The Non-Expert

Back Off, Man, I’m a Scientist

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we help a forlorn scientist understand why his friend and co-worker chose to quit her job and leave the state.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: I moved to the deep South to take a good job as a government scientist. My position includes money for research, a laboratory, and a full-time technician. My new boss “suggested” I hire a local girl, which I did. After making her cry repeatedly and feeling like an over-demanding tyrant, I convinced an old friend from California to temporarily move to Mississippi and be my technician. She agreed and it really saved my career bacon. It’s now been two years and she’s moving back to California. How do I not feel resentment that being homeless and unemployed in California is somehow better than being gainfully employed and living a block from me in Mississippi? Is it the hurricanes, the Southerners, or just working with me? Cheers, Tim

(P.S., My wife calls it “the dirty South,” but she’s still resents leaving downtown San Jose and all her artsy friends.)

Answer: Putting aside your wife’s love of the Goodie Mob, based on your question, you’ve identified certain reasons for why your friend has chosen to pull up stakes and return to California. Though it’s true you’ve missed a few other possibilities—ran out of granola bars; cult called her back; can’t remember M-I-double-S…I-double-S…—since you’re a scientist, you must be a trained observer, and so you’d know better than us. (Though you may want to check behind the chemical hood for empty granola wrappers, just in case.) And as a scientist, Tim, you must be looking for a satisfactory explanation, the cause behind the effect of your friend and co-worker’s decision, a concrete answer that has to be tested using—what else?—the scientific method. And here’s how your already stated hypotheses fared.

Hypothesis: It’s the hurricanes.

Granted, last year’s hurricane season was catastrophic for the Gulf Coast. Enough to make someone consider relocating to a less hurricane-prone area—but consider that she’s going to California, where not only are there earthquakes, but also mudslides, floods, wildfires, avalanches, and ocean liners that flip upside down. I’m afraid California is hardly any safer, disaster-wise, than Mississippi.

Hypothesis disproved: It’s a good thing she’s a scientist, though. Once she gets out there, she may need to reverse the rotation of the earth in order to shut down a volcano.

Hypothesis: It’s the Southerners.

But if she had something against the people in the region, why did she move to Mississippi in the first place? Then again, I don’t know what it is you’re doing in that lab down there (mind-control experiments), or what sort of government work you’re doing (digging up Civil War graves), or why (part of a evil scientist plot to make sure the South does indeed rise again).

Hypothesis disproved: She could never hold anything against good Southern people, though they (and the rest of us, really) may be a little miffed about the effect your work could have on Social Security—all these new applicants could finally ruin it for everybody. Have you cleared this with your supervisor or any of his or her clones?

Hypothesis: It’s that she doesn’t like working with you.

Highly unlikely. Sure, sometimes you like to drink the experiments. Sure, you wear bandages from head to toe. But those aren’t good reasons to spoil a working relationship.

Besides, you taught her everything there is to know about centrifugal force—and you got her out of cranial pan-scraping duty.

Hypothesis disproved: Never mind your last employee’s crying fits—you’re the world’s greatest boss, Tim, and I bet you have the coffee mug to prove it. (Though personally I wouldn’t drink the rest of whatever’s in it, you can do what you like.)

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Now that we’ve disproved all your existing hypotheses, we can return to your original question, where you also ask: “How do I not feel resentment that being homeless and unemployed in California is somehow better than being gainfully employed and living a block from me in Mississippi?”

Though a lesser person could take heart in your friend’s misfortune—her potential poverty, missing out on the Shiloh do-over, no access to the antidote of whatever you baked into her going-away cake—you’re a true friend, Tim, and friendship is more important than any co-worker relationship.

Which is why, when she finally does depart for the piranha-infested shores and acid rain of California, you should see her off. Raise a glass to her health and wish her the very best.

And sometime before then, you should perfect an odor-less, flavorless truth serum—because the very best memories are the ones you can’t help but share.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack