Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

What's the Most Annoying Misconception About Your Career Field?
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Readers from a variety of vocations address the question. If you’d like to sound off yourself, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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Cancer Isn't a Disease

A reader who works in biotech responds to the TAD question, “What is a common and/or annoying misconception about your vocation?”

Here’s an interesting one I just thought of for my field in cancer research: Sometimes I’m asked why we haven’t come up with a “cure for cancer.” This may sometimes come packed with assumptions that the biopharmaceutical industry is deliberately trying to avoid “curing” cancer because there’s so much money in drugs.

The reality is, cancer is hundreds of different diseases, and it’s still deeply complex and far from fully understood. So since there’s no clear solution to stopping cancer, therapy is the next best answer, since patients are suffering now. I’m definitely not saying that companies in my industry are doing their absolute best (they’re only as good and smart as the people who run them), but the collective of scientific knowledge says that nothing about this line of research is easy.

Here’s a quick reply from a reader who spent 15 years working in Big Pharma:

That fact alone—that cancer is a collection of diseases—dissuades Pharma from attacking it, with the absence of blockbuster potential. It’s becoming reminiscent of antibiotics, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

The first reader adds:

But antibiotics are an interesting case as well; they’re not getting any more effective. Before long we will need another means of fighting dangerous bacterial infections. Some serious work to be done in that area.

Speaking of that work, Sarah Zhang just last week had an alarming Atlantic piece about antibiotic resistance:

The TAD group of long-time Atlantic readers started a really interesting discussion this week that centers on the question, “What is the most common and/or annoying misconception about your vocation?” The most up-voted entry came from a clergywoman:

Oh, boy. It’s a long list.

People assume that clergy want to discuss religion all the time. Not remotely true. I’ve had hairdressers start in with, “What do you think is the most pressing problem in the church today?” I’m thinking, “Dude, really? You don’t have to do this. Just let me read my magazine in peace.”

People also think they have to watch every word they say around you. (I realize English teachers sometimes get this as well, but for a different reason.) Or, as a friend of ours put it when hubs and I were going to be dinner guests along with another couple, “I told that couple that you’re a minister, but you’re nice.” Gee, thanks.

The one that I find the most troubling is that some people act as though my prayers “count” more or do more than those of others. That is absolutely not a part of my theology. I do not have a red phone nor a direct line. And God doesn’t like me better than you.