Monday, August 13, 2007

The Queen and I

“Thank you.” A woman with whom I spent a couple of hours this afternoon said when I left her to wait for the valets to fetch her car. “You’ve been very kind.”

Data collection events are a big deal for me. I can analyze for months based upon an hour-long experiment. For what I do - and for various reasons - data collection events are few and far between. While painless, it is inconvenient for patients to participate in my studies. The results are not particularly helpful for my subjects, so I try to make the experience as easy as possible for them.

When attempting to abide by any and all scheduling wishes my subjects might have, I could be a bit annoying to Calendar Queen. Instead of an open calendar placed online for all to update and use, there is a website containing some semblance of dates and times when the equipment might be in use. A single person controls the system - she is the queen - and all who want the equipment must go through her, bowing and scraping to remain in her good graces.

This is difficult.

I am not, however, a difficult person. Well, I can be, actually, but I try to be polite and sweet and accommodating in my professional life. If I need something that is difficult, I take care to explain the reasons for why my request is late or unusual. Plus, I have spent a great deal of time and energy obtaining funding for the time to use said equipment. I’m not asking for favors. I want to use the money I have so I can get data. And I need to reserve times that work for my patients, though they don’t come along all that often.

Two weeks ago, I reserved a time for a data collection event. It was to be tomorrow.

When I called to confirm, the patient asked - for various valid reasons - if we could move the time. Having failed in my attempts to meet with this person for more than a month, I said I would absolutely work something out.

At which time, I twisted my face in expected displeasure and wrote to Calendar Queen.

Your Highness, I typed, I noticed that the calendar is free for several time slots next week. My patient - scheduled on Tuesday morning - requested a different time. Before I offered her the options, I wanted to check with you to see if the calendar is up to date and to see if you had any times that you thought would work particularly well.

With a final thank you, I closed the email and waited. And waited. And waited.

She finally responded and noted that my study “frustrates her greatly” and that she’d rather not be involved at all. Therefore, she could move the experiment - only to this new time she selected.

I sighed. I know my study frustrates her greatly. My life is appropriately miserable when I have to deal with her because of this. I don’t understand the problem though! I was told to use this specific equipment. I obtained money and authorization and jumped through all the right hoops. I can’t figure out exactly how I offended her, but I did. And now I must suffer.

I obediently called my patient and tried to gently nudge her toward the time the queen had allowed us. She requested a time this afternoon instead, and noting that it remained open on the online calendar - which may or may not be correct - I said that I would ask and we made tentative plans to meet.

I braced myself once again and sent another email to the queen. I again explained the situation - schedule restraints, treatment protocols, patient preference and the likelihood that I would end up missing this data completely if I didn’t get it soon - and reminded her that the study was fully funded.

Repeat waiting process.

After I’d left for the weekend - unsure as to whether she’d reply or not - I arrived home to a terse email refusing my request.

I frowned and immediately replied - just before 5 on a Friday afternoon - that I didn’t understand the reasons behind my plan being rejected and I rather needed an alternate solution.

Last night, I was very anxious over the fact that I had no plan for this week. I was afraid to watch the precious data slip away in a wind of Queen’s whims to screw with my head. After much whining to Friend about how I didn’t know what to tell my patient or how to prepare or what might need to be done tomorrow or Tuesday or later this week or never, I was a touch upset.

Before I went to sleep, I wrote email.

Hi again, Queen, I wrote, gritting my teeth with the effort of being polite. I have considered it more carefully and have decided that I need this data as part of the follow-up study I’m proposing. Therefore, if I do not obtain this data, the initial information is rather useless. I hate to let Important Scientist know that I was unable to complete the project as he requested when providing funding. For reasons previously outlined, it is vital that we collect data this week. I have spoken at length to the patient and she can make time to meet me tomorrow (Monday) afternoon or Wednesday in the late afternoon. I therefore require the slot that appears to be free on the calendar or will need someone to offer a later experiment than is normally offered.

I am, I concluded, very aware this study frustrates you greatly and wish that were different. However, it doesn’t change what I’m trying to do here.

This morning she replied that I could perform my data collection event today.

So my day was spent in a bundle of nerves, trying frantically to prepare and feeling my mind spin worries and scenarios and ways I could screw this up. I was also very aware that I had worsened what was already an uncomfortable situation.

Everything went well. My patient did beautifully and I was thrilled with the quality of data, though I’ll look more closely tomorrow as I start to figure out how to organize it and mine information.

But I hate that it’s so hard to organize. That instead of feeling supported and able to excel, I feel squashed and at the mercy of people who are profoundly unhappy anyway. The spreading of misery appears to be an epidemic and for every three people I pass who make me smile without thinking - they’re smart and lovely and I enjoy seeing them - there is one for whom I must withhold a scowl until they pass me and my face can assume the expression of annoyance it so desperately wants to make. (My fraction could be off. I'm a bit tipsy.)

Calendar Queen is actually a valuable resource. She’s incredibly knowledgeable. But unless I am one of the favored few - which I am decidedly not - I have no access to her expertise or the equipment. And that makes my job nearly impossible at times. The stress I feel in response to this situation - I am a planner! I need to plan! - means that my fit here is not good.

That Boss’s solution is “to make better friends” with Calendar Queen frustrates me even more.
But. I have lived to fight another day. There are mango drinks with vodka tonight and I grow sleepy as I care less and less of how anxious I was last night. My stomach will clench the next time I need to reserve time to collect data, but I will remind myself that I’m already watching job boards. And when I look at data and provide comparisons and give my talk, I’m sure I’ll think this all worthwhile.

But for tonight, the vodka really does help.


Phdladybug said...

I am sure it's hard to deal with someone like the Queen but I think you are overcoming the difficulty very well.

ppb said...

I think you're doing an amazing job. I would be crying and whining by now.

Anonymous said...

omg,the queen sounds like a royal pain and you rock for actually getting what you need out of her. sorry she is making it so hard!

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