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Offending ethics April 12, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, societal commentary, work.
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I’ve heard about businesses that decide to cut costs by hiring newer, cheaper workers.  They then ask the older workers to train them in, and once that has been completed, the company fires the older workers.  On the same note, Fluxor describes a scenario where he is supposed to keep a team moving once they’ve all been fired and their offices have been shut down…despite the fact their product was making oodles of money for the company.

Academia isn’t immune from this.  We had layoffs a couple months ago, and several of the people who were let go had to train in remaining people to fulfill their job duties after they left.  It didn’t feel particularly kind to do that, but I will say that at least it wasn’t that any of us were happy to see those people go.

And sometimes you get stuck directly in a very morally questionable situation.  Mommy/Prof, talked about dealing with faculty candidates from her old department both here and here.

Of course, the list can go on and on with issues like conflict of interest (which can encompass many things) along with many other moral and ethical issues.

Has anyone ever ended up with an uncomfortable spot at work because of an ethical or moral dilemma?  Do you take the high road all the time?  Do you ever feel justified in not doing so?  Is it different if the impact is on someone other than yourself?

And now they’re gone… February 18, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, research, work.
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Thursday was the last day for our colleagues who’d been laid off.  Early in the week, we were trying to figure out what to do for the people in our group when the admin sent out an announcement – they were having a staff appreciation lunch to give everyone a chance to say goodbye.

I was glad they hosted the lunch as it seemed like a nice last gesture.  However, part way through, I got so depressed about it that I had to leave and opted not to say goodbye to anyone.  I’m not very good at that sort of thing.

This has been hard for two reasons.  First, after an awful two years, I came here with the intention of only working for about six months to pay some tuition and then be done.  I ended up fitting pretty well with everyone, and it was so nice to work with people who were friendly and communicative…not what I’d been dealing with the two years prior.  For the most part, we all got along and clicked well, and I began to enjoy my work again. After my six months was up, I was told I could stay, so I did.  And now some of these people, who helped me get on my feet again, are being sent away.

Second, and worse in a way, the news about my research got around and hit relevant industry journals and even some popular press all over the world.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve been inundated with calls and emails.  It seems so unfair that things can be going so well for me when we’re in the middle of laying people off.  I can only hope that the positive press will lead to more funding opportunities so that I can help make sure no one else has to leave.

But now, hopefully, the worst is over.  At least I won’t have to sit here and dread when people will be gone because it’s over.  I’ll still probably feel rather sad every time I walk past people’s old desks and wonder what they’re up to.

And so it begins… January 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, research, work.
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Yesterday afternoon, two emails came through at work letting us know that about 1/4 of the people working at our center would be dismissed.  This morning, the front page of the local paper had the story.

Our center has primarily been funded under earmarks along with some other projects coming through industry collaborations.  When congress cut all earmarks, we lost the most significant portion of our funding.  (I find this frustrating as cutting earmarks doesn’t actually reduce the budget…it just means that no portions of the existing budgets can be allocated to specific projects by congress.  So our center losing most of its funding changed nothing in terms of the US budget.)

Today was surreal.  Someone came up to tell me they were one of the ones let go.  Another person announced it at the end of the meeting.  I had no inkling before they said anything that they were on the list.  I didn’t take it well.

Right before Christmas, two people I know let me know they’d been laid off (both EEs in technology industries).  I’ve heard of companies pulling such tactics as they approach the end of their fiscal year.  I will say that despite the fact we knew things were going to be happening, I was hugely relieved that, in the case of our center, they at least waited until after the holidays so that people could enjoy the time with their families.

And the people that have been let go are not necessarily going because they weren’t smart or hard working.  That is both the hardest part and the best part.  I know that these people aren’t to blame for their predicament – it was simply a matter of whether their expertise is necessary on some of the projects we have coming in.  I’m confident these people can move on and still be successful.

On the other hand, it sort of flies in the face of the “work hard and you’ll always have a job” mentality that so many people put out there.  That’s simply not true…and that’s why this is really hard.  I’m also feeling a twinge of survivor guilt.  I still have my job, as does my husband.  It seems unfair that I just happened to luck out to have some of the skills that will be required moving forward.

Most of the people will still be around for a month, but it’s going to be hard to work as though nothing happened.  And after they’re gone, the place is going to be uncomfortably empty.

Staff reductions October 14, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, work.
Tags: , staff reductions,

Since I’ve been in school so long, I haven’t worked a job in The Real World for a while.  However, I’ve been listening quite painfully to all the stories that friends and relatives have been sharing the past couple years about their employment going through ‘staff reductions’.  You know, the nice way of saying they’re canning a bunch of people.

I hear stories about the strange ways they let people know, some of them knowing well ahead of time the company will be letting people go, some of whom find out as they’re led away from their desk.  Sometimes they call people into a room one by one to let them know, sometimes they just drop an envelope on your desk.

At a university, it’s a bit different.  Most people know fairly well in advance what the funding situation is and that they will be let go at the end of a semester or school year.  I think most people feel frustrated with the system, but most of the time, it’s not something taken personally.  Funding comes and goes, and sometimes you’re in an unlucky position when it goes.

The place where I work is somewhere between an industry lab and a university.  It’s a nice mix.  We have students who come and go.  Most of the staff are full-time researchers.  Sometimes they teach, but often they don’t.

So it was strange to sit in on my first ever “staff reduction” talk.  Like all other places, money is getting tight and not enough is coming in.  At the end of some of our projects, some people will be let go.  Unfortunately, because of the magnitude of the changes, not just a student here or there, we ended up having a big meeting.

I had to admit that the whole experience was surreal, maybe because I’ve never been through it before.  And while I’ve always been interested (and heartbroken) to hear other people’s stories about these types of incidents, I am rather disappointed at having my own.


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