When my supervisor found me, the office was in disarray – papers were scattered, books were overturned, a computer screen was flickering wildly – my eyes were crazy, hungry, tearful, and I was lost in a world of red disarray.
This scene describes the first hour of my first day of my first job. It also seems to portray the snafu experienced in war. Funny thing is that if there is a difference between the two – the beginning of a professional career and sanctioned bloodshed – I must’ve missed it in my boss’s look of disbelief and his gaping mouth that searched slowly for lost words. He looked as though he was suffering from shell shock.
Within that first hour I managed to turn a pristine, University-run lab into the helter-skelter makings of a drunken mortician’s office. Blood peppered most things, including myself. I looked at him, he looked at me, then the floor, then back to me, and I, as a true student of the teachings of professionalism, went to shake his hand with crusty brown fingernails and a smile that was stained ruby-red.
Jump back an hour later, and you will find a kid pretending to be a man with his stainless dress pants, his ironed dress shirt , and a wide smile for all who could see. I was excited to join the workforce. I was told that it was here where I would discover, change, and participate in some greater whole.
That exuberance leaked out of me in the first five minutes though. I sat in the lab and waited for my supervisor. He was late, or perhaps I was early. I checked my watch. Time passed. I opened a cabinet. Papers hung from dividers. I tried to read one – immunoisolation by the microencapsulation of prima… – then closed it. I sneaked a glance at the blank computer screen, too afraid to touch the mouse lest I destroy some important research file. I opened a Ph. D. research file, and tried to wrap my head around the jargon. I then twiddled my thumbs, sighed, and realized I was bored.
Wasn’t my first job supposed to be exciting? Wasn’t I supposed to be dancing around an office with coffees in one hand, files in another, and somehow balancing a platter of food on my shoulders? Wasn’t I supposed to be stressed? Wasn’t I supposed to be having fun?
An hour ticked away, and my boss still hadn’t come. Courage had bubbled into my fingers in the meantime. I clicked the mouse. The screen lit up. An error message popped up. It read: did not eject… data lost… error.
Somehow I had screwed up without doing very much. Of course, it wasn’t my fault entirely – someone forgot to properly eject their USB – but in my naivety, I didn’t think of the possibility. Instead, I saw immediacy. Action and reaction. Data lost. Data lost. Data lost. I read it again and again and again.
My imagination gave way to disaster after disaster. What if I had lost the cure to cancer? Or erased a million dollar grant? I had deleted Nobel Prize winning research. I had effaced the world of diabetes treatment.
Suddenly, I felt a steady tickle. I looked down to my hands and saw deep red driblets flowing into them. Blood. The stream was coming from my nose.
I searched for tissue paper. There was none. Searched for paper towels. Still none. A dirty, used napkin? Nothing.
With no other alternative, I grabbed the printer paper and tried to stop the torrent. The rough paper crinkled under my nose unevenly. It was glossy print. The blood, barely absorbed. The ocean of red continued to pour onto the floor unperturbed.
Enter my supervisor’s contorted face of disgust. As I step closer, he recoils and finds his words, “Kacper, the bathroom is in the hall. Go.” It’s a command. An order.
I let my hand sag, shuffled my feet away, and spent an hour cleaning blood off my dress shirt, my pants, my shoes – everything.
Why tell this story you may ask?
Perhaps it’s a means for comfort that your first day at work can’t get as bad as mine. Perhaps it’s because since that day, I’ve realized the one can take the creed, “blood, sweat, and tears” a bit too literally.
But that’s not why. I tell it because I learned that in work, especially during one’s first job, anything can happen and one must be ready. Yet that’s not to say I should have brought an entire first aid kit with me (though that would’ve helped, and maybe a whole hospital too).
In dealing with professional faculty and staff, there will be times when unpredictable elements are out of our control. How one acts during these rare, chance encounters will therefore determine how we act throughout our future career.
From my experience, I chose to march along the steady footsteps of professionalism, even if I was anything but; because in the end, I chose to shake a hand, even if I shouldn’t have.