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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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A reader has some advice if you ever find yourself accidentally and unknowingly dialing the emergency hotline:

I have worked as a law enforcement dispatcher for 14 years, the last two as part of a 911 center. I must first say that most reactions from people are positive, usually along the lines of “I could never do that!”—even (especially) from officers. I have come across a couple of incorrect assumptions, though. The one I have dealt with personally is that because I work with law enforcement, I’m a hardcore law-and-order type. While this misconception may keep me off juries, in fact I—like most others in the profession with whom I am acquainted—probably have a  more balanced opinion of law enforcement than many people.

Another assumption my supervisor hears  is “Oh, so you answer phones”—in a tone that suggests that people call 911 to chat. Yes, we answer phone calls—from people who are frequently angry, upset, or in great distress to the point of incoherence. It is up to us to turn that call into useful information to be used by the appropriate responders.  

Actually, the type of call I would most like to mention is the accidental 911 call. These have become increasingly common with cellphones with single-button 911 activation. Many people don’t know that they did it (the “butt” or “pocket” dial). This is a large enough problem at some centers that software exists to help handle it.

It’s policy at our center to check out all 911 calls with at least a call-back and in most cases send an officer. If you do accidentally dial 911 and you realize it, please stay on the line and let the call-taker know what happened and where you are (or follow the procedure for the center you contact). If you get a call from us because of an accidental dial, please bear in mind that we have to check out all 911 calls and be patient and cooperative.

Another reader joins the series:

As a construction laborer, I find that one of the funniest misconceptions about my job is that Hollywood and pretty much all TV show producers seem to think that all construction workers have Brooklyn or Bronx accents from the 1950s. Even when they show construction workers in LA or Dallas, the workers all seem to have Brooklyn accents.

But more seriously, I’ve had people literally tell me that I do “unskilled” or “brainless” work because I’m in construction. Yes, the construction industry is one of the least credentialed industries; you literally do not need a high school diploma. But once you enter the industry, you are expected to learn on the job—and quickly.

This week, I’m putting in a concrete footer/foundation underneath a
120-year-old brick house. That doesn’t require academic credentials, but it does require skill. Guys in my neighborhood have been killed because they did the process wrong.

Many people seem to think that strength is the best quality for a construction worker to have. Actually, even when it comes to the hard laboring jobs, the biggest and strongest guys are often the worst workers. They often get outworked by older, smaller, and/or skinnier or fatter guys. A man who likes to work or has a good attitude towards work can easily outwork a lazy muscular guy.

I had a relative by marriage who ended up disabled after a number of years in construction after episodes of showing off how much he could lift. He’d show up all the other guys on the job site by carrying two of whatever everybody else carried one of, after bragging he could out-lift everyone on site. All this resulted in delays in work followed by multiple back surgeries. I’d bet that some of the men who refused to engage in his petty contests kept their jobs a lot longer than he did.

So far we’ve heard from a minister who gets exasperated when parishioners treat her differently outside the church and a reader in the biotech field who cleared up a common misconception about cancer. This next reader, David, runs through several misconceptions about his work as a preschool teacher:

You’re so lucky. You get summers off.

Many teachers work in the summer. They don’t make enough money during the school year. More than a few teachers have to pay for supplies for their own classroom. They are not given a big enough budget by the school.

You’re so lucky. You get off work at 2:30, right?

Faculty meetings, prep for the next day’s classes, emails and phone calls to parents ... you get the picture. It is 8:30 pm as I write this, and I’m taking a break from preparing for tomorrow’s school day. I’ve only taken time off for dinner and a short walk since the kids left.

You’re so lucky. You get to play with kids all day.

This was said to me by a parent—and preschool teacher too—at a parent conference. For the youngest children, play is work. And in these days of Common Core and the Every Student Succeeds Act, preschool is pre-high-stakes testing. Five year olds have work to do in their handwriting workbooks. After that, they work on what number combinations make 5. Morning meeting lasts at least a half hour. And all this is before any recess.

A daughter of a teacher adds:

I stopped visiting my parents over Christmas because my mom was WAY too busy to do anything with me while on her winter break. Much better to go in late July or early August, after the prior school year was put to bed, but before it was time to start setting up for the next year. (And she usually still coerced me into doing prep work for her :)

Another teacher is a bit miffed that “people perceive teachers as being ‘secular saints’—and that we are expected to be: mother/father, nurse, social worker, psychologist, and a host of other things to our students that go above and beyond our job description.” Another reader looks through a gendered lens:

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.