, Fred, Mike, Claire, and Bertha were all eaten when they went out foraging, but 'surely this won't happen to me'...but this is a digression). Since I am partial to PhysioProf's terminology, I'm going to term this type of person the 'snowflake'. But two other possibilities were also offered for people who did not heed the warnings of others.

Yolio suggested that perhaps it was not due to a belief of specialness but a true lack of appreciation for how horrible something can truly be until you've experienced it yourself. I can see this. Afterall, perhaps these kids had a bad boss when they worked for Starbucks one summer and thought it would be comparable - not realizing that it is actually very very different. What's your Starbuck's manager going to do? Run you out of the coffee business? Seems unlikely. A bad advisor really does have the potential to ruin your career, and once you realize that important difference, the psychological stress makes the whole thing exponentially worse than that snotty Starbuck's manager. I'll call this person the 'naive waif', unless someone comes up with something better.

Finally, Mad Hatter suggested that these may not be deluded souls at all, but people who make a calculated decision to work for Dr. Jackass because Dr. Jackass is internationally regarded and it will be good for the student's career. General Disarray, incidentally, agrees whole-heartedly with the Mad Hatter on this one - that the gold at the end of the rainbow is just too difficult to resist. Anyway, I'll call this one "the calculator".  While I can intuitively understand the "naive waif" and even to some extent the "snowflake" (I have succumbed to the female cardinal sin of knowing that a guy has treated all this other girlfriends like crap but surely I'm different. It was not a high point in my life).  However, I have admit that the calculator is so foreign to me. Don't get me wrong, I understand that they exist. I'm even pretty sure I've seen it in operation. But I simply cannot conceive of deciding to subjugate myself to an jackass on purpose. But then, I also know myself well enough to know that the more unhappy I am, the less productive I become so I already know that being in a jackass' lab would be the equivalent of flushing my career down the toilet (and if I really wanted to flush my career down the toilet, there are much more fun ways of doing it!).

Regardless of the cause, I think there was one unified message that came from my readers: nothing can be done for these people. They will walk straight into the lion's jaws regardless of what we do. Either they have consciously made the decision or they simply will not be able to comprehend what you are saying until it is way too late. I have to admit that the consensus of the group caught me by surprise, but I suppose this is the idealist in me. I will say that I am beginning to understand why my time spent trying to stop people from running off cliffs may be better invested elsewhere. Thanks to everyone for their comments yesterday!

Oh, and if you haven't seen this, Acmegirl has a truly fantastic post from June on related issues. I have to admit I read it after every conversation I have with a disillusioned snowflake/waif/calculator because it makes me feel like I'm less insane.


PhysioProf said...

Since I am partial to PhysioProf's terminology, I'm going to term this type of person the 'snowflake'.

To give credit where due, I first encountered this term at Rate Your Students:

JaneB said...

I would like to add a fourth category, the 'weevil' - caught between the rock of a dysfunctional lab and the hard place of unemployment, they choose the dysfunctional lab.

I wrote a bit more about bad advisors over on my blog, as I started a comment that grew too long...

DamnGoodTechnician said...

I, too, had to stop my comment here and blather on over at my place, since my comment just got too bulky here. An comment on a certain kind of snowflake..