VOLUNTEERING AT QED 2015

 

There’s been loads of really informative and complimentary blogs about QED generally (there’s some links to them at the end of this post), but none so far (as of this moment!) about what it’s like to volunteer there.  So, let’s put that right:

I signed up months ago, and got my orders a few weeks before the event.  I’d been to QED before, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but I still had to attend a briefing session where they gave us the rota and our sexy uniforms (an orange T-shirt, which went with literally nothing.  Hey, at least we were easy to spot).  I wasn’t needed until the Saturday, but for me, the fun began on Friday at Skepticamp (clicky).  I also got to stay over in the hotel on the Friday night, because Mr. Science Gentleman is one of the organisers.  This was a mixed blessing – we got to be there to support each other, but I was basically ignored for most of the time as he was too busy making sure things were going smoothly, and I was running around all over the place herding, advising and being visible.  But it was kind of nice not being in each other’s pockets; I’m independent anyway, and otherwise we would have driven each other insane / got nothing done.

Being a volunteer, you have three main duties:

  • Get people in and out of the rooms where the talks are
  • Direct people to where they need to be, and help with queries and other needs
  • Look after the bookstall

As well as that, you have to be nice and approachable, but I’m sure you know what a great reputation we skeptics have so that’s definitely not a problem.

Each volunteer was given a specific set of times to be in certain places, and there seemed to be a slight surplus of people in orange shirts, so there was more than adequate cover – which was great.  The bookstall got a bit crowded at times, but you can’t flog too many books, right?

One of the super-fun things about the weekend was finding and remembering all the different routes between places in the hotel.  This is important because the “accessible route” took you through numerous winding corridors and ran between three floors (I’m pretty sure someone is having a laugh here).  The hotel is a beautiful, old, rambling building, and as such it has more mezzanines, galleries, half-levels, secret passages, and doors to Narnia than more modern structures.  I found at least seven different routes back to my room and I still can’t remember where it was.  Fortunately someone put together a handy map of the hotel:

Enter, Stranger!
Artwork courtesy of @PencilBloke.

Attendees were used to seeing crew and volunteers popping in and out of the halls, so it was fairly easy to catch most of a talk and then discreetly make it to my place of duty.  The only time I’d miss a whole talk is if I was assigned bookstore duty for an hour. This was great as I got to see pretty much everything I wanted to (barring clashes in the schedule – choices, choices) and still make myself useful.

Being a volunteer this time, I felt more a part of it than I did at my first QEDcon, and having to be disciplined (no oversleeping, no drinking so much that I’d get a crippling hangover), probably did me some good (yaaaaawn).

I also got to see a load of people I’d not seen in person for over a year, which was wonderful.  Sure, this would have happened whether I was volunteering or not, but it’s still worth mentioning how important this event is for bringing like-minded people together and creating a sense of companionship (I’m not a fan of the word community, I feel it gets overused.  Plus, I don’t need to belong to a “community” – but I acknowledge that some people do).  I do speak with many of them online throughout the year, but it’s always cool to meet up with them face-to-face, and feel like we’ve only been apart for a matter of days or weeks.

I spent much of my spare time at the bar or enjoying posh dinners in Manchester’s finest establishments (nothing to do with being a volunteer; it’s just what I did), and this year I spent a lot of time conversing with the speakers.  I’m going to be honest here, last year I was a bit of a shrinking violet and felt overwhelmed in the presence of greatness.  Well, none of that crap this time.  I was talking with anyone and everyone, and that is the coolest thing for me.  Between lectures, or at the end of the day, just chatting about intellectual matters (and a ton of totally non-smart stuff, let’s not big ourselves up too much here) with similar people is so rewarding, and the reason I started going to skeptics events in the first place.

