Frontline is still killing it this season, most recently with "Post Mortem", an episode about the lack of standardization and reliability in post mortem medical examinations. Shows like CSI make the public assume that a team of crack investigators is on the case whenever someone dies, but in reality death certificates are signed by doctors on what amounts to an honor system, autopsies are rarely performed, and those that are performed are not often done well. Part of the problem is that most jurisdictions either elect coroners (who don't even need to have a high school diploma let alone any relevant training) or outsource post mortem investigation to private contractors staffed mostly with otherwise unemployable doctors.

For some reason this was the most interesting aspect of the episode for me. Lots of people get medical degrees. So what happens to the ones who, despite that fact, are completely incompetent? Alcoholics? Ex-felons? Previously I was under the impression that doctors who fell into this category all ended up working in prisons, which makes perfect sense. After all, who's going to care if the prisoners complain and who else would take such an awful job? But thanks to Frontline we now know that jackholes with medical degrees have other options. Like taking a circular saw to the cadaver of a car accident victim for eight hours per day.

This got me thinking more about analogies to other professions. What happens to shitty lawyers? Do they end up in a basement somewhere thumbing through manila folders for the rest of their lives, or is there some lawyering equivalent to "alcoholic autopsy specialist"? Where do engineers who lack the ability to engineer a birdhouse end up practicing their trade? Do teachers who get busted running meth labs out of their basements or appear on registered sex offender lists end up teaching calculus on an oil rig or something? Is there some hidden underbelly of the airline industry filled with pilots who couldn't even hang on to a job at a regional airline?

Tell me, where do the burnouts, losers, and felons in your particular field end up? Thirty years ago I'd say that for PhD-holding academics the "reject pile" meant adjuncting at terrible colleges, but the way the industry is today I think that's what about 75% of us are going to end up doing. We'll have to think of something more degrading for the true incompetents.

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60 Responses to “NPF: THE REJECT PILE”

  1. jeffteaches Says:

    Late to the party, so maybe no one will ever read this, but what the hey!

    High school English teacher. 22 years. Regular ed, Governor's Honors Program, alternative school.

    I agree that the Peter Principle seems particularly strong in public ed. My Large Metropolitan School District has plenty of clowns. BUT I see that in the private sector just as much.

    But what I really need to address is this liberal bias in education nonsense. Maybe universities are more liberal, but that was not my experience at Large State U. I took ag courses – not a liberal in sight. Most of my J-school teachers were conservative or middle of the road. My English teachers were flaming liberals and the smartest of the bunch…but the least practical.

    In high schools, at best, 40-50% of the faculty is liberal, and NONE of the support staff is. And your elementary faculties are much more conservative. Look at how teachers have resisted unionization here and how we keep voting for Repubs that slash education or create ridiculous standards that will never be met.


  2. jbr Says:

    Shitty lawyers? Some will do temp doc review in roach filled basements at biglaw firms (see for ~$30 an hour with no benefits, but most of even that is now being outsourced. Some will work for personal injury firms and drown in student loan debt. Many end up with jobs outside the field of law and also drown in student loan debt.

  3. 2liberal Says:

    "Where do engineers who lack the ability to engineer a birdhouse end up practicing their trade? "

    I can answer this one in at least one instance. 1-800-tech-support

  4. Monkey Business Says:

    @Pat: I never said us Security and Compliance folks were respected. If anything, it's the opposite. However, I resent being referred to as a process-obsessed impediment to developers getting work done.

    I currently work in healthcare, and prior to this a Fortune 50 firm. Let me say this: the Fortune 50 firm had significantly better security and about half as much regulation to deal with.

    See, here's the problem. Those developers that I'm keeping from getting work done? They're the ones exposing everyone's confidential and sensitive information to any two bit hacker that wants to steal a few hundred thousand credit card and social security numbers. I have to build processes around those systems to ensure that there's a big and strong enough wall between them and the bad guys, otherwise we'd have an incident once a day. Not only that, but I have to enforce a patchwork quilt of regulations from the Feds, the state, the county, the city, various licensing boards, and the credit card companies, most of which are redundant but have key differences that keep me from using them for everything.

    And the Database guys aren't invulnerable. I've smoted a few in my day.

    @beergoggles: IT is usually a big group of people who were labelled "Doesn't play well with others" in Kindergarten. No one likes to share. We're a fun bunch.

    @Nunya: I'm stealing and modifying your quote. "Security and Compliance: the best route for people with severe Asbergers Syndrome and a God Complex."

    People like me are usually the first, last, and only line of defense between the scary world of the Internet and your most sensitive and private information. You think developers, server guys, etc. give a damn about keeping the Russian mafia from stealing your credit card number and maxing it out? Hell no. That's my job. To borrow from Colonel Jessup; son, we live in a world that has digital walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with digital guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Nunya? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for developers and curse Security and Compliance; you have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Security and Compliance, while extremely annoying, probably keeps information safe, and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, keeps information safe. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about in status meetings, you want me on that digital wall. You need me on that digital wall. We use words like "Risk", "Regulations", "Industry-Best Practices". We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who screws around on the internet and shops online under the very blanket of the security I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said Thank You, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a keyboard and show up to work tomorrow morning. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to. Did I order a risk assessment on your application? YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I DID!

  5. Wisakedjak Says:

    Monkey Business, I <3 you

  6. Paul Camp Says:

    Those doctors used to end up on the Indian Health Service.

    At least they can't kill a cadaver.

  7. Bmaccnm Says:

    Some shitty nurses go into sales or administration, but mostly, they stay where the are and just shut down. They used to leave the field, but there's no where else to go anymore.

  8. marydem Says:

    Idaho… they all end up in Idaho.

  9. jjack Says:

    I think there's enough of a spectrum of responsibilities in engineering, from the bitch who is made to check everyone else's calculations to the PE who signs off on everything, that "if you have a pulse and a degree you have a job."

    And if that fails? Grad school. Be a professor.

  10. jjack Says:

    Not to disparage your career path, but I've just heard that a lot "The job market sucked, I got laid off, so I got my Master's. Went to work for a few more years, got laid off, got my doctorate. Went to work for a few years, got laid off, became a professor."