#169 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 7
Results You Want!
My background and
training were in a place--a location which I won't name--where one
always had to obey
superiors. Thus I was
not surprised that in graduate school, my major professor insisted
that the experiments produce the results he
expected (or wanted).
It wasn't too
difficult to satisfy him. Graphs
could be altered to be "correct" or controls could be
adjusted to yield "better" data.
(It wasn't that we were working on a treatment for a
disease or safety barriers for radiation.
We weren't trying to publish our results in an
international journal, and I didn't expect anyone else in the
world to want to repeat my work.)
I was being
trained to read the literature, learn the techniques, and do
I didn't worry if the data were fudged a bit.
What I did worry about was satisfying my professor and
receiving my advanced degree.
grades, very good recommendations from my professor, and other
personal contacts, my dream came true:
I was offered a research position in a small U.S. company. The first months, I spent setting up the lab and learning
about the company. It
background stayed with me: I
couldn't do an experiment without first discussing with the
director what results were expected.
He seemed to appreciate this close involvement with my
of my work yielded the “right” results (with no fudging).
True to my training, however, I once again found myself
altering “wrong” results to please the supervisor.
It didn't bother me, as I was sure he "knew
considered myself a valuable and dedicated member of the company,
and felt not an iota of guilt.
months with the company, when I presented my work at one of our
research seminars, one of the scientists questioned an
inconsistency that I had missed.
It turned out that this inconsistency was critical to our
work, and was further examined by the vice president and several
other scientists, including the director.
At the same time,
my technician began telling others that she suspected that I was altering data. I panicked, and tried to keep the notebooks away from
everyone. I even made
an effort to redo an entire notebook.
As they say,
"all hell broke loose."
I denied data tampering, and faked "shock" at
being accused. But
when my notebooks and my technician's notes were examined, there
was no hiding the fact that I altered data, and there wasn't a
soul in the company who didn't know of my transgression.
I've never felt worse--my stomach was churning, and I
couldn't look people in the eye.
figure I was fired on the spot.
But that's not what happened.
My director spent a day talking with me on the bench of a
local park. He heard,
for the first time, how I was trained, of how I had to think first
about satisfying my superior.
Even though he seemed understanding, I was sure this was my
exit session. Of all
the people in the company, he was the one most damaged by my
activities, since he was ultimately responsible for my work.
But, after hours
of baring my soul, he asked if I could return to work and provide real
data. He ensured me my work would be tightly scrutinized, and
somehow I would have to earn the trust of my colleagues.
I promised I would make up for the damage by becoming the
best researcher he would ever have.
He took the risk of asking the vice president for
permission to retain me.
director saw, over my transgression, that I had great value.
Four years later, I am a senior scientist overseeing four
technicians; my shame has been erased, and I've made key
contributions to our programs.
At the university
where I received my degree, there have been (and will be) many
graduates trained to "obey."
If you are supervising one of them, I'd suggest you make it
crystal clear that you want quality
results, not "the right" results.
If you are a graduate of such a university, heed this
story. You won't be
as lucky as I was to have a "one-in-a-million"