Loads of other people have written about QED, and on the talks and other activities, so I won’t add much more.  But there are some really excellent accounts here, so you should check out these great blogs, and read some of their other posts too.  There are people who have far more time to devote to this than I do, and as a result they write some incredibly interesting and well-constructed stuff.  I recommend:

QEDcon 2015 | Purely a figment of your imagination

I Am A QEDcon Fan, Here’s Why | Hayley M. Stevens

QED Con, Trigger Warnings, Dillahunting and an Ockham Award) | Godless Spellchecker’s Blog

QED 2015 Roundup | Sunny Spells

QEDcon happens next in October 2016 – if this post and the above blogs haven’t convinced you, you still have 18 months to do your homework (may I suggest some regular SitP followed by a course of Be Reasonable).

 

SKEPTICAMP 2015

 

The Friday before QED is a free day, in which the Skepticamp event is run.  This is a full day of short talks by skeptical activists to showcase their project or speak on a subject that they are passionate about.

I’m involved in running the PubhD project in Manchester, and I’m keen to find opportunities to speak in public as it’s something that’s necessary for my career development.  I also want to be more active generally within the skeptical community, and I want to build my talk portfolio (is that a thing?) so that I’ll get better at it / be less terrified, and so that people will take me seriously as a presenter.  It’s also something that I can put on my academic CV.  So I signed up for Skepticamp and I took part in the event yesterday.

Here's me talking before I completely dispensed with the notes.  Picture taken by @Your_FunnyUncle
Here’s me talking before I completely dispensed with the notes. Picture taken by @Your_FunnyUncle

There were 17 available speaking slots, and I was number 8, which was the one just before lunch.  So I was able to see how other people did and get myself psyched up for my own talk.  The talks were each 10 minutes long with 5 minutes afterwards for Q&A.  Each presentation was to use the Ignite format, which uses a slide change every 20 seconds, so the talks must be written to match the timings of the slide.  This got a mixed reaction from the speakers and audience, summarised as follows:

Pros:

  • It keeps the presentation to time.  You can’t waffle on for hours if the slides are running away from you.
  • There was consistency in the format of the presentations, even though they were all completely different talks presented in different styles.
  • As a speaker, it gives you a good structure for your talk and pushes you to speak about the thing on the slide -because it will move on to the next thing!
  • Even if you’ve rehearsed and made notes, the format will push you to speak more naturally.  What if your carefully crafted speech doesn’t line up with the slide change on the day?  You’d better come up with something to say quickly!

Cons:

  • The slide changeover was actually a bit clunky for some speakers.  This detracted from otherwise excellent talks because the transition wasn’t perfectly polished (yes, mine was one of these).
  • One piece of advice I’ve been given about presentations is that if you’re panicking / forget what to say / otherwise inept, you should take a few seconds to pause and regain composure.  This also allows the audience time to digest what you’re saying.  But there is absolutely no room for this with the Ignite format.
  • I would have like to have control over the slide transition myself.  If I’d been given 10 minutes to speak, formatted how I like, I’d have produced slides of varying length and might have even brought some props.  It would have been a completely different talk, but hey, maybe that’s not what the Ignite format is about.

I spent about a week preparing for the talk.  I knew what I wanted to say, and it was easy to create slides to fit with this message.  I was really keen to avoid Death By PowerPoint, so I summarised briefly on each slide and prepared a more detailed and related thing to say while the slide was on.  I was extremely careful to not just read off the slides.  I’m not a pro yet, but I do have standards.

On the day, I did have notes with me, but I ended up not using them.  I’d practised lots, and these were more of a comfort blanket than a necessity.  Anyway, I put the notes down about halfway through and just carried on talking.  I wasn’t paying attention to them anyway.

Before my talk, I spoke with the crew and received some sage advice from @InKredulousi with apologies to Kenny Rogers: You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table.  i.e. get up there, say what you’ve got to say, and then sh!t yourself afterwards (yes, he actually said that too – not Kenny Rogers, the other guy).

So there were no involuntary bowel movements, but I was pretty scared.  Mr. Science Gentleman had told me to expect 20 – 30 attendees.  I turned up and there were over 200 people in the audience (thanks, babe).  But I sort of fed off of it.  I had to do this thing, I knew it’d all be over in 15 minutes, and this was an opportunity to shine, not shy away.  I loved the feeling of having all those people listening to what I had to say, and it was great to get a laugh out of them as well.  It made me want to do more talks, and I’ve already got a couple of ideas lined up.

But in terms of getting my message out there, it went well too.  Lots of people came up to me not just to congratulate me on a good talk, but to ask more questions about PubhD and how they can get involved.  Being able to present to an interested audience is a wonderful opportunity to further your aims, and to meet people doing similar things.  I also got to hear 16 other talks on skeptical & science topics.  There’s a summary at www.skeptical-science.com, and here, below, with a few of my thoughts on some of them:

Emma McClure Peter Popoff – My Persistent Penpal (this was about a sort of mail order televangelism, with examples of “literature” that were both shocking and intriguing)
Michael Hales Don’t put your daughter into STEM, Mrs. Worthington (I’ll be writing a separate post on this topic – the speaker made some interesting observations on current recruitment drives in the sciences)
Michelle Ashworth The Birth of the New Horsemen (an online community for education and fostering understanding of skepticism & science)
Andras G. Pinter The Authority Problem (relating to reliable sources of information, and how skeptics can get involved)
Jessica Rose Cognitive Biases and Competence (this covered the problems of Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect: two sides of the same coin)
Pontius Bockman The Swedish Skeptical Movement (how they do things in Sweden – the skeptical movement is smaller in Sweden but they do some very cool things like going to schools to give workshops on critical thinking)
David Gamble Why do humans ignore facts and embrace myths as truth?
Kat Gray PubhD (about setting up and growing a pub-based presentation series for postgraduate researchers of all disciplines)
Ben Makin Not just Tommies in France – Indians on the Western Front
Brad Levin Skeptival – the camping festival for the skeptic community
Tom Williamson Skeptic’s Guide to Vexillology
Diana Barbosa COMCEPT – a skeptical adventure in Portugal
Heather Pentler How alt med tried to kill me (the adventures of a chronically ill person in the peculiar world of alternative medicine)
Diane Waugh The Fringe of Reason – Edinburgh Skeptics at the Edinburgh PBH Free Fringe
Myles Power AIDS Denialism………yep that’s a thing (Myles produces YouTube videos on many topics, and this is one of them – view his channel here)
Paul Fitzgerald Cartoons as a weapon (Paul spoke about the power of controversial cartoons; he also has a new book out soon)
Jon Stewart Inside AA: Can God Cure Alcoholism? (a view of the 12-step program from someone who’s been through it)

That was a whole day of wonderful and enlightening talks, and for free! The next day, QED began properly, and I’ll be blogging about that in a new post.

 

BEING A SKEPTIC, AND NICE

 

One of the things you may have noticed about this blog is that it’s fairly disorganised and random. That I’ll post on anything and just about everything. Although I’m a skeptic and a scientist, this blog doesn’t fall neatly into either category, and why is that? I’m a real person and I write about real things that affect me. Things I see in the news, things that happen in my life, projects that I work on. And it’s worth noting that I am a genuine human being – just because I’m a skeptic and a scientist, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be nice.  This blog doesn’t have a theme because it’s just… a day in my life.

The skeptic movement has got a bit of a bad rep, of being cold, unfeeling, distant, rude, and lacking empathy. Sometimes I do think these opinions are understandable (but not justified) – there are instances when these accusations appear to be proven correct: infighting, personal attacks, inflexibility. Not all critical thinkers are like that, and you can find examples of bad behaviour in all spheres of belief. I’m just an ordinary person, doing well for myself but not anything remarkable, trying to make sense of the one life that we have. And I don’t think I’m any of those awful things. Outspoken yes, but civil also. And sometimes I do feel let down when I hear about some dumb thing that a prominent atheist has said. I guess none of us are immune to crassness.

It is really difficult to argue a point effectively with someone who is a less experienced debater, or who has based their opinion on strongly held beliefs not backed up by evidence.  Sometimes that person may think their beliefs are sacred and so when they’re challenged they react badly and accuse the person doing the questioning of insensitivity.  I guess that’s one reason why skeptics are sometimes portrayed as being a bit mean.

The problem here perhaps lies in the interpretation of the question, and the way the question is asked.  It’s really important to scrutinise the idea rather than attack the person (although some people do see the questioning of their beliefs as a personal attack).  And it’s also important to carefully consider the question and not over-react.   What is the question really asking and why is it being asked?  Don’t forget that the skeptic may be asked an uncomfortable question too, and the same rules apply – be considered in the response and don’t see it as an affront to one’s self.  And make sure your arguments are solid or you’re going to look like a right idiot (nice or not).

 

CONFLICT OF INTEREST 1

 

I’m in favour of the Northern Hub rail development, and I’m quite excited about it connecting The North, especially Manchester.  In terms of how I feel about development generally, I’m not sentimental about it at all.  I work in construction, I accept that things change, and I know that in order to progress as a society, we have to make sensible decisions about our infrastructure.  So no problems there.

These trees are apple trees grown from graftings descended from the apple tree under which Isaac Newton is said to have formulated his theory of gravity.  They are on the old UMIST campus and I always thought that these were one of the coolest pieces of scientific history on site.  They do not bear fruit, but they are interesting just because of where they came from.

 Newton's apple trees  Newton's apple trees

 

The notice in this photo (right) is one of the notices that the council puts up whenever there is a planning matter that affects the local community.  It was fixed to a lighting standard near to the trees.  New lines will run right through the plot, alongside the existing viaduct (112 in the diagram, right).  It’s pretty unlikely they could do this without uprooting my special trees .  Blub. Northern Hub

Overall, I’m still in favour of the development.  If we allow sentimentality to rule, then we will never build anything new, or enhance our infrastructure to keep up with the needs of modern society.  But it has to be sensible though.  The planning system might well need to be reformed, but not at the expense of less tangible benefits, like culture, community and architectural history.

 

ESTIMATION 2

 

Mr. Science Gentleman posed a problem to me:  is it possible to draw one million dots on a piece of paper within the time it takes to travel from London to Dover and back on a bicycle?  I made a guess without really thinking about it, and before I had listened to this podcast: Tim FitzHigham: Gambler – Dots vs Dover.

I said that yes, it sounds like a doddle, basing my response on a poster I’d seen at high school, similar to this one. It both conveys the message that a million is a big number, but also scalable. The same site that sells this poster has a really good blog post on what a million really means compared to other numbers and familiar concepts.But… I was horribly wrong.  And to demonstrate this, we carried out a small experiment.  I drew dots on a piece of paper as quickly as I could for three minutes, and divided this number by three to get the rate per minute.  Knowing that Mr. Science gentleman already knew the answer, and it didn’t look good for me, I dotted the page frantically so that most of them were lines or scrawls rather than dots, but they were a mark on the page nonetheless.  After 3 minutes I had 562 dots, which is about 187 dots per minute.

 

So now we need to look at the problem from the other end. How far is it from London to Dover and back? According to Google Maps, it’s 84.1 miles in one direction, taking a little under 8 hours.  Let’s be charitable and assume that someone doing this is permitted a 20 minute break when they get to the White Cliffs and allow 16 hours total for this feat of endurance.  Well, it wouldn’t make much difference even if they decided to stop over for the night to recover.  60 minutes in one hour gives 187 x 60 = 11220 dots / hour. London to Dover in 7h 52min

That would be over 89 hours to draw all one million dots, going at full pelt and assuming that I had the physical and mental stamina to complete the task (ha!).  In those 89 hours, our cyclist could not only have an extended lunch break, but they could hop on the ferry to Calais for a long weekend and/or epic booze cruise.  Not sure how much cheap alcohol and cigarettes you can fit in a cycle pannier, though.

