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Your Work and You
Posted: 12 December 2007 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]
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George sparked my interest in this topic. Most of us have to do something to make money, and for better or worse we all have a relationship of some kind with our work. If you’re lucky, your job is challenging and stimulating, an expression of or outlet for your personal gifts, a chance to contribute to others or “humanity,” an opportunity to create something more important, and perhaps more enduring, than your own life. If you’re not as lucky, it’s a torment you endure to survive. And there’s probably a lot of middle ground. Since we’re not living for the afterlife, our work must be a pretty big part of our existence as a whole, so I’m curious what people do, and how they fit that into the larger picture of their life.

For myself, I stumbled into my work as a veterinarian by a drunkard’s walk of career changes that looks odd on a resume, passing through English composition instructor, primate behaviorist, and endless short jobs (fishing boat, factory, waiter, receptionist, and on and on) and many many years of school to get here. I enjoy it, I feel it contributes something to the well-being of others (both my patients and their owners), it keeps me learning and growing, and I think I’m pretty good at it, though I suspect there are things I would be better at. I feel comfortable with what I do, but I also confine it to a box (albeit a pretty big one), and outside of that I have my family (the number one priority), my hobbies (secular humanism, reading, music including learning an instrument, martial arts, international travel, and a wide variety of others including recently building a treehouse in the backyard.

I consider my work both something I have to do for pedestrian economic reasons, and also an opportunity to put into practice my ideas about living. I try to apply my ethics to my clients, coworkers, and patients, and I try to do my work in a way consistent with my beliefs about politics, and humanist values. Still, I am not defined by my work, and I am a dilettante by nature so the idea of doing any one thing for decades at a time is daunting. I’ve been a vet for 6 years (started 8-10 years later than most of my colleagues), and already thats 3 times longer than any other jnob I’ve held.

What kinds of relationships do people have with their work, and how does that connect with the broader issues we often talk about here?

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Posted: 13 December 2007 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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mckenzievmd - 12 December 2007 04:14 PM

What kinds of relationships do people have with their work, and how does that connect with the broader issues we often talk about here?

There is one thing that comes to my mind. It is Plato’s universal beauty vs. beauty in the eye of the beholder. I used to believe that people come to me to tell them what should be green and what should be blue, because I have a gift that enables me to see the right answer. And then I read Dawkins’s Selfish Gene and understood that as we evolve we might find that whatever had to be blue yesterday, today might have to be green. I am still a little puzzled by this, though. If beauty is indeed in the eye of a beholder, and not out there somewhere written down in Plato’s style guide, why do people pay me to tell them what is beautiful? If there isn’t a right answer as far as taste is concerned, how can I make a living being a designer?

BTW, what kind of a musical instrument are you learning to play, Brennen?

[ Edited: 13 December 2007 07:39 AM by George ]
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Posted: 13 December 2007 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The job of a designer could be to recognize the eyes of the potential beholders and please them to the best of your abilities.  As odd as it sounds, there are some ethical concerns involved with this.  I often think of design as a steroid for memes.  I had a professor who started a movement when he was in college called aesthetic terrorism.  This kind of blurs the line between informative design and propaganda.  Where do you draw the line with your work?  Would you design an add campaign for a religious group?  Another of my professors did a catalog for a company that made blenders for lab rats, marketed to universities.  She struggled ethically with supporting something that felt so cruel.  I doubt Peter Singer would design this catalog.

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“It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning and unexpected findings of science.” ~ Carl Sagan

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Posted: 13 December 2007 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yes, very difficult topic indeed. Look at the Nazi swastika compared with the logo of the Humanist Association, for example. The swastika is probably as good as it gets in graphic design and the humanist’s guy playing a ball, on the other hand, absolutely horrible.

I once designed a brochure for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. It was fun and I had no problem doing it.

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Posted: 13 December 2007 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I have the native musical talent of a lab rat myself, so I’m starting simple. I am learning the bones, and tinkering with the bodhran. I go to a lot of Irish and Scottish festivals and Renaissance Faires, so these are easy places to join in with others using a simple, portable folk instrument. And my daughter is studying Irish step dancing, so I can participate in this with her as well.

