I work very closely with someone like this- this person is on the TT job search right now and is so frustratingly negative and has the attitude that everything happens TO her and that she has no control. This type of negativity is poison and I’m afraid she won’t get a job because of it, but I don’t know how to tell her to cut that shit out. Can these people be helped?
My answer: I am just not sure at all. Probably some yes, and others no. I think Maria is too far gone, ie, her tenure documents are turned into the school/college level committee. I am kinda sad about that – I think she’s really bright. But there are lots of really bright people who can’t get jobs. Right now, my biggest concern is Maria will get tenure and poison the other junior faculty.
I have two very distinct thoughts/feelings/perspectives about this. On one hand, I am committed to helping younger scientists. I have tried to support people of all ages. I have been out there for the groups of which I am part. And I have tried to be an ally, as imperfect as any ally ever is to other under-represented groups (there was a great post, for which I’ve lost the link – if anyone knows what I’m talking about PLEASE let me know, about what is not an ally – it included a reference to saying “I like your food” as not being an ally). I try hard to understand how someone got to where they are.
On the other hand my tolerance for what I perceive as assholes is not so great. Asshole are poisonous, and they hurt others. It’s part of their special asshole-charm. There are people I’ve given up on. The entitled. The perpetually angry. The ones who won’t learn to help themselves. The blamers. The liars. The cheats. Lots of subspecies here.
For people like Kate’s friend, one tries. Sit down and have a talk. Show her the blog post about Maria. Help if you can, but realize you can’t fix everything. Hell, I can’t fix half of what I’d like to fix. And there is no way to know in advance which half. But also understand there is a time to cut your losses. That is a different point for every person on either end of the interaction. And I have, and you will, make mistakes of quitting too soon (type I error) in your help of someone redeemable and staying too long (type II error) to help someone who can’t be helped. That’s called being human. The sin or flaw lies in not ever trying.