 

STALYBRIDGE

 

I needed to go to Stalybridge, for the very important reasons that it is nice, it was sunny, and it is rich pickings for Ingress players.  So off I went on my day off.  I had a number of cool things to do, namely complete two Ingress missions, get some new portals (all is explained here), and go for a drink in the famous Buffet Bar in the railway station.  It’s a lovely pub with real ales and a beer garden that backs on to platform 4 (it genuinely does! But you’re not allowed to take drinks on to the platform).

Stalybridge is actually quite well-known for its nightlife (the locals call it Staly Vegas), and it has a very high pub quotient.  And there are also two very cool pubs in Stalybridge.  I love geeky facts and imagine my joy when I discovered that both the UK pub with the shortest name, and the UK pub with the longest name, are in the same town! Wow!

 Q is just round the corner from the railway station and looks trendy and friendly (ooh you get a rhyme as well as an amazing fact). Q Q

 

The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn is located in a housing estate just 700 yards away.  The name is so long that the sign is the full width of the pub! The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn

 

SHORT HAIR

 

I’ve got short hair, and this has been so for the last few years. As a child, I always wanted to chop my long locks off and have more boyish hair. But my parents wouldn’t allow it, seemingly because they had to reinforce the idea that girls are girls, and boys are boys. Another post is due on that topic later. When I left home at 18 (which was the first possible chance I had to do so), I felt unsure and almost guilty about wanting to cut my hair. It seemed to be expected of young ladies to have long hair, and while I don’t consider myself to be particularly ladylike (and I would not want to be) I did want to fit in.Now that I’m older and feel a bit less lost in the world, I’m more comfortable making decisions that may set me apart from other people. But the length of my hair still seems to be contentious. I’ve been told that my hair makes me look like a man (um, I don’t find this offensive but the person who said it did mean it as a pejorative), and that I am not allowed to wear dresses anymore (I know, even though I’m a grown-up in my 30s, other people still feel the need to tell me how to dress).

The haircut before this one was even more extreme, ranging from crew cut to a rather stylish Tintin-esque quiff. It was guaranteed to attract strange looks from people; the best response to these is to just stare right back at them. But finding a hairdresser willing to actually cut my hair like that was a marathon. The most blatant one was a man who wanted to check with my boyfriend that it was ok for him to cut my long hair off (WTF????), but I’ve been to numerous others who continually ask me if I’m really sure and talk me out of getting the haircut I really want. I’ve found a unisex hairdresser that I’d ordinarily praise for their ability to look beyond gender and see what the customer actually asks for.  However, they’ve taken on a new stylist who doesn’t really seem to get it – I told them what I wanted and they talked me out of it, and then when I conceded to a haircut less likely to offend Joe Public’s delicate sensibilities, they hacked away at it with scissors, bemoaning the fact that if I wanted it shorter they’d have to use clippers.  Uh, yeah, that’s what I want you to do, 1970s-man.  Maybe time to find a new hairdresser – but it’ll be tough.  Many barbers in Manchester state explicitly that they are gents barbers, and even if I can find somewhere to give me a “man’s haircut”, I know I’ll get charged twice as much just because of my biological sex.

More disappointingly, I discussed the possibility of going shorter with Mr. Science Gentleman, who isn’t too keen on the idea.  Why?  Because he’d find it “intimidating”.  I don’t even.

 

CASHBACK!

 

I’ve just met a “charming” fellow (read: totally up themselves), who seems to have a rather confused and/or dated view of relationships. Let’s just say I didn’t warm to this chap too much, mainly because everything that escaped their mouth appeared to be for the purpose of self-promotion and/or offending people for the merry hell of it. What a card! So they entered into this piece of rhetoric with both the gusto and wit of Alan Partridge, and described how he thinks he’s “punching above his weight” because his girlfriend is younger than him. Uh, a whole 4 years younger. It’s not exactly J. Howard Marshall and Anna Nicole Smith, is it?