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Posted: 14 December 2007 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’m a computer specialist, and have been working on computers for 10 years. After the initial setup of a computer, one of my responsibilities include troubleshooting problems after the initial setup of the computer. The problems can lie in the hardware, software, configuration, network, server, etc… Anyways, one of my biggest strength’s is troubleshooting. The process I go through when troubleshooting (problem solving) a computer problem bleeds over into my everyday activities and thoughts of examining how the world works.

I have a few co-workers that are less experienced then myself and I find that when they encounter a problem that they are unable to resolve and therefore come to me, they often explain the scenario of the problem to me inaccurately or incompletely. So I approach each problem and the description of the problem that has been relayed to me with a healthy amount of scepticism. And this scepticism bleeds into my approach to life outside of the work environment.

My experience with computers has shaped me into a critical and meticulous analyser. My experience with people in and out of the workplace has molded me into a skeptic.

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Posted: 14 December 2007 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I am a software developer, now more involved in management issues than in the technical field. My first job, 12 years ago, was in this field, and I used to program computers for fun since I was ten. I left the technical focus mainly for economical reasons, but I still enjoy my job. I am not sure I am doing something to improve something in my environment, but I find my work intellectually challenging and I like it. Also, I understand I have a lot of privileges over the average office employee: I arrive late at the office, I can work at home, I can get this minutes to look over the web.

I find that skepticism is very important in my job, as morgantj said. And some insight into cognitive bias is often very important to deal with people.

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Posted: 14 December 2007 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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they often explain the scenario of the problem to me inaccurately or incompletely. So I approach each problem and the description of the problem that has been relayed to me with a healthy amount of scepticism. And this scepticism bleeds into my approach to life outside of the work environment.

In ancient days when I was a newly hired audio technician working for Panasonic a customer brought in a reel-to-reel that would not record.  I fiddled with that machine for almost an hour and could not figure out what was wrong.  I asked an old hand if he would take a look.  He found the problem in two minutes.

The customer had the tape on the reel flipped over so the back of the tape was against the heads.

I was so embarrassed, but it taught me a lesson.

Don’t trust the customers to not be really dumb.  Test the machine with your own media.

This is what Bill Gates says:

“Let’s face it, the average computer user has the brain of a Spider Monkey.”

Now if that is the case then what does it mean that Intel expects to come out with an 8-core processor next year having 731 MILLION TRANSISTORS? 

psik

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Posted: 15 December 2007 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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If you’re not as lucky, it’s a torment you endure to survive.

I’m a Program Manager in a manufacturing company in the US.  I run new product development projects from the concept stage through to initial production and sale.  I have to deal with a wide variety of people and departments, none of whom report to me, and try to get them to “play nice together”.  I actually enjoy it.  The concept anyway.

Unfortunately, our “Masters” want more money, more profits.  So I now also fill in for a Product Manager AND a Marketing Manager.  I shouldn’t complain because having three jobs while being paid for one meant I was one of the lucky ones.

To help make the end of the year numbers look better, we had yet another “Black Friday” yesterday.  From Noon until I left at 5PM, one by one, co-workers who were Engineers, Salesmen, Purchasing Agents, I don’t really know who all, were marched by their respective managers to see the Director of Human Resources to be informed that they were no longer employed by the company.  I didn’t find out until I read in the paper this morning that 152 people in all were let go and that included all of the people at one of our (now former) manufacturing facilities.  Merry Christmas.

I said that I was a Program/Product/Marketing Manager.  In reality, I am a working stiff trying to hang on to a job, day-to-day, in hopes of being able to retire in 12 years.  The “angel of death” has passed me over four times in four years (although once it did require a relocation).  I “endure to survive”. downer

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“If there is no sufficient reason for war, the war party will make war on one pretext, then invent another… after the war is on.” - “Fighting Bob” La Follette

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Posted: 17 December 2007 01:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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psikeyhackr - 14 December 2007 07:32 PM

This is what Bill Gates says: “Let’s face it, the average computer user has the brain of a Spider Monkey.”

