Know It All

Working in academia is a new experience for me, I’ve been at the job about 4 months now. Because I’m the only person in my job function, I have a pretty extensive project list. This list gets reported to my boss regularly, but there are a number of other people that think they know what I should be doing. I am amazed by these talking-head-know-it-all-phds who need to continually prove their expertise outside their area of study.

The modus operandii goes like this:

  1. Someone asks why I haven’t done something.
  2. I normally give a straightforward answer which usually includes a diplomatic discussion of the project’s priority relative to others on my list.
  3. They decide that the project they’ve suggested should take priority because it will benefit them. They then get their boss to email my boss.
  4. My boss may or may not ask me to rearrange my priorities. This depends on his mood, the project requested and who made the request. (Probably 70% of the time he does.)
  5. I’ll drop everything to complete the project.
  6. The requestor then takes credit for having gotten the project done and they act as if it were their idea to begin with because they initiated my action on it.

Never mind the fact that it was there on my project list – the idea, preliminary research, resources, etc. – as far as they are concerned it didn’t exist until they suggested it.

My most recent experience with this involved “Dr. Sally Fong,” who has a ‘Piled higher and Deeper’ degree in inf0-tech. Sally was hired to put together an inf0rmation techn0logy program to start in the fall of next year. This is a brand-new degree program for the school. At this point she has seven enrollees but needs to increase that number significantly in order for the program to actually run. She is probably nervous that she won’t make make the numbers and is likely having a tough time justifying major purchases without committed enrollment to back it up. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in her situation.

Thus far, she has no staff, no lab space, and can’t determine what equipment to buy. Sally is constantly looking to the technical operations staff for help. It is not their job to be involved in the process other than from a ‘need-to-know’ basis and a minimal advisory capacity. Although she is undoubtedly smart in some areas, her knowledge is more broad that it is deep. That’s okay, she just needs to hire the right people. But, as is often the case with people in high ranking positions, she pretends her knowledge is as deep as it is wide. The tech-ops staff have decided that she is a moron.

In my case, Sally has insisted that keyword phrases (meta tags) be added to the home page of the school’s website. During a meeting this week she asked why it hadn’t been done. Her inquiry and related discussion of where the school appears in Yahoo listings, in front of 20+ other department heads, had little to do with the meeting itself or the reason I was there. The m.o. described above is in full swing… an email arrives for me and my boss within 30 minutes of the meeting.

Sally is convinced that our search engine rankings will improve immediately and that more students will apply to her program. Yes, it’s important that appropriate keywords and descriptions be added to every page in the site. What she doesn’t understand is that search engine rankings are usually derived from an algorithm that takes into account the page title, description, keywords, page content and links to the page from other places. Each search engine places a different weight on these items and computes the rank differently. Unless you’re paying for top billing you usually don’t get it. Duplicating keywords or intentionally using keywords that don’t match your site content for the purpose of getting higher rankings is considered search engine spamming. Obtaining good rankings is an ongoing process that requires periodic fine tuning. It can take months. Spending time to submit your site to search engines is important too. This is probably more than you need to know.

She sent me her list of keywords; it consisted of only the names of the academic departments at the school. Each was prefaced by “Department of.” Had I used her list, I would have duplicated the words “Department of” about 25 times. That in itself tells me she thinks she knows more than she does and that my assessment is correct: She knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be useful. What’s puzzling is that she has the time to spend doing web searches and writing keywords when she has much larger issues to resolve.


  1. Let me cut to the chase.<br>Make some chocolate cupcakes. <br>Bake three chocolate Ex-Lax into three of them. <br>Take Sally Fong a plate containing those three and let her select one, then give her another for later. <br>Smile real pretty.<br>

  2. Ooops, I made that cupcake comment…have no idea how Rosanne’s name got in there.<br>Nooo idea. 😉

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