Friday, June 24, 2011

Judging People

I like to think I'm not a really judgmental person. Certainly not in terms of one person being "better" than another. If someone lingers just outside the entrance to a building smoking and then tosses the cigarette on the ground, I'll certainly think ill of them, but not in terms that I'm somehow better than they.

In any case, when it comes to physics you must judge, in terms of ability. You need to find out if you might want to work with them, or what particular knowledge/experience you can take advantage of with questions and which questions you might as well not ask.

So when I google people after seeing them at conferences, you can usually find out their pedigree (education, advisors, etc). It's usually better to judge by asking them questions, but sometimes you use shortcuts. So when I find paragraphs written by them online and they're horribly written, that's not a good sign. When I then see that they were English or other liberal art majors at one point and they have grammatical errors, I judge them harshly.

And then there's the issue of what schools they've attended. Despite the fact that I attended a very elite school, I try not to count this much. But if they've attended some non-elite school and follow that up with a non-elite grad school, it's hard not to feel that they've essentially got to prove their worth to you.


Douglas Natelson said...

I've got some measure of respect for those who try to cut through the bs and just ask you straight out upon meeting you: "So, how good are you?" Except that's usually asked by an utter egomaniac who already knows what they think on the subject. In these days of quantitative metrics, being nonjudgmental is hard work sometimes.

(Good to have you back, btw.)

Angry said...

Hi Doug,

Never been asked outright, but have definitely felt cross-examined before. And as for quantitative metrics, I don't put any stock in them. In my field, there's a lot of incestuous citing and nothing-papers in the published record.

What I hope to blog about soon is how one might consider behaving because one is often being judged. And as an introvert, I think I often acted in ways counterproductive without even knowing. Not that any advice will completely change how someone behaves, but I think there are definite things anyone can do.

Douglas Natelson said...

I'm with you on the very limited utility of most metrics. I know people who place far too much importance on h-numbers. Unfortunately the temptation to substitute them for in-depth examination is large, particularly since they're increasingly easy to obtain and the latter is actual hard work.

ccg said...

About pedigree: You seem to suggest that those without "proper" pedigree have to "prove themselves" but that those with it are exempt. Shouldn't everyone have to prove themselves? I've seen far to many physicists with degrees from prestigious institutions (like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.) but couldn't do independent research to save their lives. I've generally enjoyed reading your blog as I, too, know all too well the dark side of academia. But the remark about pedigree I found offensive and I think it lowers you to the level of the people you often disparage. Remember, the people on Wall Street who helped destroy the economy also have the "right" pedigree.

Angry said...


I certainly meant no such implication. Nor would I use the term "proper." Instead, an "elite" education generally indicates only that one had a desire for an elite education (and some measure of ability to achieve it). Such graduates surely also have to prove themselves. I'm talking here about situations where one has just very little information to work with. These are only the coarsest of measures.