Simple Tricks To Improve Your Life, And Avoid Meetings As An Aspiring Scientist



The older you get the more pills people want you to take. I take as few as possible. Choose your pills wisely. Photo by FitOldDog.

As you get older, you learn that there are many simple tricks to improve your life.

For instance, I was riding along in the car with Nick (16) the other day, when he said, “Kevin, you’re in a really bad mood this morning. What’s up?” I agreed! Then Nick said, “When I’m in a bad mood I just say to myself, ‘No I’m not,’ and it goes away.” It’s easy to change your mood if you find the approach that works for you.

I tried it and it was remarkable – bad mood gone!

This reminds me of a trick my eldest son taught me. He said, “Dad, when you have to swallow pills, did you know that if you turn your head to one side as you swallow them they just go down easier. ” I tried it, and it’s true, they do. Another great trick to simplify my life.

Thanks, Nick!

Science Cover v1

Just a draft placeholder cover design, by FitOldDog.

Right now I’m writing a book for young scientists, on ways to develop a successful career in the world of Science, and avoid unnecessary aggravation. I have a whole bunch of stories to tell. Here’s one example:

How to escape unnecessary meetings (most meetings are unnecessary):

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.” – Dave Barry, Pulitzer prize-winning American humorist, cited in The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss

Given a chance, science managers will have you in meetings all day, so you can’t do any science, then they’ll become really mad if you don’t do any science, reasonably enough. You have to escape!

Meetings can suck the life blood right out of you. They proliferate like the pod people in the Body Snatchers. They become self-justifying, but rarely useful, but you can escape, and here is how I learned to do so. You have to use meetings as currency when you negotiate with managers, as actual science is subservient to ‘the meeting.’

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, being a scientist, conflict,

This book presents the ongoing conflict that exists between Science and Science Management, and I suspect that it will always be thus.

Once upon a time, in an Institute long ago, FitOldDog (then known as Dr. Morgan – genuflexion is in order), was walking innocently along a corridor, going from one experiment to another, or one paper to another, or just going to get a cup of coffee, when he was intercepted by a manager. The manager, a good guy, but a manager all the same, lost in the world of management (meetings), said, politely, “Kevin, could you come to our meeting on Tuesday morning, it’s really important that you are there.” I think, “Sure it is!!!” I reply that I have plans in the lab at that time, which was true. He looked positively distressed, saying, “Come on, Kevin. Surely you can move things around and come to our meeting. It’s really important.

To managers, all meetings, and in some cases only meetings, are important. They spend so much time in meetings that they come to beleive that meetings are where science and other aspects of real life actually happen. It really happens in people’s minds, and largely in the lab – the lab could be anywhere, by the way, except, as a general rule, in meetings.

So! I sighed, and said that I would do what I could to reschedule our experiment, which I did. When, a couple of hours later, I called to let him know I’d be there, he said, “Great! Thanks!” But I could tell that he had moved on. That particular meeting was no longer on his mind – he was thinking about another meeting.

So, I moved my science around for a meeting, which was probably 99% a waste of time, if not 100%.

Meetings, bloody meetings

Meetings, bloody meetings.

Jump forward a month or so, with FitOldDog blithely walking along the same corridor, and yes, you’ve guessed it, here he comes with yet another meeting. “Hey, Kevin,” he says, “we have a business-critical meeting (don’t forget they start to speak like this after a while, even the good guys) on Thursday, and we really need you to be there.” Suddenly, a light went on in my head, I saw an escape (an epiphany), and replied, “I’m sorry, but I’m pretty well tied up with meetings all day Thursday. [a lie, I’m sorry, but what are you going to do? Then again, research involves meeting people or equipment, and writing involves meeting with your computer, and so forth] Can you reschedule?” In the blink of an eye, and without any sign of distress, he became serious, saying, “Sure, I understand.

Willbe eating cheese

Yes! Willbe. It applies to dogs, too!

Let’s see if we can move our meeting to next week. I’ll get back in touch.” He never did, not with respect to that meeting, anyway.

What was the lesson I learned, that stood me in good stead for many years to come and in a wide range of circumstances, not just for science and managers:

If you want to negotiate with someone, step into their world and use their language, values and currency. You have to use the appropriate currency. It’s all about people, really!

This issue is nicely discussed in Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis, an insightful book for the aspiring scientist. Which is another tip, by the way – writing is a critical skill in science, and you have to read well to write well, so read my young friends.


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.