My colleague, Patrick, and I were invited to offer a workshop at a
national laboratory recently. It lasted several days, so we dined
in different places to sample the area cuisine and culture. We
learned a great amount of pertinent information in the process
from our hosts and others we enjoyed dining with.
First, when you work for a government laboratory you must
know that you should not have other parties pay for your
meals. In fact, you need to create a paper trail showing that
it did not happen. We dined with a remarkable couple, J and J,
and offered to accept the full charges as we met in the workshop.
J thought about it until the bill came. When it came, she asked
to split the bill. The 100 milliseconds it took me to decide ‘ok’,
seemed like an hour. I soon realized what my classmate who
works for the FDA told me years ago that they can’t accept
free meals and are even asked to report on any possible occurrence
as part of their contract working for the government.
At another meal we dined with a couple from Brazil, Lazaro
and Alessandra. Lazaro currently works at the national lab.
Lazaro is now in Brazil interviewing for a faculty position
in the Physics department. We enjoyed many things in our
multi-cultural conversations. One amazing area was what
an academic interview is like in a major university in Brazil.
All names of each candidate is publicly known.
1) The first of several steps in the process is an exam
determining the technical competence in physics. They
must score 70% to move on to the next phase.
2) In the second on-site phase they select a topic out of a
hat and are given 24 hours to prepare a class to instruct.
The audience is members of the faculty of the physics
3) Then, after they narrow the field down the remaining
candidates are individually interviewed by faculty and
4) At the end, they all gather in the same room and like the
Heisman trophy ceremony, the successful candidate is
announced with all the candidates present. Amazing.
Back to our first couple’s dinner conversation. While we
were made aware of the fact that auto speed was closely
monitored, we counted 15 radar stations or police cars
looking out for speeders on our ride. There are many
separate Indian pueblos along the route, each looking for
new “customers.” What J and J shared was much more
alarming and revealing about the culture. One of them
recently recovered from an auto accident damaging her
car and breaking her arm. Not only that, the perp who
hit her in broad daylight got out of his car, liquor bottles
and papers falling out on the ground and ran. Never to
be chased, caught and prosecuted. The culture of the
environment was something we did not notice while
Something to learn before moving in to an area.
It is important to realize the importance of getting insight
of the big picture (especially its culture) when moving on
to a new position. Different organizations have strict
rules of confidentiality and behavior. Different employers
have interesting ways of selecting new hires, especially