So this was a little weird, and it sounded kinda dumb.  Is that still how we place a value on people these days?  Their age and nothing more?  And the younger the better?

One of my friends sarcastically remarked that Mr. Science Gentleman must really have scored because our age difference is far greater than that.  But that’s the thing, isn’t it?  What the hell is this strange assumption about?  If I was more than a decade older than my boyfriend, would I have grounds to think of myself as particularly lucky?  Perhaps you could call me a cougar or something else to arbitrarily categorise me.

I don’t think so.  For me, it’s more complicated than that. I see my partner as an equal, but often I have dated older people.  But not always, and I don’t see age as either a barrier or benefit.  Some people may do, and based on other people’s relationships, they don’t follow a rule book.  If you want evidence of this, look at the marriage records.  But there are stereotypes about what makes a good partner.  And when we are faced with something that challenges this, ranging from disability, to fetishes, to polyamory, to simple preferences, the weird ideas and jokes all come out.

Humour shouldn’t always be PC, and we should admit to occasionally being amused by the offensive and taboo.  But it does get a bit boring after a while.  Have we really not come up with any new material since 1975?

 

SMILING

 

This is a difficult topic to write authoritatively on, because it’s not my area of expertise, and the only knowledge I have of it is a few pop sci articles and my own experience.  So this should perhaps be taken as an anecdote, but if I find any more information on it, I will post it here.

Another thing that makes it tricky is that while I have been able to find psychology papers on smiling, I haven’t been able to find very much on the specific scenario on which I want information. I did find this article from a business coaching firm’s website, but obviously they have a vested interest in identifying a behavioural problem. And how much of the problem’s existence and solution depends on everyone buying into it? It does quote a study undertaken at UCLA, which I wasn’t able to find. I did, however, locate a couple of interesting studies on smiling in job interviews:
  • Mollie A. Ruben, Judith A. Hall & Marianne Schmid Mast (2015) Smiling in a Job Interview: When Less Is More, The Journal of Social Psychology, 155:2, 107-126, DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2014.972312

(TL;DR: jobs viewed as more “serious” rate smiley candidates less favourably at interview, using smiles at different stages of the interview has differing effects, some jobs have male or female connotations, men smile less than women)

(TL;DR: people in positions of power smile according to their genuine emotions, people in low-power situations did not smile more overall but did smile more when they were not actually happy)

The situations described on the business coaching site do reflect my own experiences, but I am wary of my confirmation bias in the selection of studies I’ve found.  That having been said, I’ve found a reasonable solution that seems to be working for me, and if I base all of my decisions on a meta-analysis of a number of peer reviewed papers, I’ll never make it out of the front door.  Anyway, my story goes like this:

I was chatting with somebody about the perception of smiling (I can’t remember how we got on to this), and I mentioned that I try not to smile as much as I once used to.  It’s a part of my assertiveness drive mentioned in this post.  It’s because I tended (and I do sometimes still do, if I let my guard down) to smile at anyone and everything, when I’m talking to people about probably anything, at work, in the street, at university, when speaking to friends, strangers, acquaintances.  The problem isn’t the smiling itself, but its ubiquity.  My instinct was to always smile when addressed, and it’s just not appropriate.  This is a learnt behaviour, and while it’s ingrained and hard to break free from, I am more aware of it and I’m able to manage it more effectively.

So my problems with my incessant smiling were:

  1. I appeared to only have one emotional state: deliriously happy.  This effectively rendered me expressionless and less able to convey my emotions or intentions to others.
  2. People appeared to take me more seriously when I adjusted the volume control on my smile dial.  I do worry here that I might be seeing this because I’ve decided that this is the result I want, but I can think of a few examples in which someone thought they could get one over on me by laughing it off, and I didn’t play along… and it noticeably worked out in my favour, accompanied by their embarrassment (I’m not going to deny I felt satisfaction about this – but mainly because I didn’t end up the one looking like a fool).

