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      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 15, 2019 by Tony Wikrent Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy The Economy of Evil [Historicly, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19] Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in October 1922. Nazis rose to power in 1933 in Germany. Mussolini convened a meetin […]
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The Elephant’s Child

we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension

The day after the SOTU address, after the President of the United States pretty much told American scientists that we were not up to Chinese standards, it snowed in New Jersey.  I looked out the window at the snow falling thick and fast and gauged my chances of getting to work with my malfunctioning power steering.  Nah gah happen.  Sigh.  I hooked up my work computer, logged in with my SecureID, and checked my email…

And there, under five or six other messages, was an invitation from the local head honcho to meet him in the cafeteria at 10am.  Uh-oh.  That’s not good.  I stared at it.  WTF?  I clicked it again.  Reread the message.  It was unmistakeable but I didn’t want to believe it.  My supervisor was on vacation.  My director was unreachable.  Nobody in my department available.  In desperation, I called my previous supervisor.

“What?? You got the message to meet in the cafeteria?  It’s not good.  I’m sorry, it’s not a good sign.”

My blood froze.  I am the only employed person in my family with health insurance and steady income for Brooke.  I couldn’t think. So, I did the next logical thing.

I called Katiebird.  I asked her to stay with me until I knew what was going on. I  tried desperately to find someone in my department who was asked to the same meeting.  Unfortunately, I found someone.  It was my lab partner.  She couldn’t disguise the panic in her voice.  I called Katiebird again.  We waited.  Katiebird stayed with me.  My lab partner called back.  It was confirmed.  Our jobs were eliminated.

???

?

My department head finally called me at home.  The HR rep was with him.  They broke the news to me officially.  I was stunned.  My lab partner and I are beyond busy.  Dumping our workload onto the rest of our department seems incomprehensible.   I think there was an, “Oh, shit, what did we do?!” moment from some of the decision makers on our behalf.  But the problem with lay offs is that once the decision has been made to “separate” you, it’s hard to walk it back.  There have been some not insignificant efforts to figure out a way to keep us but they have all met a brick wall.  The bottom line was met, we were part of meeting the reduction goal, we are scheduled to go.  We have about a month and a half left.  It feels like a death sentence.

It’s times like these that tell you who your friends are.  I can tell you that Katiebird and DandyTiger immediately came to my emotional rescue.  I am eternally grateful to both of them.  They have checked in since that day and haven’t let me down.  They both came up with great ideas to see me through.  Right now, I am so busy at work, irony of ironies, I don’t have time to pursue them but I know that I will.  I’d recommend Katiebird to anyone who is getting laid off but in these times, her line would be constantly busy.

I know that the loss of our jobs was not performance related.  Both my lab partner and I had very good performance appraisals.  We busted our butts in the lab last year and it showed.  We solved a previously unknown structure and pushed ourselves to learn new things.  It was not unusual to find us in the lab at 9pm, waiting for a gel to finish so we could plan our work for the next day.  The weird thing is that in spite of all that has transpired since that day in January, I still love my job.  The loss of income is painful but the loss of doing the thing that has become like an addiction to me in the last year is even more painful.  It’s so frustrating to lose something just when it’s starting to get really interesting.  I will never ever have a job as good or as satisfying as this one.  I will never have a lab partner as amiable and hardworking and intelligent and generous as the one I have.  We both feel it deeply.  Separation means more than losing the tether to your income, it means losing a productive and valuable working relationship.

When I think back to that SOTU address, I’m beyond angry.  This president and this Congress have no idea what this country is losing.  I am one of thousands of American R&D professionals who have lost their jobs since the era of mergers and acquisitions went into overdrive in the 1990’s.  The reason you don’t find young Americans going into science, engineering and math is not because the Chinese are so much better than we are.  It’s because there is no future in it.  There’s no career path.  No steady income.  No security.  Just a pile of underwater stock options and a pink slip after years of study and extremely challenging work.  The suits will tell you we aren’t productive but those of us who have been there know the truth.  This generation of American scientists has been blighted by the endless pursuit of meeting the bottom line.  It’s no way to do research.  In fact, it is almost impossible to do research under these circumstances and it has been like this since I started working in the business two decades ago.   Free lancing or starting our own businesses in this area of research is not really an option.  We need the overhead of a corporation.  Yes, believe it or not, sometimes you just can’t get around the corporate model.  So, I join my colleagues, “experienced research professionals” all, in the oblivion of separation from what we love best- the wonder and delight of studying nature and the dedication to cure disease.

I would like to say that I am grateful to my company for all of the years that I was able to learn and work for them.  The great majority of the people I have worked with are wonderful and talented professionals.  I wouldn’t call myself a “disgruntled employee”.  If anything, I am very gruntled and will milk my last days at work for all they are worth.  They are worth it.  Every last one of them.  I count the hours with anticipation and dread but mostly ” ‘satiable curtiosity”.

May you all be so lucky.