I couldn’t disagree more. The users has no need to be skilled on our field, we are the ones who had to be skilled in our field. And I’d add that a design which let the user to make a big mistake is a bad design. The burden is on expert’s shoulders, allways.

I tend to make mistakes in the fields I have not expertice about. For instance, a couple of times I ended up with my son in a ER because I thinked he was ill, just to know that everything was OK… should I have known? I think I shouldn’t, it is the physician job, not mine.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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You are quite correct, Barto.  I think most of us attribute incompetence by others in a field of our expertise to stupidity, when it’s usually a lack of information, training, time, and interest.  I learned this when I was a very young chemist.  We had a machine shop to make special equipment we might need and a technician who worked there.  He knew nothing of chemistry or the materials with which we worked, and many of the other scientists regularly put him down as a moron.  I happened to have a problem with my automobile one day and mentioned it to another worker.  The technician overherd and insisted on going out to the parking lot and looking at the car.  He identified the difficulty and corrected it in two minutes, saving me a trip to the garage and probably a significant amount of money.  Soon, he was working on the whole department’s cars on weekends.  He commented to me, quietly one day, “Gee, I wonder if those guys think only a moron can understand how an automobile works?”

Occam

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Posted: 02 January 2008 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I’m a software engineer. Quite a few of the people I have come across who are interested in CFI type topics have also been software engineers. Coincidence I wonder?

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Posted: 02 January 2008 07:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Although it’s only anecdotal from personal experience, I’ve noticed that people with training in the scientific, technical, philosophical, and psychological areas tend to be more interested in CFI type topics.  I wonder if these fields are conducive to a different kind of reasoninging than the ways of thinking in other disciplines.

Occam
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Posted: 02 January 2008 09:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Sorry Occam, but I’m going to ruin the trend here!  I am very much ‘right-brained’ in my approach to the world, and talents smile 
I am a guitar instructor and am lucky enough to love what I do.  I have young kids at home and my job enables me to work from our backyard studio which I also love.  I have 14 students this year, and will expand next year, hopefully if I can fit it into my and my husband’s schedule.
 
I really enjoy music and my philosophy for teaching is to first and foremost instill a love of music to my students.  If I sense frustration or struggle that takes from the joy of it I try to alter the course to their musical tastes, or if they are too young to have any yet, I try to lighten up the lessons big time and focus on what they can do and add to that bit by bit.  I teach classical technique to begin with and then broaden the lessons to include accoustic pop and folk style playing as the students progress, and again, according to their interestes.  Very fun. 

I also do a bit of song writing and have done some recording, but since having children have not put anything together as far as an album or anything.  But I’ll play at weddings, or the local coffee shop and really enjoy doing that as well.  That is more of a hobby though since it’s not a money maker when it’s not full time it seems.  But maybe one day…


for the record, my husband who is also a free thinker type is an artist at heart as well - he’s currently studying to teach high school - but what he really loves is web design and designing tattoos and interior design.

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Posted: 02 January 2008 11:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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No problem, J.F.  You brought the thread back to the original topic, and also covered my point that we all have different interests, motivations, and skills, and we have to recognize that none are superior to the others. 

Occam

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Posted: 03 January 2008 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I began as an analytical chemist and a high school chemistry teacher. I taught chemistry, physics and math overseas for three years, then was lucky to land a job at a large pharmaceutical firm. I still tutored. Eventually I switched to philosophy when i returned to school for an advanced degree. I’m teaching - after too much time spent studying part-time and working part-time I finally make good on a promise and get into a PhD program. My special interest just now is pre-modern science. I’m finishing a translation of the mathematician and astronomer Christopher Clavius, an important figure during the Scientific Revolution and a teacher and colleague of Galileo. Someone in the forum made fun of eccentric and epicycles. I love ‘em! Eccentric-orb theory is a very interesting stage in the history of science, because they’re unobservable entites like quarks or gravitic force, and because eccentrics violate the accepted physics of its day. I’ll be teaching pre-modern history of phil and philosophy of science this semester.

If we’re talking left or right brains, I am also an amateur musician in voice and - recorder! - and play at gigs here and there.

Kirk

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