The person I was talking with argued that smiling is a positive aspect of human interaction, and that is true.  The article in the first link addresses this, noting that a smile is a weapon to be wielded with skill and care.  Use it appropriately to your advantage in an exchange, but don’t apply a scattergun approach.

I’m going to finish with another article (from the Guardian) about the perception of women, that takes a slightly different direction.  So there’s evidence to show that people are more likely to lie to a woman than a man.  And many women would agree that they’ve been in a situation where people bullshitted them and not their male colleague / friend / partner.  But the Guardian piece argues that that’s not the part of the problem that you need to look at.  Sure women get lied to more, but doesn’t that make them more vigilant to lying?  And by extension, better liars themselves?  Well, that’s one way of redressing the balance, I suppose.

 

BOUNDARIES

 

Ever heard the advice that one should “learn to say ‘no'”? It’s good advice and I’ve certainly started to apply this to my own life. One thing’s for sure: it pisses a lot of people off. But it also makes people respect you more. I was conscious of coming across as a bit of a doormat, and while I do not think this was a fair or reasonable assessment of me, that’s what I had to work with.

I didn’t see a problem with treating others as I wish to be treated, but those unfortunately aren’t the rules that everyone else plays by. There’s a very thin line between being open, and letting people just walk right in and take whatever they want. I was brought up to be “nice” and to defer to others, and it became apparent in adulthood that no-one gets a prize for being agreeable. Pushing back against all this has made me so much more confident and determined to get what I want from life. I’ve also noticed people’s surprise when I tell them that, actually, no, I don’t want to just do the thing that would make their lives easier. I have agency over my own life, thank you.

So here’s the example that really set me over the edge. I was working for a boss that was encroaching more and more on my personal time and sanity. I was in the joyous position of working for several line managers, which isn’t so unusual for some industries and project types. But their project was somehow more special and worthy of my attention than everyone else’s, and so they pestered me to the point of micromanagement to work only for them. They even told me that I had to learn to say “no”, while expecting a “yes” from me at all times. They didn’t discuss it with any of the other managers, so I had the double problem of being unable to say no to this person, and getting into trouble for not working on other people’s projects. Hurrah.

And then it just got worse. You’d think that having got my fullest attention, they’d leave me alone to get on with it. Nope. They were (metaphorically) sat over my shoulder “helping” (read: Not Helping) me get the work done. They were actually sat on the corner of my desk, talking at and over me. Two things: 1. personal space, 2. How did they expect me to do the work properly and on time with this level of distraction?

I’m not sure why they’d be so desperate to have someone working for them if they had so little confidence in them that felt they had to do this.

And then, even worse than that. I was expected to do extra hours if necessary to meet deadlines. This is just how it was and often is, and was the same for everyone. But I’d mentioned that I was away at the weekend for a very important conference and literally everyone knew how excited I was about it. But I had to drop my weekend plans with one day’s notice for this person. No-one else got asked except for me.  Combine this with the fact that this person was already making me come in on non-contracted days to the extent that my studies were suffering, well, I think you can tell how upset I was.  My stress levels were off the scale, and I was considering quitting.

And so, I said “no, I’m not going to put up with this any more”. I didn’t do it alone, I raised concerns with others higher up the food chain (because 1. raising it with the person concerned didn’t work, and 2. it demonstrated that I had the conviction to speak up about something that I felt was unfair). I am so glad that I did, because it sparked a chain of events in other areas of my life.

I decided that I could apply the model of Taking Crap Off No-One to other areas of my life. I started doing more things with my life that I really wanted to do, but felt apprehensive about. I stopped giving in to other people’s demands and expectations and stated my own case. I graciously accepted others advice and concern, but mentally told them to stick it. And it felt bloody brilliant. My life is so much better a couple of years on. I’m living the life that I wanted, I’ve established sensible boundaries, and I have a stronger feeling about who I am and what I need.